Print Grows Trees

by: Kerry C. Stackpole, CAE

In the turmoil of change, people sometimes misread what they see and hear. While the floodgates of modern media have brought us an amazing array of information, images, and ideas, it also has brought with it a shocking amount of misinformation and sensory overload. If there’s a mantra for the 21st Century, it should be, “take a closer look.” That’s one of the reasons we launched Print Grows Trees, an educational campaign that uses facts to show that print on paper actually helps to grow trees and keep our forests from being sold for development. By connecting the dots between print and the private landowners who own almost 60 percent of U.S. woodlands, Print Grows Trees challenges the widely held belief that by using less paper, trees will be saved.

A surprising number of people believe that not printing on paper saves trees. While being a responsible user of natural resources is important, the paper and forest industry grow and harvest trees specifically for paper making. These managed forests better serve the environment through carbon sequestration and cleansing of the water aquifer. Print creates a demand for paper, which in turn creates a demand for trees and managed forests, all the while holding development or other less environmentally friendly uses of land at bay. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

Interestingly, a surprising number of people believe e-devices (smart phones, iPads, laptops/net-books, e-readers, and computers) have little to no impact on the environment. The fact that it’s against the law in 50 states and the District of Columbia to toss our cell phone in the trash ought to tell us something – after all, lithium batteries are hazardous waste. Unfettered access to the online world sucks up huge amounts of electricity and other resources, requiring enormous brick and mortar buildings, high-tech security systems, back-up diesel generators, air conditioning, lights, computer servers, and unfettered access to electrical supplies to sustain 24/7/365 operations. The consumption of electricity to fuel data centers is growing 24 percent a year. The power plants generating this electrical power burn mostly coal and petroleum products. Tack on the premature obsolescence of computing technology and you are looking at 300-400 million tons of non -renewable e-waste every year. “E” most certainly is not free.

While some take newspapers, magazines, and book manufacturers to task for not quickly adopting new forms of content delivery such as e- readers, the argument that paper is used to create scarcity conveniently overlooks the fact that only 83 percent of U.S. homes have computers and only 63 percent have broadband access. In today’s marketplace, e-readers are largely out of financial reach for families and most especially, for children. Paper, in the form of books, magazines, catalogs, and newspapers, is freely available in public libraries, schools, and on newsstands at reasonable prices.

Paper as a metaphor for scarcity seems wildly obsolete. E-devices are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean paper or print must go. If you love breathing fresh air, drinking clean water, and the green vistas of forestland, assuring a steady demand for print, paper, and trees may be the best and most beneficial idea yet. In a world bombarded by electronic images and media, many forget the value of print to our society. It contributes in economic, social, and environmental ways that have not been clearly represented to the public. Print Grows Trees concentrates on the environmental, because the misconception that if we stop using print, we’ll save trees has had a critical impact on not only the print industry, but also on the private landowners who are the keepers of America’s trees. We want people to make their communications decisions based on facts. After all, print is the renewable way a responsible world communicates.

Kerry C. Stackpole, CAE, is the president of Printing and Graphics Association MidAtlantic. For more information on the Print Grows Trees campaign, call (410) 319-0900 or visit