A consumer campaign pressures manufacturers and distributers to provide products for sale which are currently unavailable. Each campaign will have its own set of criteria for what makes an improved product. Manufacturers tend only to produce products which they feel have a guaranteed market; a consumer campaign’s role is to show them that a significant market exists for environmentally friendly products. For example, with Reach!, our main concern has been to promote increased manufacture and sale of paper products which are either Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) due to concerns about human, wildlife and water health from more conventional pulping methods.
Reach’s largest consumer campaigns have been the Tissue Issue Campaign and the Office Paper Buying Club, both focused on educating the consumer to make informed purchasing decisions to increase the availability of PCF and TCF products on the market.
Consumer Campaigns are important because they:
- Hit producers and sellers in the pocket book
- Prove the economic worth of a product or idea by opening manufactures and distributors eyes to the potential of an untapped market
- Create an alliance with labour by working for clean and sustainable jobs
- Show that strong government conservation regulations and a healthy, vibrant economy can work hand-in-hand.
With these two campaigns Reach for Unbleached! has realized that intense consumer pressure to change the way paper is made is a very powerful tool to get polluting mills to switch to safer chemicals and cleaner technology. In fact, a recent province-wide poll indicates that 85% of British Columbians are willing to buy chlorine free paper products due to concerns for health and the environment, even if they cost more than chlorine bleached products. A successful consumer campaign must ensure that manufactures feel the pressure from concerned consumers.
The Tissue Issue Consumer Campaign
The Reach for Unbleached! Tissue Issue Consumer Campaign was launched as a result of the many phone calls received by concerned consumers wondering why they could no longer find chlorine free toilet paper on their supermarket shelves. The goal of the campaign was to have at least one BC supermarket chain selling chlorine free tissue products and at least one BC mill producing chlorine free products where they had not been before.
A couple of years prior to the 1997 launch of the Tissue Issue Consumer Campaign, Scott Paper Products Ltd. removed their chlorine free, recycled toilet paper from the market citing lack of consumer interest. Since Scott’s withdrawal from the market, most of the chlorine free sanitary papers sold in BC have primarily been imported from the US, with, more recently, some from Ontario. This change in the market resulted in chlorine free tissue products becoming less available and more expensive.
The goals of this two year campaign were to inform consumers of the chlorine free alternatives available and to encourage individuals to pressure their local stores to provide this product if they were not already. The techniques included:
- Creation of an extensive Tissue Issue Volunteer package with lists of available chlorine free tissue products, as well as contact information for distributors nation-wide.
- Production of cards and information pamphlets to be handed out by volunteers to local shops requesting that they offer chlorine free products with instructions to contact Reach! for manufacturer and distributor information.
- Obtaining samples of chlorine free tissue products for promotion and distribution
- Targeting specific large chain stores, such as Overtwaite/Save-On-Foods in BC. This technique involved asking volunteers and all concerned citizens to speak or write to store managers requesting that they offer chlorine free products
- Using the issue of health as a means of getting peoples attention. While many people are very concerned about the environment, speaking about the potential health effects of chlorine use for ourselves and our children created a much stronger response.
- Approaching larger paper users, such as corporations, schools and government, to ask them to buy chlorine free products. While volunteer pressure is useful here, Reach! found that it was important to have a well trained staff person to establish personal contact with people involved in recommending policy, always keeping our issue in the forefront.
- And, most importantly, hitting the streets to speak to as many people as we could in such venues as farmers markets, malls, music and film festivals, women’s, health and wellness trade shows and schools. This was particularly effective when showing people actual brand examples, what they look like, what names to look for and where on the package the chlorine free information is located.
These techniques led to the Overwaitea/Save-On Foods supermarket chain commissioning Scott Paper Products in New Westminster to produce an in-house brand of recycled, chlorine-free toilet paper under the Western Family label in mid-1998. While Overwaitea/Save-On-Foods did nothing special to promote this product,Reach! has learned that the toilet paper is selling very well, in fact exceeding anticipated sales.
Also, largely due to the Tissue Issue Campaign, the Educational Co-operative Purchasing Group, consisting of all the public schools in the lower mainland, as well as British Columbia Institute of Technology, Simon Fraser University, Open Leaning University, Capilano College and others have indicated their willingness to specifically request chlorine free paper products with their next order.
Reach! learned a number of lessons by the end of the Tissue Issue Campaign’s two year mandate which led to a clearer, more efficient campaign. These lessons included:
- Create information lists that are clear and easy to use. Have people who don’t know anything about the issue read your material to test clarity. Distribute information on products and companies which will be relatively easy to gain access to. By the end of the campaign, Reach! had moved from distributing over eight pages of manufacturer and distributor information to volunteers to a consolidated one page information sheet listing only easy to find and more affordable products. Finally, on all materials always list your organization as the place to come for more information.
- Make sure staff and volunteers working at information tables are well-versed in the issues and committed to the campaign. Volunteers wishing more casual, less demanding involvement served the campaign best by placing continuous consumer pressure on their local stores.
