So far in 2014, 20 U.S. companies have removed the “Go green – Go paperless” claims that they were using to promote electronic services like online billing and paperless statements. These organizations, consisting primarily of top Fortune 500 organizations in banking, utilities, and telecommunications, were made aware of research conducted by Two Sides U.S., Inc. that these “anti-paper” claims are unsubstantiated and misleading to consumers.
Consumers are already reported to be skeptical of “anti-paper” marketing. According to Two Sides’ research, more than eight in 10 believe that cost savings are the real driving force behind paperless marketing. They are also doubtful that going paperless will save trees or protect the environment, with 50% of those surveyed saying that they questioned such claims.
In reality, more than 65% of paper in the U.S. was recycled in 2012, making it the nation’s most recyclable commodity. In addition, tree volumes in the U.S. have increased 49% over the last 50 years, according to the Society of American Foresters.
While digital media can appear to be more sustainable than paper, in reality it still leaves a carbon footprint and requires energy to function. A growing concern, especially in underdeveloped countries, is the rapid growth of discarded electronics, also known as e-waste. A 40 million ton per year global increase in e-waste was reported by the United Nations in 2009, with most of that waste going to destinations like India and South Africa for disposal.
Paper lovers are not trying to ignore the environmental impact of paper or say that electronic media is significantly worse for the environment. In truth, there isn’t enough data to even compare the two. E-media just doesn’t have the same history as paper, so it’s hard to evaluate its long-term effects. Plus, paper comes in a variety of forms from many different manufacturers, creating a long list of variables that impact research data.
Just as in cross-channel marketing, one medium isn’t ‘better than the other.’ Both are used for different purposes and have different lifecycles. The variables on how these products are used greatly contribute to determining which is more environmentally friendly while meeting social and economic needs.
What this means is that going paperless isn’t a way to “save trees.” In fact, a robust paper market encourages the preservation and growth of sustainably managed forests.
In the end, it’s about responsible production and consumption of all products, not just paper. And for companies and consumers to make the right decision, they need to be properly informed with data that isn’t influenced by cost-saving measures like paperless statements.
Corporations are right to take environmental responsibility seriously. They will want to ensure their policies and claims are accurate and truly work toward sustainability, not just short-term cost savings. Otherwise, the services they promote in an effort to “go green” will neither benefit customers nor the environment.
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