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Commentary & Analysis

Toshiba – Greenwashing Company of the Year

We often get some rather stupid approaches by companies trying to put out marketing messages to enhance their position in the eyes of potential consumers. Sometimes these approaches show just how stupid marketing people can be and in fact show just how little they know of the real situation in the market.

By Andrew Tribute
Published: June 15, 2012

We often get some rather stupid approaches by companies trying to put out marketing messages to enhance their position in the eyes of potential consumers. Sometimes these approaches show just how stupid marketing people can be and in fact show just how little they know of the real situation in the market. I have to say however that I have seldom and probably never, seen such a stupid marketing message as that promoted by Toshiba in its proposal of a National No-Print Day for October 23, 2012. Toshiba’s nationwide campaign purports to encourage, educate, and challenge individuals and companies to commit to one day of “no printing” and to raise awareness of the impact printing has on our planet. Toshiba claims that our industry has failed to make the link between printing waste and its negative impacts on our landfills, natural resources and the environment. Obviously some bright young marketer, no doubt with a highly polished MBA qualification, has seen that Toshiba can leverage the perceived environmental limitations of print to try to enhance the position of Toshiba in the market by showing how environmentally excellent the company is in its operations.

The first of heard of this was when I saw a message from the Printing Industries of America. In this message PIA’s CEO Michael Makin stated of Toshiba’s claims “this is patently untrue. Our industry has long led the way utilizing sustainable processes. The primary raw material for printing is paper, which comes from trees, which are a renewable resource—so renewable that today, our country has 20 percent more trees than it did on the first Earth Day which was held more than 40 years ago.”

I decided to look into the Toshiba proposal and found the web site for National No-Print Day. My first thought was that this must have been an April 1 joke as it was so stupid. I have to ask did anyone in a senior position at Toshiba sanction this total load of garbage and ridiculous claims. Toshiba is a representative of the electronics industry that is a very poor performer when it comes to sustainability. One must ask which is more sustainable, paper or electronic devices like monitors, hard drives and the like that almost always end up as land fill. I would like to ask Toshiba how they plan to operate on National No-Print Day. Will all Toshiba staff not read any newspaper magazine or book all that day? Will they stop reading any of the marketing reports that their inspired marketing staff generate or purchase? Will they stop eating any food that comes in any form of printed packaging? Will they only work in their offices on solid wood or metal desks rather than desks where the surface is a printed laminate? Print is something a little more than the paper they print often unnecessarily on their Toshiba printers and copiers?

Printing and paper and their position in the environment are totally misunderstood by most people despite the major efforts that have been made to demonstrate the industries’ environmental credentials. These are industries that have one of the best green records of any industry. Michael Makin states in his message the following – “Printing is the only medium with a one-time carbon footprint — all other media require energy every time they are viewed. Electronic devices, which Toshiba produces, for example, require the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, as well as the use of plastics, hydrocarbon solvents, and other non-renewable resources. Moreover 50–80 percent of electronic waste collected for recycling is shipped overseas and is often unsafely dismantled. For Toshiba to call for such a ban on printing is hypocritical to say the least.”

To show how hypocritical this is I quote a message on Toshiba’s National No-Print Day by the Executive Director of the Print Council, Benjamin Cooper. “Toshiba plans to plant 1.5 million trees by 2025, however that the goal would represent about one third of the average daily planting of trees that currently takes place in the U.S. Planting 1.5 million trees sounds like a laudable goal and it is but it represents an insignificant addition to the anticipated 20 billion trees that will be planted by the forest products industry during that same 13 year stretch,”

I think that Toshiba is shooting itself in the foot with this stupid campaign that is conceived without any real understanding of the situation. It certainly makes me put Toshiba in a list of organizations that I feel does not merit my consideration if I am planning purchases of products the company manufactures. Greenwashing is a form of negative marketing. If you have something worthwhile to promote, then market responsibly with positive rather than negative messaging. To market by trying to promote green credentials is excellent if you have a strong message, but greenwashing is making unfounded and usually incorrect claims. Toshiba’s National No-Print Day is about as bad a greenwashing approach as I have seen.

Michael Makin suggests that we should be promoting October 23 as National No-Toshiba Day. I suggest something more significant. Let PIA and others promote the National Greenwashing Awards and lets give the award for 2012 to Toshiba Inc.



By Michael Gonte on Jun 15, 2012

I will be printing (not e-mailing)this article & sharing it with as many people as possible. In my calendar October 23 is No-Toshiba Day.


By Paul Schiller on Jun 15, 2012

Thanks Andy! I've reposted the PI World acticles on several discussion groups. What a ridiculous campaign. Would love to meet the 'savant' or group of 'savants' that came up with this campaign. I say Toshiba should get not only the 2012 Greenwashing award, they should get the Lifetime Achievement award for the same honor.


