These Come From Trees Sticker

These Come From Trees Sticker
This is the sticker we're hoping can save a couple hundred thousand trees a year. Amazing how the right message at the right time can make the difference.

Quick Facts about "These Come From Trees"

Monday, February 19, 2007

These Come From Trees Elevator Pitch

If you're here, you may have heard about this on the web, seen a sticker in a coffee shop / restaurant near you, or just might be a friend or family member of our dear Pete.

So, for those who don't know, the These Come From Trees concept was originated while having lunch at In N Out, that bastion of tasty burgers. The way that In N Out works, you order your food, wait for it to be made, grab it when your order is called, and then head on over to the ketchup and napkin dispensing island. Well, the thing is, because the ketchup and the napkins are centrally located, and you don't want to have to get back up to get more, you typically end up taking more than you really need.

Now, usually that sort of thing would just go without saying. But when I was at In N Out, looking around, I couldn't help but notice the napkins. Everywhere. Stacks of napkins on people's tables, out of which one or two would get used during the course of the meal. But here's the catch: when people are done, they don't leave the napkins. I think anyone would agree that the idea of using some random napkins on your table when you sit down would be rather, um, icky. So most of the people, as I watched, did the conscientious thing to reset the table to its base state for the next group, which means scooping up that stack of unused napkins, putting them on the tray with the other trash, and into the garbage they go!

This was amazing to me. Here we all were, me too, going about our business, not really thinking about the impact of our actions because, in this case, the resource was "free" to use.

Further, this wasn't an example of someone calling into question whether the use or misuse of a resource was "justified." This wasn't the same as someone saying "Wow, you shouldn't drive that Hummer, because you have no use for it" or making some other value judgment. Any reasonable person, when asked "should unused paper goods be thrown into the trash" would probably look at you sideways before saying, "Duh, no Pete."

That's what was amazing about this situation. If actually made to think of about these actions, everyone would be in agreement. I think if you asked anyone in there dumping napkin after napkin into the trash if they cared about conservation and the wise use of resources, we'd all say "yes." Of course we would. It was just that the thought process to intervene wasn't immediate, and internalized. But maybe there was a way that it could be.

I was truly curious how pervasive this problem was, and if there was a way we could all just "snap out of it" at the moment of consumption, and somehow reduce our waste. As I started noodling on it, I resolved to research how extended this problem was, and put my mind towards seeing if there were any good ways to deal with it.


Tom said...

If I have unused napkins left I take them with me and put them in my car. There never seems to be enough there when you need them.

My Surfing Notes said...

Nice idea. Here, in Borneo, trees are going to burned. It is for strive in this world.

Anonymous said...

I saw one of your stickers in an Eastern Michigan University bathroom yesterday - I LOVE this idea! Kudos to you!

Marcelo said...

Great Idea!!! I didn´t realized what a huge amount of paper we are wastnig.
I will print some spanish stickers and use them here in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Mike Clarken said...

We are starting a comprehensive recycling program (even with a 5-year-plan!) at our Title I low-income elementary school in San Diego and would love to not only get some stickers for all appropriate campus locations, but tp publicize them as well. Please email me at if you can help! Thanks!

Jennifer said...

After seeing a TCFT sticker in a coffee shop in Lyons, Colorado, I immediately went to purchase some for the local elementary school where I teach 4th grade. Imagine my delight when I found out I could get some complimentary! I can be contacted at Thanks, Jennifer

Joe Wall said...

Well, I got my day started by finding that some sanctimonious little "guerilla" had struck my facility, plastering your plastic stickers all over our trash cans at odd angles. It looks awful, and now I'm stuck spending my time using solvents to get the damn things off, and they're not saving ANY trees.

The irony is that if someone had approached me and asked if I'd be interested in using them for the museum, I'd have said yes, but instead I'm just annoyed that some high-minded little twit tagged us without the slightest awareness of our actual work on environmental issues. I'm the director of facility maintenance and tech for the American Visionary Art Museum and I don't need some little suburban "guerilla" with a pack of oil-industry plastic gang tags to teach me how to be green.

In my tenure, I've changed much of our lighting to CFL and LED lighting, changed our cleaning products and consumables (like paper towels and toilet paper) to sustainably grown and recycled alternatives, and advanced our core mission of artistic recycling and reuse. We xeriscape in our green areas, use reclaimed water for our gardening, and are building new structures in our garden with salvaged soda cans in a mortar matrix, plastered with mosaic artwork made of salvaged glass and ceramics. AVAM has rooftop vegetable gardens in the summer and we'll have Kenya top bar hives on campus next year bolstering the local honeybee population…but some little wank with a pocketful of stickers doesn't really care about that, oh no.

It's all very feel-good, very celebrity "green," to slap a sticker that no one will ever read on a trash can and walk away smug, feeling like an eco-warrior, and it's a hell of a lot harder to actually do something. How about encouraging your "guerillas" to actually spend five minutes on the phone, calling the facility managers of their targets and actually engaging in a dialogue?

As it stands, I've got a bad taste in my mouth and some little middle-class wannabe green activist is smug for nothing, and these stickers are going in the trash with the solvents and the paper I'll have to use to remove them. If people care, why don't they get off their asses and actually do something? Donating a low-energy use cool-air hand dryer to the facility would be a nice statement, but I'd be happy just to have a little actual engagement and a little less of this kind of teenybopper pseudo-grassroots BS.

Pete Kazanjy said...

Joe, that sounds very frustrating.

However, it also sounds like you're jumping to the conclusion that because someone posted these stickers in your bathroom, it necessarily means they don't know or don't care about the other efforts that you are admirably undertaking, and I think that's a bad conclusion to jump to.

