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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 paper use.

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 synchronicity!"

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 papers.

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 papers.

Visit Greg Barber's website.

- Gretchen Brewer
May 2003

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