Earth Day falls on April 22 each year and just so happens to be this coming Monday. Arbor Day is also next week on Friday, April 26. These internationally-recognized observances celebrate the environmental stewardship of individuals, communities and companies across the world. It is an ideal time to consider the value of trees and how we can all lessen our impact on the planet. But next week also got us thinking about the recent influx of sustainability messaging and the ongoing misconceptions surrounding paper.
This is a topic we’ve written about in the past, specifically in regard to Toshiba and Google’s highly-criticized campaigns encouraging consumers to stop printing and save a tree by using paperless communication. Most recently, Costco was the subject of backlash led once again by the Printing Industries of America (PIA) for an article in its April issue of The Costco Connection – a monthly publication distributed to Costco employees. PIA President and CEO Michael Makin distributed this open letter encouraging Costco to reconsider its stance (and supporting resources) surrounding a call to cut back on paper usage, or even go paperless, because it’s “good for the earth and business.”
The thought of “saving a tree” is easy to market. No one wants to be responsible for what paper advocate Two Sides U.S. calls, “large-scale deforestation and adverse impacts on the environment” – two misconceptions currently surrounding the paper industry. But the resounding truth that trees don’t need “saving” is a story that must be told. Paper is a sustainable, renewable resource that is harvested from responsibly-managed forests. In fact, when companies like Costco, Google and Toshiba push the paperless message, they not only decrease the demand for paper, but inadvertently encourage forestland owners to do something else with their land (instead of planting trees) like selling it for development. Take a look at these statistics from Domtar’s “Paper Because” campaign:
- The forest products industry plants more than 1.7 million trees per day
- There are nearly 750 million acres of forests in the U.S. – about the same as 100 years ago
- 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
What’s more, we need to think about the cost of electronic communication. Anytime the paperless message is promoted, it’s automatically assumed that electronic communication is a better alternative, which isn’t always true. Just because it’s less expensive in the short run for companies to phase out paper communication doesn’t mean the long-term costs aren’t higher. As we mentioned in our recent post surrounding the direct mail industry, electronic media creates its own carbon footprint by using fossil fuels to power server farms and intensive energy and materials to manufacture electronic devices. Many electronic device manufacturers don’t offer responsible end-of-life management options.
Our message has been clear from the start. As members of the direct mail and direct marketing communities, we remain committed to the responsible use of paper and believe that paper is an important part of a sustainable communications strategy. We need to continue to recycle and to insist that forests used for paper production be well managed, but both sides of the sustainability story must be told. And in celebration of Earth Day this Monday, consider all of the facts next time you’re called on to “save a tree” in 2013.
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