Google’s silence speaks volumes. Those people still involved in printing no longer are in denial about the beloved medium’s evolution with regard to technology. “In North America, the secular decline in print and paper use is a fact,” Carli observed. It’s no secret that last year, for the first time, Google ad revenue surpassed that of US print media. In the first six months of 2012, the 15-year-young “upstart” raked in $20.8 billion while newspapers and magazines generated $19.2 billion from print advertising. The online heavyweight may not be actively fighting back, but it is winning. “Our stance is that digital is not bad, either,” noted Bonetto of PIAC, which encourages its members to use both mediums.
When the topic turns to environmental sustainability, however, all any of us asks for is truthfulness, not a black eye based on lies and consumer perception—those over-used, sentimental images of catalog-laden landfills and barren forests. One of the most insightful summaries of the situation comes from Charles Prescott, executive director of nonprofit trade association GADA, the Global Address Data Association. “If you don’t know that more of the United States and Europe are now covered with forest than they were 100 years ago, then you should read this letter [from Two Sides],” Prescott blogged. “Is using … digital tools without environmental impact?” he asked rhetorically.
“Quick—how long could you run a 60-watt light bulb with the energy Google uses to help you do 100 searches? Is it a) 30 seconds; b) 2 minutes; c) 20 minutes? And how many people do you know who, in the course of a week, would do 100 searches? So let’s say 10 people. Well, your searches alone would run the light bulb for 20 minutes. You and your friends would light that bulb for … 3 hours and 40 minutes,” Prescott tallied. “That energy has to come from somewhere: perhaps a pile of coal or a nuclear generating facility.
“Now, there’s nothing bad about that energy use,” he continued. “The point is that the energy use is not free in terms of environmental impact. And the second point is that this does not suggest doing the same task with paper is environmentally dangerous.”
PIA’s Makin agreed that Google and its paperless partners misled, whether intentionally or not. “Sure, they could have used a different image, perhaps a computer terminal or a bunch of plugs,” Makin jested. “But the inference that ‘e’ is greener than paper is clear. And sending that kind of message is hypocritical,” he added, citing statistics that 67 percent of online purchases are driven by offline media. “Most of these companies, including Toshiba, use [printed] direct mail as part of their marketing strategies.” MyPrintResource readers will recall that, in mid-2012, Toshiba scratched its plans to hold a “National No-Print Day” in October after protests and a rash of blogs generated negative publicity. The event website has since gone dark.
Bill Melo, Toshiba USA’s senior VP of marketing, “was quite ‘concerned’ with how the campaign had been received by the commercial printing industry and stressed it was never the intent of his company to disenfranchise or insult our industry,” Makin recalled. “He explained that the campaign was always directed at the office marketplace where he opined there was needless waste.”
The same can be said of the Paperless Coalition members, many of whom target their products and services to office and home/office audiences. Take Manilla, LLC, for example, which touts an account manager for “bills, rewards, and subscriptions in one secure place online.” After reviewing its website, “I don’t think they have any ulterior motives,” Bonetto said.
Awash in Not-So-Green Claims
This month, Makin and PIA went on to slap Google’s proverbial wrist. “In addition, the campaign seems to be clearly in conflict with the recently revised Federal Trade Commission’s ‘Green Guides’ that define appropriate environmental marketing and claims,” the letter accused.
That reprimand may sting, said Carli from the Institute for Sustainable Communication, but no more than a petty fine for a cheap-shot hit by a millionaire pro hockey player. “Greenwashing” flies in the face of what the FTC is trying to enforce, but such claims can be difficult to prove and require a $5,000 fee to get the puck sliding with the Council of Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division (www.bbb.org/us/national-advertising-division).