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Commentary & Analysis

Paper is Getting a Bad Rap

By John G. Braceland
Published: March 18, 2011

Environmentally friendly.

Sustainable.

Carbon footprint.

The printing industry is not always viewed as environmentally friendly. People in the industry are trying to change this perception.

These are all words that you see every day. The environmental movement has come and gone a number of times.  Today many printers have some type of chain of custody certification. Some, because they think it is the right thing to do and some, because their customers require it. The current movement seems to have some legs. More people across more generations are concerned about the environment. The printing industry is not always viewed as environmentally friendly. People in the industry are trying to change this perception, not because they are burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the march of electronic media into our lives, but because some of the information is just plain false. Printing and paper have their place and are effective ways to communicate.

Domtar has launched a campaign to help educate the public about paper. This is a multiyear campaign that will utilize a variety of publications and methods to get the message out.  The website is www.paperbecause.com. You can establish a link on your website as well.

Paper use can be conceived as bad. What are the facts?

  • The forest products industry plants more than 1.7 million trees per day. For every tree that is harvested, several more are planted or naturally regenerated.
  • We have about the same amount of forests as we did 100 years ago. If we did not use these forests for tree production commercial land would be used for development, which would shrink our forests.
  • For every ton of wood a forest produces, it removes 1.47 tons of CO2 from the air and replaces it with 1.07 tons of oxygen
  • In 2009 over 63% of paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling. The recovery rate for metal is 36%, glass is 22%, and plastic only 7%.

Many companies have a chain of custody certification, which helps ensure that everyone from the paper mill, merchant and printer all follow the same rules. Here are some of the points these programs cover:

Many companies have a chain of custody certification, which helps ensure that everyone from the paper mill, merchant and printer all follow the same rules.
  • Prohibit conversion of forests or any other natural habitat
  • Respect of international workers’ rights
  • Respect of Human Rights with particular attention to indigenous peoples
  • No corruption – follow all applicable laws
  • Identification and appropriate management of areas that need special protection (cultural or sacred sites)

We have all seen the effects of electronic media on the printed piece. Printing is now one of a number of ways that information can be transmitted. Is electronic media more effective and more environmentally friendly? This answer varies with who you ask. Generational differences can sometimes be a factor. Here are a few facts that play a part:

  • 81% of consumers read or skim advertising mail delivered to their home. Do you read those emails or just delete?
  • Direct mail generates the highest response rate. Direct mail response rates are typically measured in whole, single or even double digit figures when targeted. Other forms are measured in hundredths of a percent.
  • 35% of marketing budgets are used for direct mail, which is still a substantial share. The ability to reach people and get a call to action is effective. Combining print with electronic calls to action are especially effective.
  • The printed piece can involve more areas of the brain and contribute to better learning. The online media lends itself to more superficial processing of information. You are just surfing the information and not deep learning.
  • Studies are being done about e-books and their use in the classroom.  Some students report that eReaders are too rigid for use in the fast paced classroom environment.
Print and electronic media will continue to fight it out and find a place in the information mix. Help your customers understand the truth about paper and its effectiveness in marketing and learning.

Is your financial institution pushing you to go paperless? Many financial institutions only archive documents online for a few months. The IRS can audit for up to three years after they have filed their returns or six years if their income was substantially under reported. You can neglect to review your statements electronically vs. seeing them in print. Just 15% of online banking customers have stopped receiving paper statements from their primary bank. 9% of identify fraud victims who know how thieves have obtained their information say it was from stolen paper, while 12% say it was from computer viruses, hackers, spyware or “phishing”.

Print and electronic media will continue to fight it out and find a place in the information mix. Help your customers understand the truth about paper and its effectiveness in marketing and learning.

John G. Braceland is Managing Director for Graphic Arts Alliance a member run purchasing cooperative. He is also President of JB Solutions, a company that creates and manages purchasing cooperatives in various industries. Previously, he was President and owner of Braceland Brothers, a multi-plant printing company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA.

Please offer your feedback to John. He can be reached at john@jbsolutionsllc.com.

 

Discussion

By Raymond Prince on Mar 18, 2011

"The next time you worry about printing out an e-mail, consider that paper is made from easily renewable material while the device you're using to read this is not. Paper is recycled and recyclable. Scrap paper is not toxic waste. However, the device you're using to read this e-mail will be toxic waste when your'e finished with it."

