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When it comes to promoting a sustainability program in a facility, one of the cornerstones is to utilize green-certified supplies or equipment. For users looking to select the right products, distributors can set themselves apart from the competition by providing consulting and guidance on different options. In the towel and tissue category, this can include what certifications to pursue, different price points depending on quality or durability, and clarification on any misconceptions when it comes to recycled options. 

To help provide a template for distributors, this Sanitary Maintenance roundtable gleans insight from three manufacturer experts on sustainable towel and tissue options, and what can be done to assist end users with their own green-cleaning initiatives.  


Fabio Vitali
Vice President, Marketing
Sofidel America Corp.
Horsham, Pennsylvania


Jill Trider
Customer Marketing Manager, Sustainability
Essity Professional Hygiene


Laura Ashley
Marketing Manager
Resolute Tissue
Calhoun, Tennessee

What sustainable attributes are most important when differentiating between green towel and tissue options? 

Vitali: Certifications. While evaluating manufacturers in their environmental footprint is difficult, certifications help. Above all, products that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified are likely the most sustainable ones. FSC involvement means that the forests from where cellulose comes are managed in a way that they will last. The balance among planted trees and cut trees is positive — for every tree that is cut, there are multiple trees planted.  

Trider: When it comes to paper tissue products, look for products that are produced and sourced from sustainable materials. Such products often feature Green Seal, ECOLOGO and FSC logos. It is also important to look for manufacturers that consider a lifecycle analysis (LCA), to ensure that sustainability is holistically incorporated into every process through end-of-life.  

Ashley: Three key attributes come to mind: fiber source, carbon footprint, and waste stream management. When it comes to fiber source, distributors should recommend options with certified fiber sourcing, recycled fiber (both pre- and post-consumer), certified sources (which can be a combination of certified forest and recycled fiber), and recycled sources both for the product and product packaging (these factors include recyclability, being compostable, and being biodegradable). Regarding waste stream management, this includes all phases of the product life, from production through end use.  

What selling points should distributors highlight when promoting sustainable towel/tissue options?  

Trider: Key selling points to promote include third-party certifications. Such certifications ensure that the products you’re selling are truly sustainable — and are attractive to end users who are looking for sustainable solutions. In fact, according to Essity’s annual Global Hygiene & Health Survey, one in three respondents indicated they are willing to pay more to live sustainably, reiterating  that there is a desire amongst consumers for health and hygiene products that are good for them, the environment and society.  

Ashley: Distributors, end users and consumers want assurances that their buying decisions represent a sound environmental choice. They are asking for proof that tissue products are made with raw material originating from sustainably managed forests, recycled material, and/or controlled sources. In the North American market, fiber certification gives that proof point that ensures either the fiber is from: 

1) A manufacturer buying fiber from a certified forest, 

2) A manufacturer buying fiber from a legally operating forest, 

3) A manufacturer buying fiber from a combination of the above (it can also include recycled fiber in the combination); or 

4) A manufacturer buying 100 percent recycled fiber. 

Vitali: It varies depending on where the distributor is selling. In an office, for instance, LEED certification points works well. Their unique selling proposition (USP) can focus on differentiation and making efforts to improve guest impressions. Overall, any end user sees green products in a more favorable way than standard products. 

How can distributors promote green paper products as part of a bigger sustainability program? 

Vitali: At this point, distributors have to promote green paper products. Sustainability is an unstoppable mega-trend. Sustainability and digitalization are the two trends that everyone needs to deal with. There’s no going back, either. Distributors must incorporate sustainability in their competitive edge. Adjust the strategy consistently to sustainability needs/expectations and provide solutions – not just products that are sustainable. Basically, a distributor cannot use sustainability as a transactional factor, instead they need to incorporate it in their offering. 

Trider: It’s important to note for end customers that third-party certified products can help companies earn credits towards a LEED certification. LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. It provides a framework for creating healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. Facilities that hold a LEED rating reassure people sustainable practices are in play on-site because LEED designations are awarded to organizations that take steps towards sustainability, and each step earns them credits towards a rating. An efficient and easy way your office can earn up to 2 LEED credits for Green Cleaning and Environmentally Preferable Purchasing is by switching to third-party certified sustainable sanitary tissues, paper hand towels and toilet paper. Further, distributors can promote responsible end-of-life options, such as incorporating a composting program for certified compostable towels and napkins. In addition to promoting the benefits of sustainable products, distributors can communicate to customers the importance of sustainable paper products to employees. Essity recently conducted a survey which revealed that 51 percent of employees believe their employers need to better communicate the ways they intend to address sustainability in the workplace. 

What other advice do you have for distributors looking to drive the sale of green paper products? 

