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Paper and the Environment: Dispelling the Myths

Along with competing media platforms and the economy, the graphic arts community is faced with another critical issue; the public perception that the use of paper (vs. digital) is bad for the environment.

Paper companies and allied advocacy groups are fighting back, employing a range of tactics to dispel the myth.

Paper Makers Promote Sustainability

“Helping media buyers gain a better understanding of why, when, and how print and paper is both a relevant and sustainable communications medium is a primary goal of Mohawk's communications initiatives,” says Jane Monast, director of communication, Mohawk. “’Print’ is not always the right medium for every communication; but when it is, it affords a unique engagement not possible otherwise.”

Mohawk looks to educate media buyers in three areas: impact tools for media buyers, timely information and support for purchase influencers, and the sharing of best practices through its own communication and promotion initiatives outreach. Mohawk is also a supporter of Two Sides.

Education, says Monast, is the centerpiece of each of these communications endeavors.

Impact tools: Mohawks’ Environmental calculator has become an essential tool for companies that want to understand the impact of their choices quickly and easily, says Monast. Often, its sales reps will go online with media buyers to demonstrate how to use the tool or to help them. Mohawk also provides artwork and the ability for any of its customers to use the content derived from the calculations to demonstrate their environmental prowess.

For printers: “Because they are on the front lines, day in and day out, advising customers and educating them for the entire industry, we believe printers—from sales reps to customer service—are pivotal to helping media buyers understand the environmental impacts of their choices,” notes Monast. “ Through Mohawk MakeReady, dedicated to printers, we provide a steady stream of actionable information for printers to use themselves or share with their customers.”

Among the tools which are most popular among the print community: Your Guide to Green, Videos that help to educate sales teams and end users on how to use Mohawk’s proprietary tools, even slide presentations that printers may customize for their own end-user calls and presentations by adding their own logos.

Best practices. “We think before we make, and everything we ‘make’ is a story in itself. Mohawk’s new swatchbook system is a compact library of specification tools that represent what the buyer needs at the time they make a decision,” explains Monast. “This streamlined system reduces material consumption by 60 percent as well as the according freight costs. Today, we choose to use FSC certified paper wherever possible—each use of FSC publicizes the use of pulp from responsibly managed forests—our corporate advisors encourage buyers to do the same. Last, but not least, we share customer stories that demonstrate how the versatility of print and paper can be combined with other media, such as apps, to tell a much richer story, through our news blogs and designer hub, Felt & Wire.”

Similarly, paper company Domtar Corporation has taken a leadership role in promoting print as well as looking to answer some of the negative feedback regarding paper’s environmentally friendliness—or reported lack of.

Its program PAPERbecause, launched in September, 2010 with print ads in major North American consumer and trade newspapers and magazines, as well as online banner ads and videos, continues to move full steam ahead. It extended that program in January, with print ads appearing in leading B2B paper, graphic design, and graphic arts magazines and prominent consumer publications such as Fast Company, National Geographic, and The New York Times, along with banner ads and video appearing online.

“The PAPERbecause print campaign gives Domtar a platform to show how paper—a sustainable, renewable and recyclable product—fits so nicely into our lives,” says Lewis Fix, vice president of sustainable business and brand management at Domtar. “Domtar is a leader in sustainable paper production, and we promote the responsible use of paper. PAPERbecause reminds people of why paper is so vital today.”

In March, Domtar renewed its sponsorship of the Environmental Film Festival, which plants Domtar with leading environmental filmmakers committed to managing natural resources. Domtar provided FSC-certified Cougar paper—part of its EarthChoice line of environmentally and socially responsible papers—for the printing of the festival programs.

For the elementary school crowd Domtar officially launched an educational site this past September. The Forest Academy, which builds on an earlier website, features games designed to be fun and informative about trees and forest ecology.

