We’ve all seen it on the backs of envelopes and on pop-ups for bank and retail account login pages. Go Paperless! Go Green! Save Trees! But is going paperless really about saving the environment?
Or cost reduction for the sender?
It is about cost reduction. According to ESP Consulting, telecommunications companies can expect to save 45% per bill when a paper bill is converted to an e-bill. Credit card companies can expect to save 37%. No wonder the push is for customers to go electronic.
The irony is, going paperless does not save trees. The commercial value of forestry products like paper and lumber provides forestland owners with an incentive to manage their lands rather than selling them for non-forest uses such as development. By going paperless, consumers reduce demand for paper and thereby reduce the incentive of landowners to maintain their forests. Going paperless actually encourages deforestation.
To counter the growing volume of greenwashing out there, Two Sides, an organization dedicated to presenting the facts about electronic and print media, has put out a detailed fact sheet to provide businesses and consumers with what it calls “rigorous, factual, and verifiable life cycle assessments of each alternative.”
Furthermore, because forest products can require little or no fossil fuels for production and store carbon throughout their useful life, they can have inherent climate change advantages over all other materials with which they compete.
This is not to bust on email. Both print-based and e-media have environmental footprints, and email has an important place in the marketing mix. But paper has power to communicate in ways that electronic media cannot. It is tactile, disruptive, and offers the power of unique and compelling binding, folds, and die cuts that command attention in ways email can’t.
When it comes to print and electronic media, it is not a matter of choosing one or the other. It is about choosing wisely and using each most effectively.
Let’s look at a few eye-openers.
Computers require a lot fossil fuels. The total weight of the fossil fuels used to make one desktop computer is more than 529 pounds. This is 10 times the weight of the computer itself. This ratio is very high compared to many other consumer goods, including automobiles and refrigerators.
Computers have hazardous constituents. Some of the constituents of computers, including lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury, pose risks to human health and the environment if mismanaged at their end of life. We all know how many computers end up in landfills when they are not supposed to.
Paper mills depend on recycling programs. By contrast, nearly 80% of America’s paper mills are designed to use paper collected in recycling programs, and they depend on paper recycling to supply the raw materials they need to make new paper.
Paper mills utilize renewable energy. More than two-thirds of the energy used to produce paper comes from renewable sources, such as water and biomass.
Trees are flourishing. Over the last 50 years, the volume of trees growing on U.S. forestland increased 49%.
So does going paperless really save trees?