As Kimberly-Clark goes national with its Scott Naturals toilet paper—the environmentally friendly version without a center tube—some think that the brand could go further and perhaps own the category.
For example, why not use 100 percent recycled paper, instead of less than 50 percent? Or, how about no longer whitening the paper? Well, if, as a result of such changes, the paper quality dips and the price goes up, K-C runs the risk of losing consumers. And right now, the company isn't prepared to take that risk.
"We found that adding recycled content compromised the quality and softness of the toilet paper," said Jared Mackrory, brand manager for Scott. "We are still researching alternative fibers and evaluating them based on quality and availability for potential use in the future. Right now we’re making a difference where we can."
Still, one vocal critic of brands that waste paper, Allen Hershkowitz of the National Resources Defense Council, believes that consumers will adjust, particularly for a product you only use once.
"If people say, 'Well, it’s not soft enough,' well, I say, 'Baloney.'" said Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the council. "There’s soft and there’s soft enough. Let’s get real. This is something we use and flush down the toilet."
Besides, Hershkowitz added, "We’re cutting down forests that have existed for centuries to make a product that we use for five seconds."
Scott Naturals, which initially launched in Northeastern test markets in 2010, is made with 40 percent recycled fibers and packaged with 20 percent recycled materials. While the company declined to provide sales data, Mackrory indicated that, based on its performance in test markets, the company is confident in the appeal of the product. "In those markets, Scott Naturals tube-free sales were in the top third or better in the bath category at key retailers," said Mackrory. "This response is why we are excited to be rolling out the product nationally."
By doing away with tubes, Scott Naturals conceivably will put a dent in the roughly 17 billion cardboard toilet paper tubes that are thrown away—and not recycled—each year. The environmental impact of the tubes, the brand says in a new campaign from lead agency Tris3ct in Chicago, could fill the Empire State Building. Twice.
As Mackrory explained, "The tube is something that’s really not needed by consumers and is extremely wasteful." He added that the brand gives consumers "an option to be more sustainable than they are today, in a way that doesn’t sacrifice some of the things that they find to be necessary."
Despite Hershkowitz' belief that K-C could go further in its environmental efforts, he credited the company with making strides.
"When they come out with getting rid of the tube, the logical thing to say is, ‘Is that the best that they could do?’ No, it's not," he said. "But I wouldn't label this greenwashing. I'd say this is a helpful initiative."
Along the same lines, Kimberly-Clark has taken other steps to make their products more sustainable. Last year, the company began using fibers certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in its tissue products. By 2025, Kimberly-Clark expects to transition at least half of its wood fiber, which is sourced from natural forests, to alternative fibers.