Printing Industries of America and its affiliates The Print Council, Two Sides, and the Printing and Graphics Association are joining paper companies in the quest to help printers get the word out to print buyers and consumers that paper is not the source of all things bad for the environment.

Two Sides is a non-profit group with a three-part mission: promote sustainability, dispel common myths, and provide verifiable information. Currently in 12 countries—the US and Australia both joined in 2012—its member base covers the whole graphic communications value chain; any company that makes its livelihood from print and paper, as well as trade groups and colleges and universities. Domtar and Mohawk are both members.

The website provides news articles and videos, as well Myth vs. Fact informational sheets, complete with source documents, all downloadable. For example, “The Myth: Making paper destroys forests; The Fact: Paper production supports sustainable forest management” includes a seven-page document listing verifiable information that dispels the myth.

Two Sides is also engaging in two major initiatives to reach industry outsiders. “We are engaging with banks, utilities, and telecomm companies and challenging them on their “Go Green, Go Paperless” email messages,” explains Phil Riebel, president and COO, Two Sides U.S. “We did a survey of 94 companies and found that half of them use this message, so we are working with them to stop sending these anti-paper messages with respect to the environment. They are using an environmental message to promote electronic billing.”

Two Sides’ approach is to educate the companies on why their “Go Green” email program isn’t correct. “There are no facts behind the message; they don’t understand the sustainable features of print and paper and they ignore the environmental impact of electronic media,” says Riebel. “ When you switch to electronic media, you aren’t eliminating impacts, just switching to another form of communication that has a different environmental impact.”

Riebel points out that “Go Green, Go Paperless” doesn’t meet the company’s best practices of being more environmentally friendly. “When you make that claim, you need verifiable facts that show it is true,” says Riebel. “Very few companies have that.”

As Two Sides gets traction, there will be more press releases and media attention. “In the US, three companies we are talking to have removed their claims,” notes Riebel.

A second major initiative is the January 2013 launch of a consumer print ad campaign and website. The ad campaign will appear in business-to-business and business-to-consumer magazines and newspapers; all ad space is donated. “We are getting good support from the B2B community,” says Reibel.

Finally, Two Sides is collaborating with allies such as the Print Media Center and Print Buyers International, networking with their members and speaking at conferences.

Associations Jump on Board

Printing Industries of America has created the Value of Print, a multi-tiered approach that includes the creation of collateral material—brochures informational sheets, posters, advertisements—available to the industry, as well as an outreach program developed for outside the industry. For example, in May, 2010 an interview for Sky Radio, “Print’s Image as it Relates to the Environment,” aired on 29,000 American Airline flights, accompanied by a CNN Airport Network commercial.

On the website, videos and links are also available, as well as a members-only public relations toolkit. The Value of Print campaign not only highlights print’s impact on the environment, but also the value and effectiveness of print as a communications tool.

The Printing Industries Printing Industries Association, Inc. of Southern California (PIASC), which has more than 1,100 member companies, has created Choose Print, an “educational campaign designed to promote the effectiveness of print and to reinforce the fact that print on paper is a recyclable and renewable and, thus, a sustainable environmental choice.”

As part of its mission, PIASC has a slew of resources available. On its website are articles that can be downloaded and used at will—no reprint permission or attribution is required. Separate articles cover print’s impact on the environment, as well as why print is a powerful marketing tool.

There is also a series of 12 postcards; monthly mailings created for members to send to ad agencies. The postcards, available as PDFs and not to be alerted, also focus on print’s effectiveness as an advertising medium as well as its environmental friendliness.

Print Grows Trees, the educational campaign from the Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic, which represents more than 350 members firms in that region, “uses facts to show that print on paper actually helps to grow trees and keep our forests from being sold for development.”

Members are asked to take action, both by becoming environmentally aware (supporting third-party certification, recycling, and understanding the issues) and supporting print as a matter of course: subscribing to the local newspaper, clipping coupons, buying your children books, supporting literacy programs that distribute books, and supporting your local library.