This is the footer I use -- a bit long but I think it states the case well. Your article is well done.

 

By Betty Maul on Mar 18, 2011

Amen! Finally our industry is speaking out and fighting back! I just hope we are not too late in raising a voice to this issue. We (as an industry) have been silent too long. Time to start getting involved again in educational institutions, and corporate boards, and re-establish print as a sustainable and effective media.
I love the tagline on your emails Ray... would you mind if I borrow it for all of mine???

What they think has outreach among our own industry, but I fear we are preaching to the choir. When will WTT, take the lead to join with the other industry associations to develop a campaign for our effective and sustainable industry... We need to do this now, before many more printers go out of business!!! I feel this is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately. Even something as creative as a UTUBE video, would be a place to start!!! Will you take the lead?

 

By Roger Albert on Mar 18, 2011

You got it, Betty. How about an ad campaign showing what happens when people go into a waiting room at a doctor's office and reach for a magazine to read, only to find a Kindle or Ipad with dead batteries, covered with messy fingerprints? Or maybe a hidden camera showing people's preference to reach for a beautifully printed and bound coffee-table book rather than an electronic device?

As for sustainability, back when I was studying forestry management in the late 70s, more trees died of natural causes in the US each year than were harvested. I bet the same is still true. Unrestrained urban sprawl takes out more forests than responsible forestry - and with no hope for recovery, ever! And even back then, we planted 2 trees for every tree harvested.

 

By Betty Maul on Mar 18, 2011

So, the challenge to lead the charge and promote and defend our industry has been put on the folks at What They think. Will you take this on??? I know Ray and I will both help, so what say you????

 

By Patty Traynor on Mar 18, 2011

There is such a strong misconception about paper being "bad" in today's society. While preparing to host an event about this topic for our local Sustainable Business Network, I ran across a great (but lengthy) document from The Forests Dialogue called Beyond REDD: The Role of Forests in Climate Change. (http://environment.yale.edu/tfd/uploads/TFD_Forests_and_Climate_Statement_w_Briefing_Notes.pdf)

If you look at page 12 of the document, there are recommendations for forest products companies. The first one is to promote INCREASED USE of forest products as an important climate change mitigation strategy. In other words, the environmentally correct thing to do is to use MORE paper, not less.

Maybe we could change "don't print, save a tree" into "use a tree, save the planet".

 

By Betty Maul on Mar 18, 2011

Why don't we just show the electric meter whirling away at light speed pace, burning up power, to send off that e-newletter from Mr. I wanna be Green, to all his loyal recipients.
Or,
Let's watch that meter whirl away again as the recipients open up all those computer screens to read Mr. I wish I were being Green.
Oh and let's not forget all the folks who then print a copy anyway on their not so green laser printers, on paper that is most likely not partially recycled stock.

 

By Steve Adams on Mar 18, 2011

I wrote a blog post on this a few months ago. As the use of paper declines, so will the acreage of private forests in the U.S. These owners need to continue to support their families and if paper is no longer a viable product, the land will be converted to other uses. Here's the link to my post. http://bit.ly/cn2aoz

 

By Roger Albert on Mar 18, 2011

Even recycled paper has it's own carbon trail, from the trucks that haul it back to the mill to the mills that require gas and electricity (from gas or coal fired plants) to the "sludge" by-product that results from the removal of ink and whatever else made it into the recycle stream.

 

By Patrick Henry on Mar 19, 2011

A great post, and perceptive comments. Domtar also deserves the salute it gets for all that it has done to promote paper as a creative medium.

But, I wonder how much we really accomplish on paper's behalf by sniping at electronic alternatives to it:

"The online media lends itself to more superficial processing of information. You are just surfing the information and not deep learning."

The New York Times, which has just announced a fee schedule for accessing its editorial matter electronically, is betting that this point of view won't prevail in the long run. It believes that the Times audience will embrace online and device-based publishing as a high-quality reading experience worth paying for. So does every other publication that ever put up a web site or developed an e-reading app.

And, I do like to think that the online content offered here at WhatTheyThink stimulates a bit more mental activity than just superficial information-processing. Maybe it even drives home some deep learning every now and then, when contributors like Cary Sherburne, Andy Tribute, and Joe Webb are at the top of their form.

To its credit, the printing industry has always been realistic about coming to terms with emerging technologies that do what conventional printing methods do, but in different, equally useful ways. That's the spirit in which to greet solutions for paperless reading, which (like print) are viable, necessary, and here to stay.

