Earth Day, 1990, marked three turning points in Greg Barber's life.
He had been very successful as a sales rep for a major paper company,
and also in running his own printing company, both using virgin
paper. Demands on his time were so great he was debating whether
to give up one or the other business.
On Earth Day, he heard Connie Chung report on TV that paper and
printing wastes caused 60% of the country's landfill problems. While
driving to work, he saw young people at his town's middle school
celebrating Earth Day, and was struck by their concern for the environment.
Suddenly he saw the connections between his business, the environment,
and teenagers' worries for their future.
Greg founded what is now Greg Barber Company (GBC) that same year,
and thus began his journey into promoting both recycled, with over
50% postconsumer fiber, and tree-free papers. He resolved to continue
both his companies, but with the unified goal of growing environmental
While re-inventing his companies, Greg was shocked into another
turning point - his 16 year-old son, Neil, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Neil's struggles took Greg on a new learning curve to understand
his son's illness. Naturally, this heightened his empathy for young
people with psychological problems, and young people in general.
As a business sideline, Greg began donating recycled paper and
print jobs to organizations serving mentally ill people. He also
struck up relationships with student environmental groups in colleges
and universities across the country. He came up with innovative
pricing for combination orders, or often just donated environmental
paper and printing for student activities.
"I just wanted to help," he said. "I didn't realize I was planting
seeds that 13 years later would bring lots of business. Those kids
are now captains of industry; they make decisions, or know who does."
Going by what "feels right," Greg tried other unique approaches
that paid off over time. One of his first ads was a full page spread
in Street News, a newspaper sold by homeless people at $1.50 per
issue. "My colleagues thought I was nuts," he remembers. "But, I
asked myself, who will pay for this paper, and the answer was business
executives. Sure enough, the CEO of a Canadian company saw the ad,
and called in a 40,000 pound truckload order for 50% postconsumer
paper, my largest sale at the time. That company is still a customer."
Networking with mental health organizations also opened opportunities,
not only for Greg's companies, but for his son. "Neil is a natural
artist, and drawing is therapeutic for him," says Greg. "I had been
thinking that starting a greeting card company could give him a
career of sorts. Just recently, two mental health organizations
called me wanting to start greeting card companies featuring art
by mentally ill people and printing on recycled paper. Talk about
In the early 1990's, as Greg built his two businesses, he was encouraged
by the number of paper mills gearing up to produce recycled content
lines. He was particularly impressed by the Crane Company, which
spent over two years creating the Continuum line of tree-free papers
at their mill in MA.
Crane's commitment to excellence - they make U.S. currency paper
- has guided the company for over 100 years. Greg carries all 4
of Crane's tree-free grades - Kenaf, Hemp, Old Money, and Denim
Blues - and offers soy ink printing or digital printing on these
Besides tree-free grades, Greg's top commitment for 13 years has
been promoting recycled papers with over 50% postconsumer content.
He features the Evolution and New Life DP lines from the Cascades
Mill. Evolution is 100% post-consumer fiber, and New Life DP is
60% postconsumer, with an additional 20% preconsumer fiber. Both
are certified 100% processed chlorine free (PCF) by the Chlorine
Free Products Association. Greg believes strongly that paper and
pulp mills should secure third party certification for environmental
claims from reputable, independent organizations like CFPA.
Greg says that all has not been smooth sailing or happy accidents.
In the late 1990's, mills began cutting recycled paper production,
discontinuing lines, and raising prices. Other paper suppliers entered
the market with doubtful claims or practices. Greg had to think
fast and regroup his companies to stay afloat.
Ironically, in the midst of this slump, his printing company received
a coveted Eco Kudo award from the prestigious Communication Arts
Magazine. "They gave the award not because I'm the best printer
putting ink on paper, but because I didn't jump ship," says Greg,
referring to holding his ground on the commitment to using over
50% postconsumer paper.
Persistence is the operative word for Greg's companies. In the
mid-90's, he succeeded in getting listed as a recycled paper vendor
for federal agencies through the General Services Administration
(GSA). This in itself was a major accomplishment, but he soon discovered
that being listed didn't necessarily mean getting sales. It took
years of navigating bureaucratic red tape, and internal policy changes
at GSA, before the arrangement took hold.
Now Graphic Paper has 18 GSA Advantage contracts for high post-consumer
recycled paper. Federal customers include U.S. EPA, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Department
of Defense. Graphic Paper and GBC also sell to the United Nations,
NRDC, Earth Pledge Foundation, Zip Car, Cornell University, and
many other customers committed to environmental papers.
The advent of digital printing helped increase sales of the higher
priced environmental papers by cutting printing costs. Greg explains,
"On standard presses, printers need to run 500-1000 'make-ready'
sheets before they get the colors exactly right. Digital printing
takes only 25 make-ready sheets, which cuts paper use and costs.
The fact that 4-color printing is now affordable makes printing
on tree-free and 100% postconsumer papers look terrific."
"GBC is setting up a national program for printing co-op jobs right
off our website," Greg continues. "We are purchasing a software
program that will allow clients to download their logos, fill in
the pertinent data, click a button, then view a PDF file of the
finished print job. Once the client okays the PDF, the file is transferred
to a new Xerox Igen 3 press capable of normal digital printing and
variable printing jobs."
Through business persistence, keeping up with rapidly changing
technology, and above all following his heart, Greg has held true
to his original mission to sell the most environmentally sound recycled,
tree-free, and 100% chlorine free papers. Having hung in through
the rough times, he is optimistic about the future.
After the slump of the late 1990's, he sees a new wave of environmental
awareness emerging in college and university student movements,
new commitments by religious organizations of all denominations,
mental health organizations, government agencies, and others taking
a more holistic view on actions to help people and the planet. Greg
Barber will be there, holding the ground for environmentally sustainable
Visit Greg Barber's website.
- Gretchen Brewer