Would you believe…a household paper products company that switched to recycled raw materials in 1950, and has been producing recycled paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, and tissues ever since? A company that was so dedicated to creating “paper made from paper, not from trees”(TM) that it actually set up its own paper collection service (and currently collects paper for recycling from a 300-mile radius)? A company that saw no reason to jack up prices and has remained a consistent player in the lower price points? And a company that did this with such humility that it didn’t bother telling the public for decades, and didn’t make a big deal about it until this spring?

Yes, this company exists. Marcal, founded in 1932, went to manufacturing its paper products from recycled paper nearly 60 years ago. Small mentions had crept into the packing by the early 1990s—but only when turnaround CEO Tim Spring and several other executives were hired to bring the company back from bankruptcy in 2008 did the company realize it was sitting on a marketing goldmine. This spring (2009), Marcal launched its Small Steps(TM) consumer brand, aimed squarely at environmentally conscious consumers. Not only is it 100% recycled, but the manufacturing process does not use chlorine bleach, the products are hypoallergenic and nearly lint-free

We could save a full million trees if every American household bought just a single roll of recycled paper towels, box of recycled tissues, or package of napkins, the company says.

What does that mean specifically? Every year, saving a million trees would:

  • Keep 250 million pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air while adding 260 million pounds of oxygen (enough to supply 520 million people)
  • Absorb the much carbon produced by a million cars each driving 26,000 miles
  • Substantially reduce methane emissions (potentially a bigger problem than CO2) from landfills, compared to using virgin paper

As a consumer, I became aware of recycled paper in the early 1970s, and started looking for suppliers. At that time it was very hard to find any paper identified as recycled, and even harder to find recycled paper that was high enough quality and low enough price to make the switch worth it.

In the past ten or fifteen years, it’s gotten much easier. I now buy exclusively recycled paper not only for household products (where prices are comparable to standard brands) but also for my office printers (where I have to pay substantially more). When I think of how much Marcal recycled paper I would have bought in the decades starting from when I became aware until the market finally caught up, I have to wonder what took them so long.

And now that in the few months since its introduction, Small Steps, which is in about 50 percent of US markets, has become the top-selling recycled brand, Marcal executives must be wondering the same thing. (It just proves the case I make in my forthcoming book Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet that it’s not enough to be a Green company, you also have to tell the world.)

Marcal is even beginning to gather signatures on this nice little eco-pledge:

I am only one person.
But what I do impacts the whole world.

I have decided that the health of the earth is important to me.
I have decided to honor this priority in small ways.

If I can share a ride or take public transportation to help save the air, I will.

If I can make everyday choices that help save energy, I will.

If I can choose recycled paper that help save the forests and wildlife habitats, I will.

The company is promoting the pledge through social media, appearances by its spokesperson, and through a link on its community page. I signed, and I hope you will too. Meanwhile, I’ve been buying Small Steps, and can report that the quality is fine.

Incidentally, in the new book, I discuss ways companies can protect themselves from accusations of greenwashing. One of those is to state honestly that you’ve been using recycled materials for 30 years. Next year, Marcal will be able to double that claim.

(Special thanks to Lindsay Jacob of Marcal for supplying a lot of raw material I used in researching this article.)

Shel Horowitz, shel at greenandprofitable.com, shows you how to “reach green, socially conscious consumers with marketing that has THEM calling YOU.” He writes the Green And Profitable/Green and Practical columns and is the primary author of the award-winning and environmental category best-selling Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green (John Wiley & Sons, 2010).