The Bulk Office Paper Buying Club Consumer Campaign
The purpose of the Reach for Unbleached! Office Paper Buying Club is to consolidate the buying power of consumers of chlorine free, recycled office paper to increase availability and lower cost. The unique feature of this consumer campaign is that Reach! is acting as a seller of a specific product which we identify as being environmentally preferable.
The Reach for Unbleached! Bulk Office Paper Buying Club began in the spring of 1998 in conjunction with Paper Choice, a small business supplier of environmentally friendly paper. The price of environmentally friendly paper can be a barrier to its success on the market. That price can only be lowered by large and consistent purchases. The goals of the Club were threefold:
- Lower the price of the paper
- Prove to manufacturers and distributors that a market exists
- Create enough demand to convince BC mills that this is the kind of paper they should make
By developing the Bulk Office Paper Buying Club, Reach! intends to send a message to paper manufacturers and distributors that it is time the market made a shift to meeting the demands of environmentally concerned consumers.
The first step in establishing the Club was to choose product guidelines for the paper we would promote. These included:
- PCF (Processed Chlorine Free) or TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) fibre
- high post-consumer recycled content
- union made
- works well in standard office equipment, including photocopier, laser printer, fax machine, etc.
The paper currently chosen for the Buying Club is Rolland’s New Life Dual Purpose – a 100% post consumer recycled paper, made in Quebec, and manufactured with no secondary use of chlorine compounds. Reach! is open to offering other papers through the Buying Club if we find a product of equal or better quality (whether wood or alternative fibre), and lower cost.
By joining the Club, members save at least 20% over regular retail prices. The idea is that purchasers of large amounts will be helping smaller customers to share the savings. Other important features which help the Club run efficiently and cost effectively include:
- Payment must be made in advance
- Participants buy paper as a group to increase buying power and savings
- Paper is delivered to purchasers immediately to eliminate storage costs
Numerous BC environmental groups, NGOs, small businesses, consulting companies, law firms, First Nations, student unions and a few departments of the federal government have joined the Club, representing over 600 members since the Club’s inception. In the future, we hope to convince some larger corporate consumers and school boards to begin using this paper, as well as increased government participation on all levels. Finally, information requests have been coming to Reach! from across Canada and the USA proving there is an incredible demand for reasonably priced environmentally sound paper, which is not being met by most distributors.
To date, Reach! has been informing the public about the Buying Club in a variety of ways, including: membership mail outs; distributing information at festivals and trade shows; email listserves; advertising in environmental magazines and newspapers; press releases; cold calls and/or visits to organizations or businesses which may be interested in the Club; letters to corporations, provincial government and school boards; and, best of all, word of mouth.
We will continue using these techniques, as well as:
- Ask current Buying Club members to solicit new members – environmental organizations and businesses often have a very large network of contacts who share their concern for the environment.
- Distribute sample packs of this quality chlorine-free, high recycled content paper.
- More contact with the business community – there are many green business, both large and small, who would be interested in the Club. In fact, the number of businesses participating in the Club increases with each order.
- Produce a market study – this information will be useful when speaking with paper producers and distributors to convince them that there is a large market in BC for this paper. (See Markets)
Tips from the Lessons We Learned
Like the Tissue Issue Campaign, Reach! has learned a great deal as the Bulk Office Paper Buying Club has proceeded, particularly in relation to the successful distribution of this product. If you wish to conduct a campaign where you are offering a product for sale, these tips may help things run more smoothly:
- Have a good invoicing program for better tracking and distribution.
- Set up an affordable and efficient delivery system. We use a combination of courier for major urban areas and Canada Post for smaller towns and rural areas.
- Keep things simple. When the Club began, Reach! offered three sizes of paper. We soon realized that 81/2 x 11 paper was by far the most popular paper but we were expending disproportionately large amounts of effort dealing with the few orders for the larger sizes. We now have an arrangement with a paper seller to offer Buying Club members a discount on 81/2 x 14 and 11 x 17 sizes.
- Be very clear about price and any additional charges (i.e. taxes and delivery fees). Purchasers don’t like surprises when they get their bill!
- Establish good communications with current Club members and potential members. Make sure that people understand why you are promoting this product; this is a good cause, not just cheap paper.
- Be very clear about payment requirements. For the Buying Club prepayment is one of the conditions for ordering paper. Reach! often has to make sure that purchasers understand that we are a non-profit, not a business and that we absolutely cannot afford to cover late payments. Be aware that larger businesses and government offices often take longer to pay.
- Make sure you give plenty of notice of upcoming buys, including pre-calling, mail outs, email notices, as well as advertising and media coverage, if possible.
- Finally, even though Reach! is not running a business, when people are buying something from you they expect good quality and prompt service. We have found that the reputation of the Club has been enhanced by offering an excellent product with clear and efficient service.
* With thanks to Alice Grange and Liza Morris, December 8, 1999