Paper companies are on the warpath, and for graphic communication providers, that might not be a bad thing. Tired of being portrayed as the evil ogre in the issue of sustainability, paper makers and their allies are maintaining a major offensive to educate corporate brands and consumers, as well...
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Paper companies are on the warpath, and for graphic communication providers, that might not be a bad thing. Tired of being portrayed as the evil ogre in the issue of sustainability, paper makers and their allies are maintaining a major offensive to educate corporate brands and consumers, as well as government officials, on what they feel is a general misperception on paper's impact on the environment, especially when compared to electronic/digital communications.
"Every decision to communicate has some impact on the environment," states an International Paper brochure from 2009, titled "Down to Earth: A Practical Look at Environmental Issues and Trends," and that is exactly the message the paper industry is looking to promote. Electronic communications, while perceived as more eco- friendly than paper, has its own environmental footprint, often ignored in the pixel vs. paper discussion.
In the very near future, Two Sides US, a non-profit organization that promotes the use of responsible production, use and sustainability of print and paper, is launching a major initiative involving letter writing, phone calls, and email to persuade major companies in three sectors to stop using "unjustified claims to get customers to use electronic communications instead of paper," says Phil Riebel, president and COO, Two Sides US.
The organization, which is the U.S. branch of a worldwide organization that started in the U.K. in 2008, launched its website in January. Its more than 1,000 members span the entire paper and pulp supply chain, and include graphic communication printers and vendors. "The idea for Two Sides came about because we wanted to demonstrate the positive side of paper, while also promoting responsible end use," says Riebel. "Our message is not only to tout the environmental benefits of using paper, but also to make sure that people get the message to use paper responsibly, as they should with any product."
Two Sides is banging the drum to dispel the myth that using electronics is always better than using paper. "We are getting bombarded with anti-printing and anti-paper messages from companies like banks and utilities, who are promoting electronic transactions over paper billing," says Riebel. "People need to be cautious when they hear that message, because a lot of the claims are misleading. Going electronic is not necessarily how we are going to save the planet. When we communicate, we have to look at the lifecycle of all these products, and how we use them, whether it's paper or electronic."
Paper or Pixels?
How does paper compare with pixels in the sustainability tripod of reduce, reuse, and recycle? Paper advocates would argue that their product has some very clear advantages.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, less than 20 percent of electronic products, including computers, keyboards, monitors, and television sets, were recycled in 2010. Computers and the like are chock full of plastics and hydrocarbons, as well as mined metals and minerals, such as silver, gold, and palladium. To manufacture one computer and monitor, it takes 530 pounds of fossil fuel, 48 lbs. of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water.
"There is no such thing as a "green" pixel for most digital media," says noted sustainability guru, Don Carli. "Those promoting pixels as being more environmentally friendly are guilty of greenwashing (a public relations tactic that companies use to claim they are engaging in environmentally friendly practices, to sell a product or manipulate public opinion). When it comes to sustainability, it's not just about not polluting, it's also about insuring resources are renewable—not stripped from mountaintops and never to be used again."
Carli is referring to the staggering amount of electricity required to run digital equipment—from computers to cell phones to tablets, and the deforestation that could occur as a result. A recent EPA report states that 1.5 percent of energy consumed in U.S. is from electronic data centers, a rate that will only increase as we become more and more dependent on digital communications. The pulp and paper industry consumes about 0.7 percent.