Instead of depicting print and electronic media as locked in combat, let's give due recognition to their respective benefits for readers—as this post does wonderfully well for paper-based communication and its unsung contributions to achieving a greener world.

 

By Betty Maul on Mar 21, 2011

Patrick, I believe the point of some of our comments is not that electronic media is bad. We all use electronic media everyday I just feel our industry, and our associations, have done a poor job of touting the sustainability of paper and print.
Statistics show that we need to try a bit of everything these days, to be successful.Sustainability should be regarded at every level as this approach is good for all business. I will tell you as someone in the print trenches, that there are way too many comments on emails, and from customers, that the perception that print kills trees, and is bad media is out there. Unless we do a better job of touting the accomplishments of printers and paper mills to achieve sustainability across the board, this misconception will take a huge toll on all of our business.

 

By Jill DiNicolantonio on Mar 21, 2011

We actually launched an integrated print advocacy campaign last year - complete with video and website. Here's the link:
http://bit.ly/cfcNLK

I agree with Patrick in that rather than disparage electronic media as an environmentally friendly means of communication, we'd be better suited focusing on how/when to use the best of al media for the message.

 

By Jill DiNicolantonio on Mar 21, 2011

We actually launched an integrated print advocacy campaign last year - complete with video and website. Here's the link:
http://bit.ly/cfcNLK

I agree with Patrick in that rather than disparage electronic media as an environmentally friendly means of communication, we'd be better suited focusing on how/when to use the best of all media for the message.

 

By Neal Babcock on Mar 22, 2011

While I agree with many of your points, the idea that "For every tree that is harvested, several more are planted or naturally regenerated." skips over some crucial details. First, many of the trees harvested for paper come from the rain forests in the Amazon. So, while two trees might be planted in the US for every tree chopped down in South America, the trees in the rain forests are more important for maintaining vital ecosystems. Second, farmed trees sequester less greenhouse gas than natural trees, so while it's possible to offset the lost potential in the Amazon by planting many more trees, they can't be compared on a one-to-one basis.

The solution? All paper manufacturers should commit to using only farmed trees (preferably from the US), or at least stop destroying the rain forests for paper. So far I've only seen two specialty paper lines that have made this commitment, and they were both from companies that get their other lines mostly from the rain forests.

 

By martyn eustace on Mar 31, 2011

Two Sides, the European initiative to promote the sustainability of print and paper, has achieved measurable success from its national campaign to educate major UK corporate companies such as Banks & Building Societies, Utilities and Telecoms about using misleading or factually incorrect environmental claims in their marketing message to promote lower cost electronic billing and services.

Two Sides targeted companies who claimed that switching to online communication was better for the environment without verifiable supporting evidence. Two Sides was increasingly worried that this was giving misleading information to consumers and encouraging them not to use paper when, in fact, it is one of the most sustainable ways of communicating. Greenwash of this nature is creating a false impression about the sustainability of print and paper and has a detrimental effect on the print and paper industry.

Out of a total of 33 major corporate companies contacted, including well known names, such as EON Energy, Barclaycard and Vodafone, Two Sides has so far had a positive dialogue with 27 CEOs and staff from their legal departments. As a result those companies have changed their online environmental claims or are engaging with Two Sides to use different wording that doesn’t include possibly misleading or factually incorrect environmental claims in online marketing information. Regarding the six companies that have not replied to any correspondence so far, Two Sides will continue to actively challenge them and if concerns are not addressed complaints will be lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Two Sides Director Martyn Eustace comments on the success of the campaign: “While Two Sides welcomes an increased awareness of corporate responsibility and sustainability, it is wrong to try and gain environmental credibility by making misleading “green” marketing to encourage customers to receive their bills or communications online. However, we have been extremely pleased with the positive feedback and successful outcome from many of the companies contacted.

He concludes: “Two Sides sees this positive feedback as a vital step forward in achieving the correct messaging about paper and helping the environment. Although we have still some way to go in achieving full recognition of the sustainability of paper with major companies the success of our national campaign proves that it is possible to engage positively to achieve successful results for the future good of the paper and print industries.

“If a company wants to encourage customers to switch to e-billing because it is more efficient and offers lower cost for the sender, then we have no quarrel with that but we will continue to fight all way in the future to stop corporates from making a link between reducing the use of paper and helping the environment unless they have proof that this is so.”

 

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