Going Green

The Reality of Greenwashing and Going Paperless.

Greenwashing the Facts

Going paperless to save the environment, who could be against that? That is basically what major financial institutions, big box stores, power companies, Insurance companies and others claim to show how environmentally aware they are. The truth is something completely different. E-Waste is the actual outcome of going paperless. The hardware needed to bring about the switch to paperless requires constant repair or replacement, leading to an ever-growing environmental crisis. Computers, monitors, old printers, are shipped to dumping grounds in Africa or China, seeping into the groundwater, and creating a toxic soup of heavy metals and carcinogens. 

Recently, in the United States and Canada, 120 companies, have altered, or altogether removed their statements about being green and paperless. The change came about at the urging of Two Sides, a consumer advocacy group urging the continued use of paper for things like statements and bills. They pointed out that being certified green in the U.S. and Canada has to fall within the guidelines set forth by both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and the Competition Bureau of Canada. Both agencies require that credible and specific science-based fact to support a company's green claims. It has been found that more often than not, requirements are not being met even as companies still claim that they are paperless to benefit the environment. In fact, the claims are nothing more than a marketing ploy used as a way to manipulate and force more customers to use digital options. 

What is not understood by the companies who go paperless, or the public at large, print and paper is a far more sustainable model than paperless that takes up landfill and leaks pollutants into the environment. Trees, especially with fast-growing hybrids, are a renewable resource and paper is among the most highly recycled substances on Earth. It makes much more sense to use paper when it is actually green and is preferred by consumers.

Paperless is Not Popular

A recent study found that despite all the environmental claims companies make, and their focus on a paperless society, the average person does not want to feel they are being pushed into going paperless. The study also found that the majority of people feel that it is not only their preference to receive paper documents but also their right. They also see the word "paperless" as a ruse. Most people said that it is not truly paperless if a consumer has to print out a hard copy of their documents for things like applying for a job, or a mortgage. They also see the push for being more environmentally friendly as a convenient way to cut a popular service in order to save money.  The resistance against going paperless is so strong among consumers in the United States and Canada that a whopping 45% and 34% respectively said they would move to another provider such as a new bank or cellular provider. 

Paper is Green and Popular

The bottom line is that paper through the careful use of using trees at the right time and planting a new one to replace each that was used is a green option. It is clear from the data on the subject across the consumer spectrum; paper is more popular than paperless. It makes sense for companies who want to retain customers and truly make an impact on the environment to return to paper. Yes, some consumers prefer paperless, but they are in the minority.

Document Centers "Go Green"

Environmental Efforts in 2010

By Mike Porter, President, Print/Mail Consultants

Please recycleThe other day I was asked if 2010 was going to be the year of “going green” in the document industry. I guess because I’ve written a lot on the subject over the last year and developed a couple of products to help document centers be more green, someone thought I might have some insight. I answered that I thought the amount of resources devoted to green projects depended a great deal upon the economy, but it doesn’t take an expert to come to that conclusion.

It’s not that companies intentionally want to ignore the impact they have on the environment; they just have other areas that require their attention, and they have to make priorities. I doubt that environmental efforts will be moving towards the top of the list until the economic concerns are handled.

While companies may not be taking actions in their document print and mail operations specifically for the environmental benefits, some of them are going to lower their environmental impact anyway as a byproduct of cutting costs. From an environmental perspective, I suppose whether you justify green projects in document operations with related cost savings or you get the projects approved with the cost-reduction aspects alone makes no difference, so some greening will continue, regardless of the economy. But creating the greatest environmental benefits may require more effort than taking the quick and easy approach.

recycle_save treesAccording to a survey we did last year, a lot of document centers have already taken two steps towards environmental sustainability: Switching to materials with a higher percentage of recycled content and recycling their own paper waste. Unfortunately, our survey revealed that often those are the only measures that have been taken. Perhaps that is an indicator of the impact the economy has had on corporate environmental sustainability objectives. More involved efforts have yet to be tackled.

Closing the Gate after the Cows Have Left the Corral

It seems to me that by the time a piece of paper reaches the print production facility, most of the impact it is going to have upon the environment has already taken place. Isn’t the consumption of fuel and energy and the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are connected with all the processes necessary to de-ink, manufacture, package and transport the material about the same for all paper, regardless of recycled content? Using recycled paper sounds like a good idea, but without taking other measures, how big of a difference does it really make?

I’m not suggesting that we abandon paper recycling efforts; we should be printing on recycled paper. I’d much rather see paper go to the recycling center than the landfill, and I think we should reuse those paper fibers as many times as we can. I just believe that we would enjoy greater environmental benefits by manufacturing, transporting and printing fewer pieces of paper, of all varieties, than we can ever achieve by simply switching to using material with a higher recycled content.

So that’s what we teach document professionals with our training classes, and it’s where we concentrate our efforts in the green assessments that we do for clients. We help them reduce the consumption of paper materials with strategies such as eliminating undeliverable addresses, reducing page counts, increasing electronic delivery or ridding print jobs of duplicates and irrelevant mailpieces. As a result, they are able to order less paper. Combined with using recycled materials for the remaining documents that are produced, and continued in-house recycling efforts, I think we help companies make a difference.

2010 may not be the remembered as the year of going green, but many companies can make a start this year by changing one or two things in document operations that will result in lower paper consumption and less wasted output. When things get better financially, then the efforts can be expanded.

Mike Porter is an expert in print and mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, a consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on green training or assessments, visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.

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