BambooKimberly-Clark, the world’s largest tissue product manufacturer and the maker of Kleenex and Cottonelle , announced today that it intends to reduce its impact on natural forests in a major way. By switching to alternatives sources of pulp to make its tissue products, the company hopes to reduce its impact on natural forests by 50% by 2025. They started testing products with bamboo in the UK this year.

Instead of using pulp from forests such as the Canadian Boreal Forest, or the Great Bear Rainforest, the company is going to use bamboo and even agricultural residues and waste such as wheat straw (which is usually burned.) Why is it doing this? Two reasons. One,  I actually believe many at the company want to lower their KC’s environmental footprint and two, the company wants to insulate itself against wildly fluctuating forest pulp prices. So, on both fronts, it’s a business decision. It’s green marketing, it’s reducing its exposure to potential controversy that comes from cutting forests, and it’s about increasing business certainty.  All supportable reasons.

Why is this so interesting? Well for one, this isn’t some niche company selling bamboo t-shirts at a local store or speciality tissue product manufacturer with a tiny market. This is a company worth $32 billion, that sells product in 80 countries around the world, and which has a billion people using its products daily. It’s also one of the world’s single largest users of pulp and has been using fibre from natural forests for nearly a hundred years. In recent years, Kimberly-Clark purchased more than 375,000 tonnes of pulp from suppliers operating in the Boreal Forest – valued at $340 million at today’s open market pulp prices. That’s a lot. 

When the likes of Kimberly-Clark make a move like this, it gets noticed.  Could this be the beginning of a major shift in the source of pulp for products, particularly products with limited lifespans like tissue products and newsprint? Could we see the end of paper from forests?

The demands placed on natural forests are too high. Besides destructive logging practices, the pressure on forests is just too much. If we are going to save species such as woodland caribou, the Sumatran tiger and vast areas of the Amazon and the Boreal Forest, we need to use less wood from forests and protect many areas permanently. We need to stop deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. For sure, turning forests into disposable products doesn’t make sense.

Kimberly-Clark needs to ensure that alternative fibres that they use come from environmentally and socially responsible sources and that independent certification of practices needs to be employed. Additionally and very importantly, the company has to make sure that any bamboo plantations and other agricultural fibres don’t displace food crops, something that is increasingly happening with corn planted for ethanol. Plus the company has to pay close attention to the climate footprint of its alternatives sources.

We’ll be watching closely in the months to come for more details from the company. Today, we applaud its big bold step towards reducing its forest footprint in major way.