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Complete the circle of sustainability

September 19, 2010
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When greening an operation, many facility managers fail to include paper products in the equation.

They feel that because they are no longer using toxic cleaning chemicals, the operation is green.

The next step is to integrate green into the highly used, but often overlooked areas, such as paper towels, toilet and facial tissue, etc.

Beware of greenwashing
Labeling a paper product as green does not automatically make it environmentally preferable.

The Federal Trade Commission has expressed concern that this term, used without an additional definition, could be misleading.

Greenwashing is the practice of intentionally giving a false impression that what is being done is sustainable.

As the green movement matures from an industry trend to an industry mainstay, organizations wasting time and resources intentionally misleading customers will be far behind the truly sustainable companies.

“You will have to be sustainable if you want to stay in business,” notes Mike Kapalko, environmental services manager for SCA Tissue North America.

The confusion of unverifiable green claims can undermine sincere efforts to provide better products to customers.

Many paper products have green claims and many can be backed by research data, so don’t be fooled by the hype.

Rolling out the benefits
For years now, facility managers and building service contractors have had the catch-phrase of sustainability drilled into their heads: Reduce, reuse and recycle.

This concept is extremely relevant as it pertains to paper products.

By being conscious of the amount of paper we use, we can effectively think of ways to consume less.

Dispensers are a great way to reduce the amount of paper used in the restroom.

Reusing paper, such as using an old proposal for scrap or printing documents on both sides of a sheet, is another way to reduce our impact on the environment.

Using recycled paper products greatly reduces our environmental footprint.

In 2007, the American Forest & Paper Association reported that the U.S. set a new record in paper recycling — reaching 56 percent of all paper consumed, or 54.3 million tons.

While there is good recycled and bad recycled paper, the overall quality has greatly increased over the past two decades.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that not all paper products — recycled or virgin — can be categorically compared.

“Often a virgin product in the premium category is being compared to a recycled commodity one-ply product,” says Kapalko. “People need to be sure that they are comparing apples to apples.”

Advances in technology and procedures, coupled with a general demand for better recycled paper offerings has led to vastly improved quality.

“They are often surprised at the quality level and can’t tell the difference side-by-side between recycled and virgin paper,” adds Kapalko.

Finding that certain shade of green
“Green is not an end,” notes Mark Ray, business development manager for Kruger Products. “It is a constant and ongoing process.”

Customer and building occupant needs ultimately drive your purchasing decisions.

Determine the needs of your customers, whether they are environmental, monetary, or something different, and match products with those specific needs.

Additionally, look for paper products that have third-party certification.

By doing so you can be sure the products you are purchasing are substantiated as green and will be viable alternatives to traditional paper products.

Buy from companies that are taking the extra steps toward sustainability.

Some are reducing the amount of packaging for their products. Others are using elemental chlorine-free or other environmentally preferable bleaches in their processes.

“We constantly focus on minimizing the impact of our manufacturing processes and how we deliver our products to customers, because those also offer environmental benefits,” says Dan Silk, vice president of environmental sustainability for Georgia-Pacific Professional. “For example, we recently joined the U.S. EPA’s Smartway Transport Partnership, which is designed to reduce vehicle emissions and fuel use in the delivery of products.”

Manage, measure and balance
Dispensers are another part in the equation for greening your paper products operation.

They are a highly effective way to control usage, thus reduce waste and increase sustainability.

Silk notes that a quality towel dispenser can reduce paper towel usage by up to 20 percent.

However, just having a good dispenser alone is not sufficient.

Here, the solution, some experts say, is two-fold: Marry a good dispenser with quality paper and you will reduce waste.

Ray adds that using inferior quality paper in a dispenser can negate any positive benefits.

While the dispenser will limit the amount used, poor quality paper will require that more of the product be used to reach similar results.

“People often say they are willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly products,” states Kapalko.

But, with green offerings well into the hundreds, prices for these preferable paper products have become comparable with traditional counterparts.

And, as the trendy hype of the green movement subsides and simply becomes the industry standard, prices will be even less of a factor due to the widespread use of sustainable paper products.
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