I visited a big Georgia Pacific paper mill this week in Muskogee, Oklahoma, that makes paper towels, tissue paper and toilet paper from recycled paper. Cool place. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out, in the words of Merle Haggard, if it’s still true that
We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee
We don’t take our trips on LSD
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street
We like livin’ right, and bein’ free
But I digress. What made the plant interesting, aside from watching paper go flying through a giant paper-making machine at a speed of 60 mph, was this: None of the product from the plant is marketed as “green” or “recycled.”
Here’s why, I was told: Too many consumers still associate recycled products with poor performance, or low quality. Georgia Pacific, which is now owned by privately-held Koch Industries, tried using some green marketing to sell the products, but it backfired.
So you see? It’s the opposite of greenwashing, the much-maligned practice of companies that try to make themselves look more environmental than they are. Here they are failing to disclose real environmental attributes.
I’ve run across this before. Hewlett Packard a couple of years ago developed a scanner made, in part, from 25% recycled inkjet cartridge plastic and 75% recycled plastic bottles. Nowhere was this mentioned on the packaging, again, because HP found that customers feared getting “second hand” goods.
This isn’t a trivial issue. Until big companies figure out how to drive what might be called green or ethical consumption, they won’t get rewarded for environmental innovation or green practices.
Interestingly, Georgia Pacific told me that they do market some products for commercial customers as green. Napkins for McDonald’s, for example. Government and business customers, increasingly, are seeking out more recycled product.
One last thought: Checking out the paper bales that went into the mill, as feedstock, was interesting. I saw everything from shredded bank documents to the packaging from a box of egg rolls to prayers handed out in church to lots and lots of old magazines. So this is where my (printed) words go to die..