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Conservatree has a long and dynamic history, first as a paper distribution company from 1976-1997, and now as today's nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the tools, strategies and collaborations needed to transform paper markets to environmentally sustainable products. Meet the people behind Conservatree. Find out about our current projects. See also our list of funders.

Our unique combination of paper industry experience and environmental leadership allows us to offer highly-focused consulting services to businesses, governments, organizations, and others. We can walk purchasers through the process of choosing and converting to environmental papers while maximizing value and working within their constraints. And, since we don't sell paper, they get the best, most unbiased information and recommendations possible. We also are known for our ground-breaking research projects, speeches, and presentations.

Looking for specific topics or particular information? Get an overall view of our extensive website at our Site Map.

Who Is Conservatree?

Conservatree is a nonprofit catalyst and advocate for ecologically sustainable paper markets, combining environmental commitment with paper industry and technical savvy. We provide practical tools and realistic strategies for successful conversion to environmentally sound papers, including:

  • Information for paper buyers and specifiers on environmental papers that meet their needs

  • Answers to concerns and myths that create resistance to environmental papers

  • Strategies for source reduction, to reduce paper use as well as costs

  • Tactics for addressing cost premiums, when they exist

  • One-on-one assistance in implementing a shift from policy to solid change

  • Collaboration with advocacy campaigns to provide the expertise required to ensure that policy commitments turn into actual conversion to environmental papers

  • Education and recommendations for policymakers and legislators

  • Research into environmental paper industry issues

  • And, of course, much more!

Conservatree's History

Conservatree began in 1976 as the privately-owned, for-profit Conservatree Paper Company. Its founder and president, Alan Davis, wanted to develop a business solution to a cluster of environmental problems (including wasted resources, unnecessary pollution, and poor solid waste choices). At the time, there were virtually no identifiable recycled papers available for commercial uses. Davis jump-started the market for recycled printing and writing papers by developing a national paper distributorship dedicated to identifying and developing recycled papers and making them available to major buyers for the first time.

For more than 20 years, it pushed the technical and environmental development of recycled papers, while also developing supply and markets in a highly competitive industry. Although it never owned a paper mill, the company partnered with several mills to develop recycled papers to rigorous quality and environmental specifications, which it then introduced to eager corporate, government and organizational buyers. In fact, the recycled version of most grades of fine papers was first introduced by Conservatree, including the first recycled copier paper and first recycled 25% cotton bond.

Conservatree was also one of the most trusted sources for information about recycled papers in the country. It championed requirements for meaningful definitions, especially "postconsumer," that would tie into and enhance development of the larger recycling system. It also pushed development of significant content standards and sensible labeling, as well as researched related environmental issues such as deinking and toxic inks. Susan Kinsella launched Conservatree's first nationally distributed newsletter, ESP News, in 1988. David Assmann later took over as editor and publisher.

For most of the 1980s, Conservatree was the only national source for large-quantity recycled papers. In 1989, it began training traditional paper merchants around the country in how to discuss and sell recycled papers and gave them access to Conservatree's private label lines. In 1992, with recycled paper easily available and more cost-competitive through local paper distributors, Conservatree started scaling back its paper sales division, and closed it in 1994, having achieved its goal of making recycled paper widely available.

By this time, chlorine free papers and tree free papers were beginning to appear, so Conservatree continued its Information Services by launching a new, highly-regarded newsletter, Conservatree's Greenline. This new newsletter reported in-depth information on the whole range of environmental papers as well as source reduction strategies. It focused on all aspects of industry and ecological issues that affected developing markets for more environmentally sound papers. Conservatree's Greenline continued for three years, until, on December 29, 1997, Alan Davis closed the company completely.

Today's Nonprofit Conservatree

As editor of Conservatree's Greenline, and previously in public policy and advocacy positions with both Conservatree (1985-1990) and Californians Against Waste Foundation (1990-1994), Susan Kinsella covered developments and changes in markets for recycled, tree free and chlorine free papers. She saw the exhilaration of a dozen new high grade deinking mills opening in the mid-1990s, and the shock and distress when market and technological forces caused most of them to quickly close or operate severely below projections. She saw the excitement build about new tree free papers and the steady increase in awareness about the importance of chlorine free bleaching processes. She saw growing demand for identification of papers made without old growth timber fibers. She also saw the disintegration of the recycled paper markets, now that there was no national voice and source such as Conservatree, and misinformation and dis-information was becoming rampant.

So when the company closed completely in 1997, she recognized that the need was greater than ever for an experienced advocate and trusted source providing information, guidance, strategies and technical assistance in converting paper use to environmental options. In particular, many government and environmental advocacy campaigns were crumbling without the credible, easy-to-understand technical and strategic answers that Conservatree could provide to purchasers' and activists' questions.

Together with Gerard Gleason (who had paper sales experience through Conservatree and Dancing Tree, a print and paper broker), she converted the information and advocacy mission of Conservatree into a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating the tools, tactics, information and networks necessary to spur the continued development and market expansion of ecologically sound papers.

Today's nonprofit Conservatree is dedicated to providing the technical, strategic, and informational tools, as well as implementation assistance, necessary for paper buyers to convert to environmental papers. Purchasing demand from the bottom up built a 10% recycled paper share of the paper markets in the early 1990s, creating responses from the paper industry that included new and higher environmental content papers from almost every paper manufacturer, top-notch quality, a tracking system for postconsumer wastepaper among paperstock dealers and mills, new deinking mills, and lower prices. With these now in place and new opportunities such as renewed interest and commitment from the federal government and major corporations, environmental papers are again in a favorable position to take off and continue increasing market share.

We welcome and actively pursue collaboration with advocacy campaigns promoting the use of environmental papers, as well as businesses that provide them.

Conservatree can provide the information and implementation expertise necessary for successfully meeting environmental paper purchasing goals for advocacy campaigns by governments, environmental and medical health organizations, and others. In turn, advocacy campaigns can motivate many different constituencies, amplifying the reach and impact of our extensive knowledge about environmental papers.

Conservatree Projects

Some of Conservatree's projects include:

  • Building and maintaining extensive website listings of all the environmental papers available to purchasers in the U.S. and Canada.

  • Initiated founding of the Environmental Paper Network, an international collaboration of environmental groups dedicated to transforming the paper industry to environmental sustainability.

  • Co-authored the Single Stream Recycling Best Practices Manual (with Richard Gertman, Environmental Planning Consultants), to raise awareness among recyclers of the critical need to design recycling programs that meet manufacturers' requirement for quality feedstocks.

  • Authored Global Markets for Chain-of-Custody Certified Papers: Strategic Five-Year Forecasts, for PIRA International, Surrey, UK.

  • Hired as an advisor to Forest Stewardship Council-International to help integrate recycled content criteria into their certification program.

  • Co-founder of the Magazine PAPER Project, dedicated to converting magazine publishing to environmental options. Green America now manages this project.

  • Director of the Listening Study, discussions about some of the most contentious environmental paper iissues, with a focus on listening to all sides of each debate and finding ways to resolve the conflicts.

  • Advisor to the Green Press Initiative, a program helping authors and publishers switch their books to environmental papers.


We are most grateful for support from the following generous donors, including those that contributed to Conservatree's work through joint grants to our project partners:

Bank of America Foundation
The Columbia Foundation
The Educational Foundation of America
The Martin Fabert Foundation
The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation
The David B. Gold Foundation
The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund
The Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation
The Merck Family Fund
The Overbrook Foundation
The San Francisco Foundation
The Town Creek Foundation
The Turner Foundation
Trillium Web Works
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The Wallace Global Fund
The Weeden Foundation
The Whole Systems Foundation

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