Marcal’s Secret Deep-Green Roots
Marc Gunther, a senior writer at GreenBiz.com, interviewed Tim Spring, the CEO of Marcal on GreenBiz radio. The interview presents an interesting perspective of a green company that hasn't always marketed itself that way.
Posted Sept. 2, 2009
By Marc Gunther, GreenBiz.com
Tim Spring, the CEO of Marcal,
a company that makes all its products from 100 percent recycled stock
talks about how a firm that was green 'before Greenpeace bought their
first rubber boat' is adapting to increasing customer and retailer
acceptance of green issues.
Marc Gunther: This is Marc Gunther for GreenBiz.com. I'm joined
today by Tim Spring. Tim is the CEO of Marcal, he became CEO last year.
Marcal is a maker of paper products — paper towels, tissues, toilet
paper, napkins, the whole shebang — and the story here is that all of
Marcal's products come from 100 percent recycled stock. So, Tim, begin
please by just telling us a little bit about the history of Marcal and
how you got involved.
Tim Spring: I joined Marcal about a year ago, and I discovered
this small little company has been completely committed to recycled
fiber since 1950, so I was very excited when I learned that because I
see, you know, how much we as Americans are starting to commit to, you
know, green options, and I thought this was a great little company to
try to re-present to America.
MG: And so Marcal was coming out of bankruptcy. They were using
green products. Had they been talking about the products as green? Did
they position themselves as an environmentally progressive company?
TS: They had not, which is fascinating. Metaphorically, it
almost went the way of the electric car, you know, as it sorta entered
bankruptcy. Nobody looked under the hood and realized, you know, this
is a very green company with deep roots in being green. As I like to
say, this company was committed to saving trees for over two decades
before Greenpeace bought their first little rubber boat. You know, it's
deep and it's deeply rooted.
They didn't talk about it and we discovered it and we decided this is a
message that should get out. A funny story there is when we started to
talk to our own users about it — there's a lot of loyal users — some
of them didn't even know about our deep roots, and they went through
the seven stages of denial, you know, but eventually came around and
realized, "Hey, they've been doing something good all along."
MG: Now where are you located and what is your source of supply for recycled stock?
TS: We're located in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, which is about 20
miles northwest of downtown Manhattan, and as I like to say, every time
I look at that skyline now, I see a big urban forest. The blue bins in
the office buildings and the residential bins you bring out to the curb
is what we convert into paper towels and napkins.
MG: Now traditionally, the green brands — and I'm thinking
about things like the Prius or Seventh Generation, one of your
competitors, organic foods — these have all sold at a significant
price premium to the conventional brands. What about Marcal? Your brand
is called Small Steps now. How are you positioning it and how are you
TS: I think Small Steps is kind of very unique in the world of
green. I believe it to be the first product that's ever — 100 percent
green, first and foremost, offers the performance characteristics that
are comparable to the other brands.
But the big breakthrough, it's not asking for a premium. It's not
asking for the same price as the other guys. It's actually about 10
percent less, and I don't know of another green product that has ever
done that, and we've done that because I think that's the universal
truth. People want to have products that work, right?
They want to make a small contribution to green if they could and they
wanted to — they want to save money for their families. And I think
the green movement is about the economics of green and I think
consumers recognize, "Boy, if we can do — make it a little cheaper,
I'll buy a little bit more. I'll tell my friends, etc." And that
applies to paper towels, and I believe it applies to, you know,
gas-efficient vehicles. If we can find ways to make these products
cheaper and economically viable, that's how they're gonna become a much
more dominant part of our lives.
MG: Do you have a concern, Tim, though, that by coming out of
the closet, so to speak, and marketing all of your products as being
made of recycled paper that there's a potential that consumers will
think they will have to sacrifice in terms of quality or performance?
Particularly in the paper category, I think, you know, people think
when they buy recycled paper at Staples it's gonna be slightly brownish
in hue, although in fact that's not true at all.
TS: Yeah, actually it's interesting. I think that's an artifact
of some of the early green products that came out kinda in the late
'90s and early this decade where, you know, they were green but they
didn't really work that well. In household cleaners, for example, a lot
of it was, you know, lemon juice and water, you know. It was natural,
but they didn't really work as well.
So there is an expectation that green products are not quite as good.
As I mentioned, Small Steps, you know, it gets the spill up. It — it
performs very well and at the end of the day, it's only through direct
experience can you make that conclusion.
MG: And how are you — what's your marketing plan? How are you
gonna get people to sorta look again at the Marcal brand and sample it?
TS: Well, there's two things and I need your listeners to help.
One is, you know, we're advertising. We're on TV. We're in the
magazines. We'll be in Backpacker. We're in People magazine. So we're
in big and small. We're expanding our distribution.
Where your listeners can help is this is a coalition, you know, so
we're in about half the stores in America, but if we're not in your
store, if, you know, our product or even another green option is not
there, I'd just encourage the listeners to talk to their store managers.
And they can do that with the confidence of the 150 to 200 bucks they
bring to that store every week and say, you know, "Hey, I heard about
that Small Steps. When are you guys are gonna stock it?" Because I
think it's through that behavior we as Americans can start to make, you
know, real change, both in the paper category or, you know, a variety
of consumer products.
MG: Last question, Tim. Your product is made from 100 percent
recycled stock, so you do not cut down virgin trees. How does that
compare to the industry as a whole?
TS: A shocking statistic associated with the paper categories we
talked about. All the efforts Americans have in terms of, you know,
saving paper and diligently putting it in the blue bins in the office,
etc. — the shocking truth is that 98 percent of the products that are
currently bought today come from clear-cutting forests, some of them
with trees as old as 200 years old, and just 2 percent of the paper
products in America come from recovered fiber. That is vastly lower
than Europe or even Canada, which is not that far away. The numbers are
north of 25 percent.
MG: And that's because of a limited supply of recycled input.
TS: Certainly not. You know, that's come up. You know, gee,
maybe there's not enough recovered fiber. Look out your window or next
time you stop by a fast food restaurant — there's so much paper in
America that unfortunately ends up in landfills, you know, perfectly
good product that could be converted into something, you know, with a
second life, you know, and useful life. I think the number is 50
percent ends up in landfills, which is a complete waste of valuable
MG: Great. Well, Tim, thank you so much for taking the time. Tim
Spring, CEO of Marcal. They make the Small Steps paper products. Thanks
for being with us.
TS: Thank you, Marc.
GreenBiz.com Senior Writer Marc Gunther blogs at www.marcgunther.com.