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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


If That Toilet Paper Is Brown, It Must Be Green

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: business, marketing, sustainable business, paper products, greenwashing, brownwashing, Keith Goetzman, Wall Street Journal, environment,

Chipotle napkin 

It’s hard to enter a store these days without being visually assaulted by labels, logos, and signs that appeal to our environmental consciousness. It turns out that there’s an even more powerful way for marketers to signal an environmental product to shoppers: Make it brown.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Dunkin’ Donuts and Target’s in-store cafes have switched from white to brown napkins, while Seventh Generation even adds brown pigments to its eco-friendly diapers “to drive home the environmental message.”

And Cascades Tissue is about to enter a new frontier with its U.S. rollout of a beige toilet paper called Moka. It might be a hard sell for fussy Americans, though. Writes WSJ:

Consumers in regions outside of North America are more accepting of recycled toilet paper and more readily embrace colored or fragranced rolls. Kimberly-Clark’s local brands sell apricot-colored paper in the U.K., green in Poland, “sunny orange” in Switzerland and “natural pebble” in Germany, the company says.

It’s a different story in the U.S. When Cascades pitched its Moka toilet paper to distributors at a recent trade show, “faces showed disgust” at first, says [Cascades marketing director Isabell] Faivre. “Then they would feel the product and it was, ‘Oh, wow, that would be perfect,’” for customers who want softness, but also want green credentials, she says.

Let’s not kid ourselves, however: Most Americans prefer bleached-white, super-cushy toilet paper, and the vast majority of the stuff we buy is highly unsustainable. As of 2009, 98 percent of the toilet paper sold in the United States came from virgin wood, according to Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, as reported in The Guardian in a story that explores “the tenderness of the delicate American buttock.”

As Hershkowitz put it:

“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.”

Christophers Mims at Grist has a solution: Stop using the stuff. I’m going to let him make the case:

The solution is straightforward: Do away with T.P. Think that sounds unsanitary? Not as unsanitary as our current approach. This is how a friend put it: What if I pooped on your arm and you wiped it off with a paper towel. Is it clean now?

There’s nothing even weird about the idea — lots of cultures don’t share our freakish obsession with sticking paper up our bums. The French invented the bidet in 1710.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Grist 

Image by CorruptKitten, licensed under Creative Commons.