If you think about it, not everyone is enlightened as you, and these stickers are sometimes their first experience with the idea of sustainable design, which leads them to a whole new chapter. That is, after having seen these, we have seen many facilities folks ending up buying up many stickers to deploy, and pursuing other programs of the sort you have already implemented.

If you read around on the blog, the recommendation is for people to do with the stickers what they are comfortable with, and be mindful and respectful of the facilities. This could mean talking to the facilities owner, of course. It certainly means being precise in the placement of them. In fact, the stickers themselves are laminated to withstand cleaning, to ensure that they don't look bad in a bathroom, not to mention professionally designed.

In fact, if you look around the site, there are hundreds of institutions who are using these. All you have to do is click on the link at the top of each page that says "Hundreds of Businesses are using These Come From Trees stickers."

With respect to your point about "spending five minutes on the phone", there are plenty of our readers and "eco warriors" who have done just this. For example, a handful of students at a variety of colleges have worked with me to gather the information they need to deploy these across the school. However, not everyone has that time, and part of the value of these stickers is that they lower the barrier to "just do something" as you put it. For those who can dive in with both feet, great. But for those who can't, this is a helpful tool.

What you're doing at the museum is great, and I'm sorry to hear that you had a bad experience with someone who has not taken the project's spirit to heart. However, I would caution you to not "throw the baby out with the bath water" because of your frustration, and instead step back and look at the bigger picture. Hopefully you'll see that outside of your single experience there's something larger at work here, and appreciate that for its value.

Nonkey1 said...

I think Joe has a point. The worst thing about environmental campaigning is environmental campaigners. There's no getting away from it, they are sanctimonious.
Hardly any of them seem to have a job that involves making things; none of them seems to understand basic economics; and all of them seem to want to tell me what to do, rather than show me what they're doing.
Cars are a good example. In the UK, we pay an annual tax for our cars now based on CO2 emissions. This makes no sense. I drive a 4x4 because I live in the countryside. I never buy new because I can't afford it. Raise the tax on my car, and all I'll do is buy a cheaper, older, and therefore more polluting car.
How to fix this? Well, you could tax my usage, and I'll do my best to drive less. The less I drive, the less I pollute, and the less I pay. Everyone wins.
But the ecomentalists don't want that.
Why? For them, it's not business. It's personal.
They don't like 4x4 cars; and they don't like the people who drive them.
And I'm afraid I respond in like fashion.
I just don't like them, and I'm not inclined to do what they tell me. Or nudge me.

Pete Kazanjy said...


I think your point is well taken about how the tenor of the conversation between someone with an environmentally-focused agenda and the target of that message is really important in getting the right point across.

I agree with you that often that conversation has been one of condescension, and no one wins in that situation.

I would argue, though, that this project is not an example of this, in that we took substantial pains in the design of the stickers to *not* be condescending or preachy, but rather to provide a helpful nudge in the same way that one friend would to another. The goal, of course, being that by making this communication more friendly and open, the message is more likely seen as non-threatening, and one of helpful reminder rather than a stern dictum.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Tracey said...

I saw these attractive, thoughtful little stickers on the towel dispenser in the bathroom at the University of Pennsylvania recently, and I thought, "what a great idea! We should get these for our office!" It's certainly not something you should do without the consent of the property owner (as was Joe's problem), but I don't think that was your intent.

My office has been interested in pursuing green initiatives, such as recycling and reducing waste, and this seems like a simple, gentle, nonjudgmental way to remind people not to waste. I've passed a link to this blog on to the person spearheading green initiatives in our office, and I hope I'll be seeing some of these stickers on the towel dispensers in our bathroom soon!

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Anonymous said...

People don't seem to have thought through the whole "use less paper" thing.

It is very popular to use less paper, but carbon sequestration through paper based landfill is an effective measure in the fight against global warming.

Preventing the removal of trees from old growth forests is a good idea for protecting biodiversity.

Farmed trees make a majority of their dry mass by taking carbon out of the air and turning it into wood.

If these trees are left in the ground once mature, their conversion rate slows and they are no longer as efficient at removing carbon from the air.

Replacing farmed trees as quickly as they mature allows the carbon to be sequestered and the efficiency to be maintained.

Carbon sequestration onto libraries as books, and most of society as furniture and housing is good, but the shear amount of carbon in the air requires that the carbon be buried.

Using the wood as paper simply allows the best use of an important environmental carbon sink.

Composting or burning returns the carbon to the air. Sealed Landfill seems to be the best way to sequester the carbon permanently.

VeganJackalope said...

Saw these in a museum bathroom in Asheville, NC. I fell in love with the idea. I decided then on- one paper towel, and, only if my hands are still soaked, I can get another. It's changed my entire set of habits.
I've also decided to take my conversion a step further, order some stickers, and begin taking the campaign on around my home and college town. Now, I'm a respectful adult, and I know it would be rude and pointless to plaster a sticker where ever I see fit- I'll talk to managers, show them the stickers, and place them with their permission and assistance.
After all, you get much more done when you ask others for their help.

Daniel Shaw said...

I've seen a similar sticker that can be used to be posted in a variety of places to warn them of the harm of overusing paper towels (or even using them at all). It does less to remind people that paper towels come from trees but instead, just as helpfully, reminds people that they don't need to use more than one paper towel in a public bathroom to get their hands dry. It outlines a very simple technique: <a href=">shake, fold and dry</a>. I wonder if this surprisingly obvious technique will make a difference or if people will just continue to use paper towels in public bathrooms like an completely renewable resource...

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Just want to say what you guys are doing with the stickers is awesome and I fully support you.

balfeo said...

I just wanted to let you know I featured your amazing stickers on my Gateway Green blog Sunshine Guerilla. I was given the advice that I should let you know, and I just think your idea is so great! You can read the blog here-

Thanks! B

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