Kimberly-Clark Looks Beyond Trees To Make Paper Towel and Tissue Products

Kimberly-Clark launched GreenHarvest products this spring, blending plant-based rapidly renewable fiber like bamboo and wheat straw into them. The products include instantly recognizable brands such as Kleenex and Scott Brand paper towel and tissue products. 

It seems only natural that KC, which sells its products in over 175 countries, would launch GreenHarvest. The company has been recognized among the “100 Best Corporate Citizens” by Corporate Responsibility Magazine, and one of the “World's Most Ethical Companies” by Ethisphere Institute. 

The company’s journey to a sustainability has its roots in its beginning because KC has always deemed sustainable forestry to be important. Now, its focus is on increasing its use of rapidly renewable fibers. Several years ago, at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainability Development in June 2012, KC announced its plans to source at least 50 percent of its wood fiber from natural forests from other fiber sources by 2025. 

Ben Jarrett, North America Sustainability Leader, calls KC the “famous towel and tissue maker.” The KC logo is one that is found in many public restrooms. “We're a trusted brand. We're in a lot of areas,” he said. That trusted brand is the first major towel and tissue manufacturer in North America to introduce products with 20 percent rapidly renewable plant fiber.

The Green Harvest product line helps farmers increase the value of their crops by creating new uses for agricultural waste. Or as Jarrett said, “With the Green Harvest product line, Kimberly-Clark is pioneering a brand new approach to sustainable fiber sourcing, to deliver innovative products that have the quality our customers expect from these brands.”

There is a “resource strain” in the world due to declining sources of fiber, Jarrett explained. That increases the need to “reduce the pressure on the natural forests," he told me. For that reason, KC is "exploring new fiber sources." He added that KC chose to increase its use of rapidly renewable fibers “because it helps to reduce pressure on natural forests, and it also helps farmers enhance the value of their crops. So, for us it's a win for everyone involved.”

KC has had help developing its policies on sustainable fiber sourcing. The company partners with several key environmental organizations, including GreenPeace, a partner for almost six years on sustainable fiber sourcing. KC also partners with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Since beginning to work with the organizations, the company has increased the use of FSC-certified fiber in its global tissue products and set goals to make its fiber sourcing more sustainable.

KC has made great strides in general in the area of environmental sustainability. Over 50 percent of its net sales in 2013 were generated from environmentally innovative products, according to its latest Sustainability report. That includes products made with FSC-certified fiber and rapidly renewable materials like bamboo and wheat straw. KC has also achieved a 23.9 percent reduction in fiber used from natural forests since 2011, and a 25 percent reduction in manufacturing water use since 2010. KC has also diverted 83.9 percent of manufacturing waste from landfills since 2010.

It is little wonder why Jarrett proudly proclaimed, “We’re very proud of our work.” Indeed, KC should be proud.

Photo: Kimberly-Clark