Fact: Print grows trees…..quite fast!

Phil Riebel.
Phil Riebel.

By Phil Riebel, President, Two Sides North America

Did you know that in North America, it takes less than two seconds to grow the fibre needed for a standard #10 envelope (on 100 acres of managed forests)? For many years, International Paper’s “Go Paper. Grow Trees.” campaign and “Print Grows Trees” operated by the Printing & Graphics Association Mid-Atlantic, have been promoting the vital link between paper/print and the long-term retention of privately-owned (including family-owned) forest lands. In short, a strong market for pulp, paper, lumber and other forest products, does in fact grow trees!

In North America we grow many more trees than we harvest. Forest area in the U.S., for example, increased by 5,800 NFL football fields per day between 2007 and 2012, or a total of 14 million acres. In Canada, the forest cover has remained stable over the last two decades, and in recent years, Canada’s actual harvest has been 44% of annual growth. To illustrate the powerful and renewable features of well-managed North American forests, we calculated how much time it takes to grow some well-known paper products – a standard #10 envelope and a ream of office copy paper (500 sheets). The results may surprise you!

Our calculation methods

It’s possible to estimate the time needed to grow wood fibre for certain paper products on a given forest area. The results depend on which tree species are used to make these paper products and the age and growing conditions of the trees. Soil fertility and moisture, drainage conditions and the number of trees per acre, all affect tree growth rate. Tree species also vary widely in their wood density – a higher density wood will produce more fibre for the same weight than a low-density wood. The necessary data and fibre growth rate calculations were obtained from the literature for nine tree species used in pulp and paper production and occurring under different growing conditions in the Canada and the U.S. The objective of this exercise was to develop estimates of the time it takes to grow the wood fibre necessary for the given paper products. Click here to see our detailed data table.

The surprising results

The time required to grow the fibre needed for a #10 envelope is 0.3 to 1.9 seconds per 100 acres of managed North American forest. The time required to grow the fibre needed for a ream of 500-sheet office paper is 0.3 to 2.2 hours per 100 acres of managed North American forest. The fastest growth rates were for Loblolly Pine and Hybrid Aspen, and the slowest were for Black Spruce, with climate and temperature playing a large role in growth rates. Given all of the above, a forest land owner or tree farmer who has 100 acres of commercial pulpwood could produce enough wood fibre for the following products, with just the new tree growth achieved in one year:

  • 15.8 million #10 envelopes –OR–
  • 4,000 reams of copy paper (500 sheets each)

A market for paper products also benefits local communities, given that a portion of the income from wood sales is re-injected in local businesses and services.


Given the progress of sustainable forestry in North America, environmental claims related to forest products such as paper must also consider the renewability and growth of well-managed forests. In other words, claims such as “go paperless – go green” or “save trees” mislead consumers into believing that paper is a cause of deforestation (permanent forest loss) when it clearly is not. Well-managed forests provide a multitude of environmental, social and economic benefits to thousands of North American communities. They’re also important to help mitigate climate change due to carbon sequestration, and promote biodiversity compared to other land uses. Forest products such as paper can support a vibrant and renewable forest cycle that can be sustainably managed for the long-term.

For more on these features of paper, please see our Two Sides Fact sheets or our Myths and Facts series.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.