Ashley: Promote product lines that have certified fiber sources, such as SFI Certified Sourcing, FSC, or Green Seal. Look for on-package certified sourcing logos with certification numbers, which prove that the manufacturer is indeed certified and is purchasing from certified forests/sources. A certified sourcing logo confirms a third-party audit from a certified organization.  

Vitali: Probably the most important element to succeed in implementing a sustainability strategy is getting the organization engaged. This is not easy. To have the whole organization engaged (including the salespeople, who are the ambassadors of the brand), distributors need first to have the organization aware. The sustainability journey is both top-down and bottom-up. An organization that is not aware will soon turn to be actively disengaged (because the efforts demanded are not understood).  

Trider: Look for a partner that is leading the way in sustainability and looking to make a genuine impact — beyond just certifications. Additionally, many partners and manufacturers are looking to drive local and national legislation to ensure transparency around sustainability. By identifying manufacturing partners who are engaging with policy makers to further sustainability, distributors can feel confident knowing that their partners are committed to sustainability.   

What are some of the more common materials used to make sustainable paper products? Are there any alternative materials that can be used to further expand the green paper category? 

Ashley: Common materials used from most available to least available are virgin fiber from certified forests and sources; a combination of virgin fiber mixed with recycled materials; and 100 percent recycled fiber. In our industry, there is much more capacity to produce virgin fiber-based products versus recycled fiber-based products.  

Vitali: Natural fibers, certified and locally manufactured. Disposable paper products are not green by design. Recycled paper products can be less green than a virgin one. Unfortunately, it is a common mistake to assume that recycled products are greener — that’s not the case. Natural fibers, when certified and locally manufactured, are the best option. Fibers that are grown, picked, and shipped from overseas cannot really be considered green: the distribution chain is impacting negatively; therefore, the sources might not be certified. It is also important to mention packaging. There are multiple options, nowadays, to have a 360-degree sustainable product: the raw material, the certifications, the location of manufacturing, the use of natural resources to manufacture and, not last, the packaging. Post-consumer recycled (PCR) poly, cardboard, biodegradable polymers, and paper wrap are among the sustainable packaging  options, alternative to poly. 

In terms of cost, how do green certified paper products compare to non-certified options, and what tips can you provide distributors struggling with sales? 

Vitali: Certification, conditions in supply chain and other factors can determine a higher cost to manufacture sustainable products. Comparing in the category could show interesting facts, where sustainable locally manufactured products are cheaper than major brands. 

Ashley: Some certified paper products may be more expensive now. For example, recycled fiber is much less available than in prior years, and therefore can be more expensive than readily available virgin fiber. It is a very common and unfortunate misconception that the only sustainable paper product is a recycled content paper. This is not true. Distributors should purchase from manufacturers offering certified fiber sources, which could be 100 percent virgin fiber, a combination of virgin and recycled fiber, or 100 percent recycled fiber.  

There was a perception that recycled doesn’t dry as well as traditional products. How have things changed and how can distributors respond to these statements? 

Vitali: Recycled fibers are not performing like virgin fibers, for sure. All main performances of recycled fibers are lower than virgin (comparing the same basis weight). Resistance, softness, absorbency in case of recycle product are less than virgin. 

Ashley: If you are referring to brown recycled towels, things have not changed. The water absorption capacity on paper towels depends not only on fiber type (recycled vs. virgin), but also other characteristics: fiber length, caliper, tensile strength, percentage stretch and additives. It is important to educate distributors on these characteristics, as the right formula will produce a high-quality towel. The reason why recycled towels do not dry quite as well as virgin paper towels is due to the length of the fibers. Recycled fiber typically contains shorter fibers, which lead to weaker paper. The longer fibers of virgin fiber produce paper towels with higher tensile strength in both directions, thus making it a stronger substrate when used for absorbing water. A distributor could offer a certified virgin fiber towel and convey assurances to their customer that they are making a sound environmental choice.  

How does facility type and/or foot traffic impact the type of sustainable towel or tissue products distributors should recommend to end-users? 

Trider: Decision makers that oversee high-traffic areas should consider high-capacity dispensers that reduce the number of refills needed, as well as built-in dispenser innovations — such as one-at-a-time dispensing of towels to reduce consumption and waste. Compressed products offer high capacity while reducing storage space at the facility to help ensure fewer product run outs.  

Vitali: Not much, in reality. Nowadays there are many sustainable choices available in multiple formats for high-medium-low traffic environment; so, it’s only a question to choose the most appropriate one.  

A graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, James DeGraff joined Trade Press Media Group in 2019 as an associate editor. He creates and oversees content for Contracting Profits, Facility Cleaning Decisions and Sanitary Maintenance magazines, as well as CleanLink.com.