« Back to Home Page

Marcal Speaks Out: The Bottom Line on TP

| Tuesday August 18th, 2009 | 8 Comments

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?

***

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.


▼▼▼      8 Comments     ▼▼▼

Newsletter Signup
  • Nick Aster

    Nice post. I think one of the major problems here is the definition of “recycled”. When people think of recycled, they assume “post consumer”. It takes a long conversation to explain to people, that the legal definition of “recycled” can include waste/excess material at the manufacturing plant, so that something can be 100% recycled and have nothing whatsoever that ever came from a recycling bin.

    It’s great that waste material is re-purposed, and deserves some kind of credit, but I think the definition of “Recycled” is totally misleading and needs to be challenged. No matter how many times I explain it, people are still duped into thinking that “100% recycled” has meaning.

    If it’s not post-consumer, it should not be called recycled. Period.

    • andrew Whitman

      This is very saddening I am a member of Green peace and I have switched over to post-consumer paper products. I thought Greenpeace had gained a victory when they announced “case closed on the Kleercut Campaign” Very disheartening.

  • Deborah Fleischer

    As a baby step, the agreement is a small win toward shifting a very large corporation toward more sustainable practices. Go to the NRDC web site and let Kimberly-Clark know that recycled post-consumer content is important!

  • Tim Spring

    Geez…did I really use the phrase “Masters of Greenwashing?”

    That seems a bit strong, even for a company that had the audacity to recently lower their recycled fiber content from 40% to 20% then ADD THE CUTE MARKETING PHRASE “Green done right” to a prominent position on their package.

    “It is a complex issue”, but I am confident that most consumers have the ability to sort out the truth.

    Sadly, 98% of the household paper products currently sold in grocery stores still come from the destruction of forests. Just 2% come from recycled paper. Marcal’s doing it’s part (since 1950, BTW), but 2% is far too small.

    We need to let trees do what they do naturally – take Carbon Dioxide OUT of the atmosphere. Even the Environmental Protection Agency had the good sense to figure that out. Please contact your local Senator and encourage them to support the Bill now under consideration that adds back 18 million acres of forest – forests the EPA specifically recommends for the purpose of helping control greenhouse gases and help stem global warming.

    Lastly, I sent my first donation to Greenpeace back in 1972, a year after they were founded. I was 11 years old – and it was my very first charitable donation. I didn’t yet send this year’s check, but despite my dissappointment in their apparent ‘sell-out’, my guess is they will recover their senses and restore their credibility soon enough. They couldn’t possibly ‘stick to their guns’ on this issue….

  • Ellen

    Let’s see, Greenpeace gets one of the worst offenders, KC, to up their PCR to 40 per cent and some of you are mad because…it is not perfect? So you’re not going to support Greenpeace any more because while they’re saving an astounding amount of trees due to their work, you just don’t think it is good enough? This is the difference between right-wingers and liberals, liberals are so busy destroying their own that they never get anywhere, and the right wing keeps getting stronger as they chip away bit by bit. They understand the long goal and patience. Did it occur to anyone that Marcal might have some self-interest in mind in this attack? Don’t compare them to KC and Georgia-Pacific. Compare them to Green Forest, Seventh Generation, Whole Foods 365, and the other smaller companies recommended by Greenpeace in the Tissue Guide, who are being kicked off grocery shelves by the huge behemoth Marcal, which has been a documented water polluter for years (Google Marcal + EPA and see what comes up.) The smaller, truly green companies are also 100% recycled but have MUCH HIGHER PCR content (90% and 80% respectively) than Marcal (at ONLY 30% in their bath and facial tissues.) So where is Marcal’s other 60% coming from? From mill scraps from the virgin fiber they’re using to make other products! They’re still using virgin fiber. So. Let’s see, buy into Marcal at the expense of smaller companies selling products that are better for the environment, work fine, and are acceptably soft? Don’t be fooled by Marcal, they’re as bad as the rest of the big companies, they just have a slick PR machine and lots of money made from killing trees and polluting rivers to sell their message to you, and you’re buying it lock stock and barrel.

  • Hank

    Marcal is the biggest air and water polluter in the state of New Jersey. They have been fined almost a billion dollars by the EPA, and do much more harm than good. They filed Chapter 11 to avoid paying for the clean up, and also used it as an opportunity to break their union contract. Nice guys, huh? Then when they emerged from bankruptcy, they painted themselves green. For them to claim to be a green, eco-friendly company is a joke, as well as a lie.

    • ecofacts

      All of us at Marcal welcome valid criticism and open discussion on blogs (and everywhere), but we want you to know that “Hank” leaves comments like the one here anytime he or she sees something written about us…and leaves them anonymously, so there is no way we can get in touch and set the facts straight. The phrases used are always very similar, the kind of pattern that almost shouts, ”spam campaign.” This kind of nameless attack isn’t in the open spirit of blogs, and we think it’s a disservice to readers and to our hard-earned reputation. The simple fact is that we make our products in a manufacturing system designed to minimize our environmental impact.
      We invite the person making these attacks to come pay us a visit; we have nothing to hide! We think our actions speak for themselves; otherwise, why would a group like the NRDC cite our factory in a discussion of companies leading the way environmentally in the New York metro area? (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/egoldstein/gr…).
      Marcal didn’t recently “paint itself green.” We’ve been using recycled paper since 1950, long before green was in. As for the lawsuit, it was settled with no admission of wrong doing, enabling the company to emerge from bankruptcy to protect and grow jobs under a new owner and management team that understands that, if you are going to market yourself as green, you better do things right.
      Are we perfect? Of course not, but we are always striving to be better. We invite anyone with questions about our practices to contact us at ecofacts@marcalpaper.com

  • ecofacts

    All of us at Marcal welcome valid criticism and open discussion on blogs (and everywhere), but we want you to know that “Hank” leaves comments like the one here anytime he or she sees something written about us…and leaves them anonymously, so there is no way we can get in touch and set the facts straight. The phrases used are always very similar, the kind of pattern that almost shouts, ”spam campaign.” This kind of nameless attack isn’t in the open spirit of blogs, and we think it’s a disservice to readers and to our hard-earned reputation. The simple fact is that we make our products in a manufacturing system designed to minimize our environmental impact.
    We invite the person making these attacks to come pay us a visit; we have nothing to hide! We think our actions speak for themselves; otherwise, why would a group like the NRDC cite our factory in a discussion of companies leading the way environmentally in the New York metro area? (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/egoldstein/gr…).
    Marcal didn’t recently “paint itself green.” We’ve been using recycled paper since 1950, long before green was in. As for the lawsuit, it was settled with no admission of wrong doing, enabling the company to emerge from bankruptcy to protect and grow jobs under a new owner and management team that understands that, if you are going to market yourself as green, you better do things right.
    Are we perfect? Of course not, but we are always striving to be better. We invite anyone with questions about our practices to contact us at ecofacts@marcalpaper.com