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Flambeau River Papers

In Partnership With:  USW

Greening the paper industry while sustaining a community

At a Glance

Flambeau River Papers was formed from the bankrupt company Smart Papers Mill in 2006. The company’s biofuel project will make it the first integrated pulp and paper mill in North America to run on fossil-fuel free energy.

Park Falls, WI


Pulp and Paper

Union Employees
253 production and maintenance workers

Annual Revenues
$150 million

One pulp and paper mill

The story of Wisconsin pulp and paper mill Flambeau River Papers illustrates a path to sustainability for the U.S. paper industry: saving good jobs by respecting workers and advancing environmentally sound technologies.

Entrepreneur Butch Johnson bought the shuttered paper mill that had employed 300 of Park Falls’ 2,700 residents, after the mill was driven to bankruptcy in 2006 by the soaring cost of natural gas. Johnson not only re-hired nearly all of the mill’s workers, but honored their existing union contract, including wages, benefits, and seniority. Turning the lights back on at the mill has not only protected these good jobs, but saved hundreds of logging and other local jobs.

Flambeau produces premium recycled paper used by commercial printers and envelope-makers. Its paper is produced from 100 percent chlorine-free pulp, composed of up to 100 percent post-consumer waste, and has earned Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative certifications. In addition, Flambeau’s products are almost entirely sourced from the United States, with 70 percent of its source material locally-produced in Wisconsin.

To keep its business model sustainable, Flambeau is developing an innovative solution to the high energy costs which threaten the entire domestic paper industry. A planned biofuel plant will turn wood byproducts—such as tree tops, branches, and sawmill waste—into green diesel fuel and wax, all while producing steam to power the existing paper mill. Some time in 2013, Flambeau will be the first pulp and paper mill in North America to be fossil fuel free.

While he initially had reservations about working with unions, Johnson now recognizes the union as “an integral part of the success of the company.” A newcomer to the paper industry, Johnson credits his workers for teaching him the intricacies of paper mill operations. The union and management have also worked together to secure funding for Flambeau’s biomass energy project.

The company values communication, meeting monthly with the union so any workplace issues are resolved quickly. Johnson boasts that the workers’ current contract was negotiated in 89 minutes, because labor and management see one another as part of one team. Ron Schoch, President of USW Local 2-0445, says the union and the company have a “stellar relationship.” Johnson “listens to workers and it makes our members appreciate him big time,” Schoch says. Employees say they are proud to work for a company with the foresight to explore energy alternatives and to have invested deeply in them and in the community.



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