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Woody Harrelson's Steps Forward to Eco-Entrepreneurship to Protect the Trees

06/24/2013 09:57 am ET | Updated Aug 24, 2013

After years of living off the grid, and following a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, actor Woody Harrelson, decided to do even more for the environment. "There's a whole slew of environmental challenges facing us, from mountain top coal mining to fracking -- it's almost endless," he said.

With years of activism under his belt, the former Cheers star decided to launch Step Forward Paper because "I want to focus on forests. I've always been a tree hugger and nature lover. I love the forest and love all the species dependent on forest for their lives. I'm happiest when walking through forest," Harrelson explains.

Over 20 years ago, when the paper industry was "trying to push a bill through Congress to make virgin forest available in Montana," Harrelson got active with Greenpeace. But he found that, "Even if you stop them from cutting down this forest, or that forest, they go somewhere else." Frustrated with that experience, Harrelson came away with a distrust of politicians that endures to this day. "I tend to not like politicians, because it's a subtle form of prostitution," Harrelson told Details recently. "Or maybe not so subtle. It's all synchronized swimming to me. They all kneel and kiss the ring. Who's going to take on the oil industry or the medical industry?"

Or the paper industry for that matter?

Harrelson and his business partner, Jeff Golfman, it turns out. Fifteen years ago, they co-founded Prairie Pulp & Paper, the producer of Step Forward Paper. Their aim is to protect forests from destruction, by offering a new kind of paper, made from straw rather than wood. "The paper industry is a $200 billion industry. Half of all trees cut are cut down for paper products. So it makes sense to change how paper is made," Harrelson says.

Step Forward Paper, which is now available on Staples.com is made from agricultural waste -- wheat stalks specifically. Harvested by farmers in India after they've removed the grain for use as food, paper from wheat stalk is a "win for the farmer, the environment and the future," says Harrelson.

"Staples is excited to bring (this) new alternative fiber product to consumers
and businesses," said Mark Buckley, Staples vice president of environmental affairs. "This award-winning paper is an easy and cost-effective way for consumers and businesses to conserve forests without sacrificing quality."

The creative spark for the process came to Golfman over two decades back. Engaged in eco-entrepreneurship early on, for a time Golfman recycled magazines and newspapers to the paper industry. A native of the Canadian prairies, every year Golfman saw farmers torching millions of acres of farmlands to get rid of agricultural waste. "People were dying from the smoke and it wasn't good for planet," Golfman recalls. "I realized that there had to be a better solution than burning fields of ag waste and then recycling magazines to companies. Why not give the ag waste to the paper mills to make paper?"

Despite on-line technology, the worldwide demand for paper keeps rising. According to Golfman, it's slated to double over the next four years. In the U.S, "there's a myopic view," says Golfman. "We make an effort not to print out airline tickets but the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year -- that 's 40 sheets a day."

"We as taxpayers heavily subsidize the paper industry," Harrelson points out. "Every year, three to six billion trees are harvested. It's a 400 metric ton a year industry. Clear cutting forests produces an impact on climate change. The forests are the lungs of the earth."

Currently, Step Forward Paper costs the same as recycled paper. "If you buy two boxes, you save one tree," says Harrelson. With 50 million metric tons of fiber available as post-agricultural waste in North America, Harrelson and Golfman would like to bring costs down even further by building a paper plant in North American in the next five years. This would reduce the ecological footprint by lowering shipping costs for a product that could even wind up costing less than traditional paper.

"There are a helluva lot more of us who care about the environment and the world than we realize. We're the majority, and we can do something about that," says Harrelson.