Fighting Back Against Anti-Print and Paper Environmental Claims

July 10, 2013

Go Green   Go PaperlessIt drives me crazy!   Almost every company I do business with, from banks to utilities to my phone company, continually urges me to go paperless.   It’s not the frequency of the messages that irks me so much (although my one-time “no thanks” would seem sufficient to stop the prompts).   It’s the suggestion that electronic bills and statements are a greener choice that will “save trees” and “protect the environment.”   This greenwashing has mostly gone unchallenged … until now.  Enter Two Sides, the fast-growing non-profit organization created to promote the responsible production, use and sustainability of print and paper and to debunk these types of myths.


In early 2012, Two Sides looked at more than 100 leading U.S. companies, mostly banks, telecoms and utilities, and found that half are using misleading marketing claims about the sustainability of print on paper.   Soon after, the organization launched a targeted initiative to end the use of environmental claims that are not based on competent and reliable evidence as defined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They are contacting company CEOs, general counsels and chief marketing officers directly to offer free help in developing claims that meet best practices for environmental marketing outlined in the FTC’s Green Guides.   Since the initiative began, more than 150 additional companies have been identified and added to the list of misleading marketers. 


While the process of one-to-one discussions is understandably time-consuming, early successes show that this U.S. initiative is moving toward its goal to match the results of a similar Two Sides effort in the United Kingdom, where 80% of the companies engaged either changed or removed their anti-paper claims.  The primary reason for Two Sides’ success:  its reliance on verifiable facts.  When it comes to challenging the validity of claims that “going paperless” is a greener choice, you just can’t beat ‘em.  


Here are three of my favorite comparisons:

1)      Paper is made from a renewable resource, wood fiber from trees, while computers and the data center technology that support them are made primarily from finite resource – petroleum-based plastics, metals and rare earth minerals.

2)       More than 65% of the energy used to manufacture paper in the United States comes from renewable, carbon-neutral biofuel.  With very few exceptions, the growing infrastructure of the U.S. information and communications technology sector is powered by electricity generated from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. 

3)      In 2012, 65.1% of paper produced in the United States was recovered for recycling (American  Forest & Paper Association) compared to only 38% of computers in 2009 (the most recent figure available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Many of the companies that claim print on paper is less green than electronic communications cite figures from “environmental paper calculators” and  product category life cycle assessments, both of which use generic, industry-wide data to draw broad-brush conclusions about the environmental impacts of paper … the kinds of conclusions the Green Guides specifically warn against using for marketing purposes.   The truth is that both electronic and paper communications have environmental consequences.  We need to look for ways to reduce the footprint both and stop using unsubstantiated environmental claims to mask other reasons for urging a switch from paper to the internet.


Note to corporate America:  If you want to promote the use of electronic bills and statements to reduce your costs, have at it.  But drop the green smoke screen.  Your customers will appreciate the honesty … and so will the FTC.

Kathi Rowzie is a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, TN


Editor’s Note: Two Sides’ initiatives include programs designed to enhance the credibility of the sustainability message; increase visibility of the paper industry; challenge misleading anti-paper and print claims; and turn the tide of public opinion through its "No Wonder You Love Paper" campaign. Two Sides will be in booth 460 at PRINT 13.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.Basic HTML code is allowed.