Woody Harrelson, Sustainable Paper Salesman

The laid back Hollywood actor is serious about preventing deforestation. A new kind of paper that uses wheat straw rather than wood might be one of the best way to save trees.

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Photo by Rawtographer

Woody Harrelson poses with the new Step Forward paper

We’re supposedly entering the post-paper age—it’s all PDFs and tablets from here—but I for one still have paper laying around my desk. A lot of it. In fact, before I began this post, I had to go fill up the paper cartridge for shared printer. And while I realize that a print magazine may use more paper than the average business, about 70 millions tons of paper and paperboard are used in the U.S. each year—and 33% of that comes from whole trees or other plants. Around the world, some 4 billion trees are cut down each year to make paper

Woody Harrelson is trying to change that. The Academy Award-nominated actor is a longtime environmentalist, and trees are his passion. “Ever since I was pulled into the environmental world, protecting trees and stopping deforestation has really been a calling for me,” Harrelson told me in a phone call last weekend. Most of his work has been political, lobbying the government to restrict logging in the wilderness. But whenever he and his activist allies would succeed in preventing logging in one forest, paper companies would move to another. Harrelson realized that he needed to do something about demand and supply. “The thing to do is change the supply,” he says. “We need to change the way that paper is made.”

And that’s how Woody Harrelson got into the paper business. Harrelson is a co-founder and investor in Prairie Pulp and Paper,a Canadian-based company that is developing a new form of paper that is made up of 80% wheat-straw waste, along with 20% Forest Stewardship Council certified wood fiber. It’s called Step Forward Paper, and earlier this week the company announced that it would now be available in the U.S. at Staples. For every two boxes of Harrelson’s paper that is used to replace conventional copy paper, users will be able to save one tree—so if Step Forward gains a market niche, forests could be saved. “It’s going to happen slowly at first, but we think this could really crescendo,” says Jeff Golfman, the president of Prairie Pulp and Paper.

Right now the paper is made at a mill in India, but if Step Forward catches on, the company plans to open a factory here in North America. Harrelson hopes to see his company grow. “I’m one of those people who just became attached to the forest,” he says. “The knowledge that those forests could one day be gone because of clear-cutting is just too painful for me. We need to do something about this.” And for Harrelson, the best thing to do is become a paper salesman. So at least he’s got something to fall back on if this Hollywood thing doesn’t work out.


Trees are grown sustainably in working forests for a lot of wood and paper products. Harvested, re-planted, tended and harvested again. State laws and adherence to best management practices as well as water quality protection, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation are assured on most private forest lands through internationally approved management standards and third party certification. State governments and the federal government manage vast areas of forest for many public uses including, in the western states, revenue for schools from timber harvest. Management of these lands operates under environmental standards established by the public. Using any previously wasted material for a needed product is a good practice: So if Woody's outfit can make a go of it in the free market I am all for it. But don't try to sell it under a false environmental claim,


I am disappointed with Time on this article. I am happy for Woody and his partner, that they have found a good use for straw wheat waste and are turning it into paper. That’s great. But the notion that somehow this will “Save Trees” is completely faulty. The vast majority of forests within the US are actually privately owned lands, used to raise trees for their wood products (be it lumber for construction, utility poles, or wood pulp for producing paper products), and those forests are currently maintained only because they provide a return on investment to the landowners. One of the biggest risks to our forests is if demand for wood products decreases, the ability of the landowners to generate an adequate return on their investment will decline, and the landowners will then search for alternative uses of the land, which most likely will involve clear cutting them, and removing the trees. We need to understand that a majority of our forests are more like farms, where we plant trees, grow them and tend to them so that we can harvest the trees. But like farmers, we replant them again to grow the next batch of trees. This is the same for any farming - the farmers maintain the population of crops or animals so long as they can make an income from those crops, which includes trees & forests.  Once the farmer cannot make an income from farming a particular crop, the farmer re-purposes the land to something else that will make an income.  It is amazing to me that an organization such as Time does not understand the basic economics regarding forestry in the US. That Woody Harrelson, the actor, does not understand it does not surprise me, but Time – I would expect a better understanding than what is displayed in this article.  Thank you to anyone who reads this comment - I hope it helps you to understand the real risk to the forests in the US.  If too many people buy into the argument that you can "Save Trees" by stopping to use wood products such as paper, we will begin to see the deforestation of the US.


I hope that you realize that the risk is not just limited to that of the US alone. Until currency is out of the picture, which is truly a realistic and better alternative, people, businesses and corporations will keep ignoring the alternatives and solutions alike. It is a well known, though unacknowledged fact that it is all they care about and that is because it is all that they live on. Eliminate currency, and <a href="">pulp and paper mill</a>s will be a much more realistic happening and in-time the remaining forests. would be saved.


Why no mention of hemp for paper?


Sorry, this is a dumb idea. First, where are the 40M trees coming from? Not "a forest" that Harrelson is trying to save, but ((re-)re-)re-planted trees, usually Southern Pine. This type of tree is used because it grows pretty fast (for a tree), is easy to re-grow, and relatively easy to maintain (tall and straight, not a lot of cross branches to prune later). The land these trees are grown on are NOT crop lands, they are usually between settled areas and specifically used for growing trees. Plus, they are a nice buffer between neighborhoods.

mrmarkmartinez 1 Like

Love the idea Woody, keep fighting for the environment.


@mrmarkmartinez - Woody's idea is not going to save the environment at all.  Think it through - beyond the first level of saving a couple of trees in the short run.  Think long run - and understand that much of the forest lands in the US are privately owned, and kept a forest to earn an income.  Think it through for a while, and you'll understand that "Saving a Tree" only condemns a forest.  Good luck breathing when that happens.


I like Woody, but his concept raises some questions:

LOGGING IN WILDERNESS AREAS:  I believe the Wilderness Act prohibits logging in a wilderness area.  I don't believe the concept protects any trees in any areas designated as "wilderness".

TAKING FOOD OFF THE DINNER TABLE FOR A PIECE OF PAPER:  Having lived through the ethanol fiasco, I don't know the wisdom of taking valuable farmland out of food production (in a world where hunger is an issue) for a ream of paper.

PULPWOOD AS A CROP:  Notwithstanding the poor forest management practices of the US Department of Interior, a great many acres of pulpwood is grown on well-managed tracts of privately owned property.  The timber grown in these areas--especially in the Southeast--are often not suitable for building stock and are used exclusively for paper production.  I'd be curious to know the yield of paper from an acre of wheat field compared to an acre of timber.

emilymiggins 1 Like

@MikeKelter This is exactly what is fantastic about using "agricultural waste" as Woody describes it in the short video. The priority is to continue to use wheat in its primary intention: keeping food on the plate for people. The straw fiber used is from straw left over after the food grain harvest and all other uses are accounted for, including animal bedding and maintaining soil integrity. This leftover straw is known as “agricultural residue” and is typically disposed of by burning in many states in the US, around the world and in Canada.