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Voyagers and Pioneers Drive Paper and Wood Products Industry

The people who most inspire Levell Hairston, Vice President and General Manager of Recycling at International Paper are voyagers and pioneers. “They are willing to leave what is comfortable for what could be,” he said. 

This type of visionary leadership is what defines Hairston, who recently testified on behalf of the paper and wood products industry to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

His testimony came in support of two federal bills and underscored the success of paper recycling, as well as ongoing industry investments. He thinks it’s a story we need to keep sharing over and over. For Hairston, it was also a proud moment.

“I used to be an intern on the Hill. As an intern, I never expected I would be testifying,” he said. “I was proud to be able to share my industry and company’s perspective. It is important for our industry to educate lawmakers about our businesses and the issues that impact us. It’s our duty to share our story with our elected officials.”

Hairston is also proud to work in an industry that creates essential and sustainable products for a more sustainable future. He believes recycling allows people to make a positive impact on the environment. Something he also believes makes our industry circular.

“We transform renewable resources into recyclable products that people depend on every day,” he said. “We create packaging products that protect and promote goods, enable worldwide commerce and keep consumers safe and pulp for diapers, tissue, and other personal hygiene products that promote health and wellness.”

These products are created by hardworking people who serve as daily advocates of the industry, whether volunteering in the local community or testifying on Capitol Hill. 

“Our industry is a great place to work and grow your career. Each person is unique, and each has their own diversity of thought, feeling and action,” Hairston shared. “Embracing individuality and collaboration drives exceptional results.”

The reason Hairston got into the industry? Love. 

Both he and his wife are engineers and felt the paper and wood products industry would give them the best opportunity to grow together. 

Through that growth, he’s also seen how our industry impacts local communities. At International Paper, this includes programs to support education, address hunger, sustain health and wellness, and assist in disaster recovery. 

“We mobilize our people, products and resources to address critical needs in the communities where our employees live and work,” Hairston said. “We also play an important role where we operate. Oftentimes, we’re the largest employer, particularly in rural areas.”

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper