Paper has gotten a bum rap in recent years, thanks in large part to digital companies that decry the environmental impact of print. But these claims often hide a larger truth that the electronic alternatives make huge footprints of their own.
Earlier this month we wrote about several Fortune 500 companies removing their anti-paper green claims to comply with the FTC’s fairness in advertising guidelines. They wouldn’t do this if there wasn’t good reason to question those “paper is anti-green” claims.
Now the Guardian joins in the quest for answers, as Alison Moodie asks “Is digital really greener than paper?”
As she points out, many of the claims being leveled against the paper and printing industry are just plain wrong, citing stats from the American Forest and Paper Association (AFANDPA) to point out the disconnect.
According to AFANDPA, Moodie writes, “more than 65% of paper in the US was recycled in 2012, making paper the nation’s most recyclable commodity. Over the past century, forest coverage in the northern part of the country, from Minnesota to Maine, has actually increased by 28% according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.”
And while many think that a piece of digital content leaves barely an environmental whisper, Moodie points out a growing concern about the environmental cost to manufacture and power all those electronic devices, and the problem of discarded electronics as well.
“E-waste is on the rise, with a global increase of 40m tons per year, especially in third world countries like India and South Africa, according to a 2009 United Nations report,” she points out.
Finally, given the fact that the companies that are pushing the “go green, go paperless” mantra often have business motivations to do so (they are, for the most part, electronic billing and finance companies that only profit from paperless business practices), the claims should be viewed with the appropriate amount of salt.
Clearly both the print and the electronics industries can and should take steps to reduce and control their environmental impact. Along with that, truth in advertising will go a long way toward educating customers to make informed choices.