Superstar treehugger Woody Harrelson on his tree-saving paper mill

Woody Harrelson© Chris Freeman Henderson/Step Forward Paper

You may know Woody Harrelson for his Emmy-winning television work, his Oscar-nominated film roles, or as this year’s official sexiest celebrity vegetarian. Which is all fine and good, but we know (and admire and adore) Woody Harrelson for the love he shows the trees.

Like some Lorax of Hollywood – minus the “shortish and oldish and brownish and mossy” – Harrelson speaks for the trees. And not only does he speak for them, he has been actively working on formidable solutions for ways to save the arboreal denizens of this orb we call home.

Not satisfied to idly stand by as various industries greedily gobble up ancient forests, Harrelson teamed up with sustainably savvy eco-entrepreneur Jeff Golfman (pictured below) in the late 1990s to form Prairie Pulp & Paper.

Based in Manitoba, the company has become the industry leader in research, development and commercialization of tree-free pulp and paper.

Step Forward Paper© Step Forward Paper

The company's first product, copy paper Step Forward Paper, is made of 80 percent agricultural waste wheat straw and 20 percent Forest Stewardship Council certified wood fiber, and is bleached using an elemental chlorine-free sequence. Available in Canada with an American launch in the near future, the paper is a no-brainer: Use the leftover by-product of harvested wheat crops and save trees. How is this not already the norm?

Currently on set in Georgia filming the sequel to The Hunger Games, Harrelson took some time to talk to TreeHugger about the venture…and the trees. We asked, he answered:

TreeHugger: At TreeHugger our namesake modus operandi is all about showing trees the love, it’s the most basic, poetic gesture of working toward sustainability. But beyond the idea of loving trees what are your thoughts about the importance of working to protect them?

Woody Harrelson: Unfortunately trees became a very big industry a while back. It seems like a lot of the industries that are the backbone of the economy have been really destructive to Mother Nature, and Mother Nature is being seen as a resource.

But to me, I’m just really, really attached to forests. I’ve had some of my greatest experiences in forests -- walking through the forest, hanging out with other activists in the forest, or with my family. I have an immense level of compassion for the forest. So it’s been my dream for a long time to see non-wood paper come about. There are non-wood paper mills using agricultural waste and so forth in India and China, but it’s an idea that hasn’t really dawned on North America. It makes a lot of sense to get a non-wood pulp and paper mill going. Especially in Winnipeg because there is so much ag waste available, particularly wheat straw and flax straw.

TH: Many celebrities are working on shiny causes with a lot of media appeal. Starting a paper mill may not seem like the flashiest mission, it’s really nuts and bolts. How did you take it from your love of forests to getting involved in a paper company?

WH: I guess it was Ted Danson who years ago helped me move me into being an environmentalist. He had an organization called America Oceans Campaign, which has morphed into Oceana. They were working on the horrible netting they use to catch fish and he couldn’t make an event so I jumped in on that, and that kind of began this journey.

TH: How did you get from oceans to trees?

WH: A year or so after that I read something, it wasn’t in the front page news like it should have been but way back in The Los Angeles Times, about 20 million acres of pristine forest in Montana that they were trying to pass a law through Congress to open up to various extractive industries.

I called my buddy Peter Bahouth who was running Greenpeace and asked him what they were doing about that. He said it was on his radar and he was really upset about it. We worked together along with a bunch of cool celebrity environmentalists and we helped stop that bill from going through. All we did was lessen the amount of forest that they would be able take, and we lessened it to the degree that the Republicans weren’t happy with the bill so they kind of made it stop.

TH: Well thank you for that! What happened next?

WH: I was looking at the whole thing, and I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter if we stopped this. And in fact, they can just go to another forest here and another forest there and they’re going to get their subsidies and they’re going to get their tax breaks and what’s the answer? The answer is that paper should not be coming from trees anyway. It should be coming from the farmer. It’s a simple idea, it’s not an original idea, but it’s an idea whose time has definitely come. And for North America I’d like to see it happen, and I’d like to see it happen in Winnipeg.

There’s 20 million acres of wheat straw in Manitoba alone, along with 2 million acres of flax straw. The ag waste they’re using in landfills or burning it, some of it ends up being horse bedding, but the bulk of it is being burned or going into landfills. It could be used to make paper. It’s a simple and sound idea whose time has come.

TH: Do you have a favorite kind of tree?

WH: Well, I’m a bit partial to the redwoods. I spend a lot of time in the redwoods up there in Northern California so I guess I’m partial to them.

As I realized that asking such a Champion of Trees a question like that may pose some inner conflict, I added the disclaimer that asking him to pick a favorite tree was like asking someone to pick a favorite kid. To which he replied with a hearty laugh, “Yeah, it was weird to answer that!”

Watch Harrelson here talking about trees and the new paper:

To note: Prairie Pulp & Paper commissioned a landmark life cycle comparison research study which was conducted by Offsetters, Canada’s leading carbon management solutions provider. The study compared Step Forward Paper with other copy paper types available in North America. Research results, which were just released, demonstrate that wheat straw-based paper and 100 per cent recycled tree-fibre paper types have the lowest environmental impact across the seven indicators studied. When using a weighted ranking system for environmental indicators that places greater importance on climate change, Step Forward Paper’s wheat straw-based paper is the best performing copy paper type studied with the lowest overall impact.

Based on samples we tried, there is no distinguishable difference between Step Forward Paper and any other regular copy paper. Except for the one merit with which it conclusively clobbers all the others: Few trees were harmed in the making of it.

Visit Step Forward Paper for more information.

Superstar treehugger Woody Harrelson on his tree-saving paper mill
"I’m just really, really attached to forests," he told us, and credits his friend and fellow celebrity Ted Danson for inspiration.

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