Greenpeace, TP and K-C: Still friends

I wrote in Monday’s GreenSpace column about toilet paper and other household paper products, and how Greenpeace has buried the hatchet after a five-year battle with tissue giant Kimberly-Clark.

Greenpeace mainly objected to K-C’s use of virgin wood pulp — especial from Canada’s Boreal Forest, ancient woodlands that are home to caribou and billions of nesting songbirds. But K-C and other major paper products manufacturers say that Americans demand softness in their paper products (unlike Europeans, which demand toughness). And, they say, virgin pulp is the only way to get it.

Greenpeace and K-C reached a detente after the company agreed to several measures: It promised that by the end of 2011, its North American fiber would contain at least 40 percent content that was either recycled paper or pulp from trees that had been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably logged. Within that, it promised that after 2011, the company would use no pulp from the Boreal that had not been certified by the council.

It didn’t take long for the skeptics to start up, claiming, basically, “Big whoop.” They felt there was no reason at all to use virgin pulp, certified or not. Ever.

Rolf Skar, Greenpeace’s senior forest campaigner, called the other day from the UN climate negotiations in Germany to defend Greenpeace’s endorsement and put it into context.

He said it wasn’t fair to compare K-C, the largest tissue products manufacturer on earth, with smaller companies. “I hope those companies grow into huge global companies,” but the fact is that, for the moment, they’re not. So they’re a whole lot more nimble.

K-C, on the other hand, simply can’t shift overnight. “In order for them to feed a gigantic mill that makes Kleenex, they need to have a dependable supply,” Sklar said. “We know it’s out there. But there’s a difference between being out there and making sure it ends up at a manufacturing facility in usable quantities. So there’s a gap here.”

What’s important, he said, is that K-C made a commitment that is “unprecedented” in the global paper market. He said it amounted to “a global policy that takes off the table a lot of the last, best forests left on the planet.”

He also felt it was important that K-C was setting an example for other companies. “Once they start distinguishing themselves by using recycled content .. by developing new markets for FSC pulp, then what’s  next? Proctor Gamble and Union Pacific? It’s their move next,” he said.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace plans to update its tissue-buying guide as companies and the industry changes. For now, K-C products are still in the “to be avoided” column.