Marcal Speaks Out: The Bottom Line on TP

baby bottomBy Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

Earlier this month I wrote on the Kimberly-Clark Greenpeace agreement, calling it a success. However, a few days later I was contacted by Marcal, a tree-friendly paper goods company that sells only 100% recycled paper products, calling it greenwashing.

Yesterday I had the chance to speak directly with Marcal’s CEO Tim Spring, as well as with Greenpeace, NRDC and Kimberly-Clark. Needless to say, the devil is in the details when it comes to this agreement.

Isn’t it ironic?

Greenpeace’s Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide penalizes Marcal because their  post-consumer content is not high enough (see Green Flushes).

“The celebration of the agreement with Kimberly-Clark is so much lower in altitude, it is an obscene double standard.”

While the agreement is a success for getting Kimberly-Clark out of old growth forests, there is more to the story.

Marcal’s key point is how can Greenpeace publish a guide that stresses the importance of having over 50-percent post-consumer content, and then promote the success of the agreement with Kimberly-Clark, when it lacks any specific targets for recycled fiber and post-consumer content?

Spring accused Kimberly-Clark of being “the masters of greenwashing.” He continues, “There is no commitment at all to go to recycled fiber. I am just shocked.”

And NRDC’s Allen Hershkowitz’s recent post agrees that Kimberly-Clark’s products remain problematic.

Greenpeace’s response to criticisms

The Kimberly-Clark press release specified,”By the end of 2011, Kimberly-Clark will ensure that 40 percent of its North American tissue fiber – representing an estimated 600,000 tonnes – is either recycled or FSC certified, an increase of more than 70 percent over 2007 levels.”

When I spoke with Richard Brooks, Greenpeace Canada Forest Campaign Coordinator, he referred me to page three of the actual Fiber Policy (did anyone read this?). The policy states they will pursue opportunities to increase recycled content and give preference to post-consumer fiber. At the end of 2008, they currently are at 21.4 percent recycled content, with the majority (17 percent) of that post-consumer.

He explains, “There should be a realization on everyone’s part this is a vary large company with a very large footprint.  We need to be realistic about what we can expect them to do in a short period of time.  That is why we were comfortable with the agreement we did get.”

The lack of specific public  targets for increasing recycled content and post-consumer recycled content is an obvious flaw with the agreement, but Greenpeace says they pushed Kimberly-Clark to “the edge of their comfort zone.” They felt more comfortable releasing a combined goal, because they are so large and have such a broad range of products.

“I don’t think we will be seeing a decrease in recycled fiber by the company,” stresses Brooks.

Kimberly-Clark–“They like it soft.”

Kay Jackson from corporate communications at Kimberly Clark stressed that the US market “likes it soft.” As a brand, they have focused on delivering the highest quality product.  They must balance more recycled content with consumer demands for softness.   She also commented that they are working to be sure there is the capacity to meet their recycled-content goals. “It is a complex issue,” she concludes.

I have arrived as a blogger.

After the call with Marcal a box full of samples arrived at my door.  Being the complete investigator that I am, I went to the store and bought Scott 1000 and Charmin UtlraStrong. What is all this fuss about softness? I honestly don’t feel a big difference between the Scott, which is a Kimberly-Clark product, and the Marcal.

On the other hand, the Charmin is super soft and fluffy. Procter & Gamble, are you paying attention? You might be the next target.

Take action

Is it worth killing trees for a softer wipe? Personally, I say no. And part of me thinks companies like Kimberly-Clark should take a leadership role and increase their recycled content, even if it means a slightly less fluffy wipe. But as long as the Charmin’s are on the market, I doubt this will happen, due to the risk of losing market share. As a friend commented, it is like the arms race.  As long as anyone has the soft and fluffy on the market, it will be hard to ensure a real shift.

The solution? Companies need to hear a strong and loud signal from consumers that they don’t want to kill trees for their TP.

Go to NRDC’s action center and let Kimberly-Clark know that recycled content is important to you. And P&G, give me a call so I can help you figure out this complex issue!

More to come…

Stay tuned for part II of this series, which will dive into more depth on some of these issues, including pre-consumer versus post-consumer content and systemic capacity issues. Do you know where the paper you leave at the curb is going? And did you know only 10 percent of office buildings recycle their paper?

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Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, works with mid-sized companies to launch green initiatives that encourage innovation and grow market share. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.