Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington is making technological and sustainable leaps with plastic-like products  

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript Walk into a national retail store and you'll see a lot of plastic. Signs, packaging, labels, gift cards, hard cases for items like CDs or DVDs, even shopping bags, just to name a few. But the Monadnock Paper Mills in Bennington is changing that for a lot of big-name retailers throughout the nation - even around the world - with a line of products designed to be sustainable and high quality.

The products can look and feel like plastic, but are actually made of wood fiber harvested in a sustainable way, according to David Lunati, the director of marketing at Monadnock Paper Mills. They are part of a line of "unplastic" products called the Envi Portfolio.

And these products are being used by extremely recognizable names. Local consumers, like the Vermont-based Long Trail Brewing Company have started to use the labels from the Envi Portfolio on their beer. But national retail chains are also getting into the act, including stores that the average person uses every day - including the national clothing store Gap Inc., REI, the Chipotle restaurant chain, Nike and Burt's Bees. "These products are in wide use," said Lunati in a telephone interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday. "We're this little mill in the hills of New Hampshire, and what we're doing is being used by brands known worldwide."

Five years ago, Monadnock Paper Mills noticed a trend in some of the large, brand-name retailers, said Lunati. As there was a growing awareness of environmental responsibility among both retailers and consumers purchasing their products, retailers began to seek an alternative to some of their plastic packaging.

The process takes the components of wood that's not needed in papermaking, and mixes it with fine natural wood fibers and natural additives like wax, to create a plastic-like material that can be melted and molded to create a product that can replace plastic.

In the past, companies were forced to make a choice between a product that held up to their brand's standards or one that was environmentally green, Lunati said. One of the goals of the Envi line is to create a product that could be both.

"People were asking for green products where they didn't have to compromise in trade dress, or how the product looks on the shelf," Lunati said. "And people were forced to compromise on one or the other most of the time. We wanted to design a Holy Grail type product that would allow them to have a product that was both sustainable and had a high standard."

Monadnock Paper Mills jumped into the market, and started its Envi Portfolio line five years ago. It began with folding packing boxes made with all-recycled fiber.

But that was just the beginning. Since then, the line has expanded to include cardstock, labeling, price tags and replacements for plastic packaging and plastic signage. And now, they've launched two additional products: gift cards and wall graphics. And everything in the portfolio is made from recycled, post-consumer waste or renewable wood fiber.

"Monadnock helps brands like ours continue to make more sustainable packaging choices without sacrificing performance, beauty or budget," said Brand Design Manager Julie Colon of Burt's Bees, a North Carolina- based company that makes a natural line of skin and beauty care products, in a press release issued by Monadnock Paper Mills on Sept. 10.

Usually, going green has a price tag attached, but according to Lunati, the Envi Portfolio is designed for bigname retailers - and the companies wouldn't be using it if it weren't as cost effective, he pointed out.

Envi Portfolio products are priced on target with the plastic market, said Lunati, because the company takes a total system approach to pricing. While the base materials are more expensive, the mill gets around that by making their products smaller, less thick or streamlining the supply chain to eliminate costs. That way, they can provide a product that's comparable both in quality and cost, he said.

And ultimately, going green is good for the bottom line, said Lunati, because it's increasingly becoming an issue that consumers are aware of and seeking out. In 2010 ImagePower Green Brands survey - one of the largest global surveys to date on consumer perceptions of green brands and corporate environmental behavior - 60 percent of consumers said they prefer environmentally responsible companies. And on the retailer side, in a 2012 Boston Consulting Group survey of more than 3,000 brand owners, 67 percent of them said that sustainability is a source of competitive advantage.

"Gap Inc. is committed to making sustainable choices that work for our customers and for the environment," said Senior Marketing Manager at Gap, Jorge Perez-Olmo, in Monadnock Paper Mills' recent press release. "Monadnock's Envi Portfolio of environmentally friendly, recycled paper and gift card products allow us to bring this effort to our stores."

Reducing costs for both the mill's customers and the end consumer is important, and Lunati said the most important thing is to reduce waste.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 31 million tons of plastic waste was generated in 2010 in the United States, which is more than 12 percent of the country's solid waste stream. And the majority of that comes from packaging materials.

"We take great pride in the fact that everything is responsibly sourced," Lunati explained about all the products that the mill produces, including the Envi Portfolio. "The wood pulp is harvested from a well-managed forest, and our products are manufactured with green energy generated from the Contoocook River. We've been doing it a long time, before it was popular to be green and that's why a lot of these companies are choosing to work with Monadnock Paper Mills."

For more information about the Monadnock Paper Mills or the Envi Portfolio, visit www.mpm.com or enviportfolio. com.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledger transcript.com. She's on Twitter at@AshleySaari.

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