By Margie Dana on Jun 15, 2012

Brilliant, Andy - send this to everyone at Toshiba, please~. I second your nomination of Toshiba for the first annual National Greenwashing Award. Let's double their pleasure by also awarding them the first National Birdbrain Award.


By Richard Romano on Jun 15, 2012

Thanks, Andy, over in the Going Greenosphere (http://blogs.whattheythink.com/going-green/), I’ve been trying to fight this kind of silliness for a long time now. A recent study that was just published (http://files.twosides.info/Content/facts/pdf_164.pdf; via our friends at Two Sides, link opens a PDF) finds that “[T]otal forest area has been relatively stable for 100 years even though the U.S. population has nearly tripled during this same time period. Between 1953 and 2007, forest area increased slightly, up 3.8 million acres.” This is also a period when the U.S. printing and paper industries were growing by leaps and bounds (well, until recently...). If the printing industry was The Bringer of Doom to All Trees, we would have seen a corresponding decline in forest cover as the printing industry expanded, but we have not seen that at all. Actually, the primary challenge to maintaining the health and growth of forests is selling the land for other uses, such as real estate. A forest that is used as a resource for commercial products--like paper--has value. When demand for those products declines, that value disappears and those resources are no longer required, ergo divestiture and selling off the land.

So think about the spread of strip malls and suburban subdivisions before hesitating to print something.


By Joel Salus on Jun 15, 2012

I think the promotion should be extended to a "no wipe" day, instead of just a "no print" day.


By Patrick Henry on Jun 15, 2012

Toshiba ought to acquaint itself with the "Print Grows Trees" campaign (www.PrintGrowsTrees.org), operated by Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic (PGAMA, www.pgama.com). If it had, maybe this whole thing never would have started.


By James Olsen on Jun 15, 2012

www.chooseprint.org is a clearinghouse which brings together in one place information and links to other websites that tell the story about the effectiveness and environmental credentials of print on paper.

The environmental impact of print on paper

90% of the paper consumed in the United States is produced in the United States [source].

33% of papermaking material in the United States comes from recycled paper; 33 percent comes from wood chips and scrap from sawmills; and 33% comes from virgin trees [source].

90% of the wood harvested in the United States comes from private "tree farms" [source].

56% of forests in the United States are private ownership; the remaining 44 percent are public ownership [source].

87% of Americans (268 million) had access to curbside and/or drop-off paper recycling programs in 2010 [source].

63.5% of the paper consumed in the Unites States was recycled in 2010 [source].

Jim Olsen,
Imagination, Ink.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 15, 2012

Great article Andy. That video continues to baffle me. Who is going to win from that?

But aren't we preaching to the Choir? The your article and the audience for the PIA is the printing industry, who already knows the main facts. Are we getting these facts to the general media? Are we getting the facts to the US education system? How can we help make that happen?


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 15, 2012

Sorry about my cutting and pasting.

I meant to say "The audience for your article and the audience for the PIA is the printing industry, who already knows the main facts."


By Richard Romano on Jun 15, 2012

Well, we're talking about paper, so we'd actually be preaching to the quire...


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 15, 2012

I stand corrected...and I had to look up quire.


By Pat Barnum on Jun 15, 2012

Blogs, twitter, email blasts, list serves, electronic newsletters have all been preaching to the choir. That is why I sent an email to Toshiba directly. The way I see it, the marketing department has no clue. I thought perhaps the Investment Relations would sit up and take notice. You can contact them at ir@toshiba.co.jp. Let's take Andy's lead and tell them you will be loudly advocating for them to wins the first annual "pffffth Award" for Greenwashing.


By Jeff Lewis on Jun 15, 2012

Don't send them emails, send them letters -- sacks and sacks of letters!


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 15, 2012

I did send an email. Thanks Pat.

We don't need job losses over such irresponsible and self-serving brand buffing.

I just hope Andy's, Richards's, and Michael's messages get to the media, school system, and elected officials.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 15, 2012


I did email them at the address you give above. But how do we reach the media, schools, and elected officials?


By Michael Grant on Jun 15, 2012

Hey Toshiba, you are so right! Let's start a movement to improve the environment and reduce the carbon footprint of our global communications. This is so green, so cool!

I have a great idea. It's only a dream and it may sound crazy, but hear me out. Why don't we use agriculture and those things called trees to help us communicate? We could plant trees then harvest them and make paper. You remember paper, right? The communications material we can pass on to many others and yet, produce only once. Not only that, there's more! After we have used the paper we could recycle it and use it again and again. And, hear me out, we can plant more trees - really! It's agriculture. And here's the really, really good part, trees create oxygen, you know, the stuff we humans need to breathe. Wow! Who knew? Each time we plant trees the environment improves. Wow again! What a breakthrough! This could be the green cycle utopia we have all been seeking. Think about it, Toshiba. Less plastic, less energy and you know what, less fossile fuels. Oh, and one last thing, less Toshiba. Buy hey, you are doing it for us, the planet. We will send you a very nice wreath with a (paper)card too.

