“Put your money where your myth is” may be an unforgivable pun, but it’s a fair way to describe what Two Sides North America has done in the latest phase of its campaign against a trend that tortures language almost as inexcusably as it tortures logic: greenwashing. The trade association has invested in compiling and publishing “Print and Paper Myths and Facts,” a brochure that attempts to set the environmental record straight concerning paper and its electronic alternatives.
In this interview, Two Sides president Phil Riebel shares the thinking behind the intent of the brochure. Funded by paper companies and other industry stakeholders, the organization counters negative publicity about print and paper and challenges greener-than-thou messaging from sources urging the public to replace hard copy with other media. The brochure is a handbook of facts and data points that Two Sides members and supporters can cite in anti-greenwashing efforts of their own on behalf of paper and print.
The booklet can be downloaded as a PDF or ordered as a high-resolution file for personalized printing. It addresses eight myths with an array of information drawn from multiple sources (there are more than 40 footnotes). A theme running through it is that the paper we consume comes from practices that compensate us with more environmental benefits than we may realize. Reforestation by paper companies, for example, produces more wood than is harvested for pulp. Also emphasized is the fact that energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with paper production have been decreasing steadily for the last 25 years.
The brochure zeroes in on greenwashing with evidence against the claims that electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than print and that consumers therefore are eager to switch from print to digital. These sections point out that from home computer networks to giant corporate data centers, the use of electronic alternatives to print is pumping millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and consuming staggering amounts of power. Meanwhile, discarded computers and other forms of e-waste are accumulating at a rate of 20 to 25 million tons per year.
According to Two Sides, the public understands these impacts and distrust appeals from banks, utilities, and others to give up paper transactions. States the brochure, “Our research shows that more than 8 in 10 U.S. consumers believe that cost savings are the driving force behind the ‘go paperless’ marketing hype, and many are suspicious of marketing claims that going paperless will ‘save trees’ or ‘protect the environment.’”
How potent is this fact-based approach to opposing greenwashing? Two Sides North America says that it has persuaded 30 Fortune 500 companies either to withdraw misleading statements or to use more accurate language in their environmental messaging. In the U.K., where the Two Sides organization was first formed, the group reports an 88% success rate since May of this year: 22 of 25 companies challenged have agreed to remove offending claims.
It seems clear that with the release of “Print and Paper Myths and Facts,” greenwashers and smoke-blowers are going to have to be even more circumspect in what they say about the environmental profiles of both print and electronic media.