Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tree Free and Eco Friendly Paper Products: Truly Sustainable or Just a Marketing Ploy?

In a previous life, i 'managed' a small cafe that was part of the Austin Museum of Art. I tried to encourage our purchaser to seek out as many 'eco friendly' paper items as she could find, but we had a hard time dealing with the greater cost of those goods as compared to their nasty tree-wasting competition. I was proud to serve our coffee in recycled content cups and provide cornstarch cutlery, but the cost eventually out weighed my desire to do good and our budget was slashed (along with my salary: i got laid off).

Needless to say, i was intrigued when i was contacted by the Paradigm Group:
Paradigm Group is launching a new line of “tree free” products under its Emerald Brand today.  Tree free products use bagasse – or sugar cane pulp – as the main ingredient, making these environmentally sustainable products cheaper than their traditional counterparts, without sacrificing quality.

Businesses and consumers can tap the Emerald Brand as part of their larger strategy to improve green practices at cost neutral or less than what they pay for traditional products.  So far, we’ve had corporate clients and customers actually save money by going green – contrary to popular belief. 

I don't like to accept many of the strange and often off topic advertising please that i get via email, but i was interested enough in this company's products that i conducted a brief interview with their CEO, Ralph Bianculli.  I'm always skeptical of product that are labeled as 'green,' so i had a few questions that i hoped would provide some insight on whether this company is truly sustainable, or just marketing to a specific target audience.

I first wanted a bit of history about the company.
The company began 13 years ago as a paper products company which eventually went on to merge with Georgia Pacific. The then-founder decided he wanted to research and explore sustainable products, believing that sustainability would be the wave of the future. Georgia Pacific was not so keen on exploring new materials since they already owned billions of dollars in treed forests. So, the founder started his own company which is now known as the Paradigm Group, located on Long Island, NY. He began by using 100% recycled content and began using other content about 2 years ago that is sustainably grown and harvested. These raw materials include sugar cane bagasse (the stalk leftover after sugaring) and Eucalyptus fibers. Eucalyptus regenerate themselves much more quickly than larger trees.

I immediately wanted to learn where these raw materials come from - doesn't it defeat the 'sustainability' of the renewable resource if you're then shipping it from across the world? Apparently not!
Most of their raw materials come from the far east, some being sourced in closer-to-home Mexico or Canada, with a small portion sourced domestically. Concerned about sustainability, the company has done research to judge their habit of 'out sourcing.' It turns out that the energy used to ship their raw materials and non-domestically manufactured goods via cargo ships is actually as or more eco-efficient than it would be to ship the products from the equivalent of Houston, TX to the east coast via trucks. That's pretty impressive!

I then asked about the company's sales structure: who they market to, who they are accessible to and how my readers could purchase their products:
The Paradigm Group has 3 audiences:
  1. B to B, or Business to Business: They sell their products wholesale to other businesses who then package and market them via their own brands
  2. Retail via Walgreenes. You can purchase the Walgreenes "green reed" products at most of their stores. These products are also called "department five"
  3. B to C, Business to Consumer. Everyone from home owners to small business purchasers can access the eco friendly paper products (from toilet tissue to paper plates and more) at www.EmeraldBrand.com. Sold in lower quantity 'smart packs' their products are accessible for very small consumers. You can buy the products online and have them delivered right to your door for prices that are competitive or even less than grocery store prices. A great option for those homesteaders living out in the sticks.
One very exciting detail that i learned from speaking with Ralph is that FINALLY prices are truly levelling out. Corn starch cutlery is now equal or lower in cost to the plastic competition. As the prices of resin raise, the price of corn starch stays level so you can choose 'green' options without subjecting your budget (and your employees' jobs) to slashing.

I asked one final question of Ralph:
I DO purchase paper towels on occasion and always choose Seventh Generation. How does his product compare?
In his words he claims their paper towels are more cost effective than 7th Generation and meet or exceed the quality.

I'd love to hear if you've ever tried one of these products, or if you plan to. Here's to more choices on the 'green living' front that really provide sustainable products, not just 'hip' marketing strategies.

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