I realize that this is a old and tired statement, but it never fails to amaze how shallow and superficial many of we human beings have become in our thinking and understand of the world around us. Is critical thinking dead? But then again, that's a whole other subject.

So, bye, bye to the kids over at Toshiba. See you back in the classroom of life. Don't forget to have your mom pack you a lunch.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 15, 2012

Well, we know we all make mistakes, even colossal ones that might affect major employment percentages in an election year. No, wait, maybe even I haven't done that.

Will they shutdown the campaign? Will they truly admit a mistake? Toshiba has a window of opportunity to win back respect from the graphic arts community, and the savvy end-users.

History says "no." But let's give them some time to make the right decisions.


By Ted C. Ringman on Jun 19, 2012

Toshiba Machine Company built web offset printing presses. A number of these presses remain in operation. Perhaps the company should contact directly those printers running this equipment and suggest that they do not operate their Toshiba branded presses on October 23.


By Michael Eddington on Jun 21, 2012

Improving the environment requires more than just planting a crop of trees. This is agriculture, but not an ecosystem. The paper industry has a vested interest monoculture plantations, and I doubt fault them for that, but to promote this as reforestation, "renewable" or " sustainable" is in itself greenwashing.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 21, 2012

Try it, you'll like it:


They shut it down. Can't find them on YouTube anymore either.

Stopping their campaign was a good step, but it won't stop another powerful group from picking up the day, and it won't stop Toshiba from starting up a new campaign with a more PIA-friendly message.

Most importantly it won't arm educators, elected officials, and "the media" with factual data about our industry, both pro and con.

I don't believe this issue was about "improving the environment," though I agree with the above statements (accept for the greenwashing part) - it's about a powerful marketing campaign containing misinformation VS the Printing Industry's concern that unbridled misinformation might adversely affect over 800,000 print-related employees.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 21, 2012

Michael, let me underscore that I agree with your statement, and with what you appear to be saying between the lines.

We need to be careful in taking defensive postures, and in fighting mistake with mistake.

Although I don't consider the official responses from PIA and NAPL to be Greenwashing, I have read many comments, and a few high-profile articles, that could be considered such.

I think that be must be very careful going forward that we educate with information that is as accurate as possible, less we risk an ineffective investment of efforts.


By Michael Eddington on Jun 21, 2012

Fair enough, though I feel the print industry over-reacted to a campaign that likely would have garnered little attention otherwise, and meanwhile continues to close its eyes to the real impact of its environmental footprint. There's plenty of misinformation on both sides.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 21, 2012

There is much more knowledge of industrial ecological footprint in this thread than I have.

I live in North Carolina, the 11th most populous state in the US. Our top industries are farming (tobacco, poultry), textiles, and furniture.

My questions are these:

1) Where do you feel the printing industry falls short of where we should be in footprint?
2) How does the footprint of Printing compare to tobacco farming, poultry farming, textiles, & furniture?
3) How does the US footprint compare to other major industrialized Nations, to include Mexico, China, India, the EU, and Canada?
4) How does this compare that with the ecological “US street” reputation of the printing and pulp industries?


By Kerry Stackpole on Jun 21, 2012

It is surprising how much one can learn when you take a closer look.


By Michael Eddington on Jun 22, 2012

There's some good information at www.printgrowstrees.org, but it does gloss over the issues of monoculture plantations, with only one sentence mentioning plantation forestry drawbacks (lack of biodiversity). Some equate these plantations to “green deserts” with only marginal benefits to the environment, if not drawbacks.


I certainly don’t have all the answers, I just think that our industry needs to be more open and honest, and that the outcry over “No Print Day” seemed overtly defensive.


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 22, 2012

How do you rate PIA's official response, http://www.printing.org/news/10597,and their flip-book, "The Value of Print?"


By Tim Kirkland on Jun 22, 2012

Sorry, http://www.printing.org/news/10597


By Michael Eddington on Jun 22, 2012

The PIA’s response made good points (though overtly defensive as I mentioned) with regard to electronic media, as does their Flip book, and I totally agree with the effectiveness of print. I do find the statements of trees as a renewable resource a bit short sighted. These plantations are not forests with ecosystems, but are essentially crop land with questionable environmental outcomes. Not exactly a “green cycle utopia”, to borrow another’s terminology. I believe it can be done better, and feel that our industry is a bit comfortable with the environmental status quo.


By Michael Eddington on Jun 22, 2012

I also find it somewhat ironic the www.printgrowstrees.com site touts third party certification, which from my experience, many printers absolutely abhor and view as a scam. Not to mention that FCS and SFI both have come under scrutiny over what they allow for best forestry practices.


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