by Phil Riebel, president, Two Sides North America, Inc.
Two Sides is an industry-funded nonprofit that has carved out a presence as a familiar advocate for the sustainability of print on paper. Since its beginnings in the UK in 2008, Two Sides has grown to be present in five continents and several countries. More than 1,000 companies from across the print, paper and related industries support Two Sides, including such major industry players as Canon, Konica Minolta, Domtar, International Paper and many more.
Making progress in the battle against anti-paper claims
One of the key initiatives of Two Sides is an anti-greenwash campaign that challenges corporations when they make misleading environmental claims about print and paper to promote electronic services, such as e-billing, i.e. “go green – go paperless, save trees.”
To date, the campaign has resulted in more than 160 companies removing their anti-paper claims, including several Fortune 100 US corporations, such as AT&T, Capital One, Wells Fargo, HSBC and Sprint. “One of the benefits of anti-greenwashing campaign has been the opportunity to reflect on how we communicate our efforts,” stated Sprint’s Director of IT Care & Billing Services Business Management Alan Anglyn. “This caused us to review Sprint’s messaging about electronic media across multiple touch points.”
The main reasons for challenging the claims are the following:
- Most of the marketing claims made are vague and unsubstantiated and do not meet country-specific environmental marketing guidelines, such as those of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).1
- The life-cycle environmental impact of electronic transactions, including the vast infrastructure needed, manufacturing of components, energy use, waste disposal and more, is far from negligible2 and not properly considered by companies making the anti-paper claims.
- Print on paper has unique environmental characteristics compared to electronics. It originates from a renewable resource – trees grown in responsibly managed forests in Europe, North America and many other countries. It is recyclable and is the most recycled commodity in many developed regions of the world, often with recovery rates exceeding 65 percent.
- Marketing messages like “save trees” create a false impression that forests are a finite resource instead of a renewable resource that is continuously replenished using sustainable forest management practices in many countries. For example, over the last 60 years, the volume of trees growing on US forestland increased by 58 percent.3
- The claims are damaging to local economies and threaten jobs. For example, in the US alone, a total of 7.5 million jobs (6 percent of total US jobs) that generate $1.4 trillion in sales revenue (4.6 percent of US total output) depend on the US mailing industry, which includes paper production, printing production, related suppliers, graphic design and the handling and distribution of mail.4
The campaign has resulted in major changes in marketing messages and, as such, millions of consumers throughout the world are less exposed to anti-paper and anti-print slogans.
Consumer surveys in the US5,6 and UK7 also reveal that many people feel misled by “go paperless, go green” environmental claims. For example:
- 87 percent of adult Americans agree that “the main reason companies want to shift customers to electronic delivery formats is to save money, not to be environmentally responsible.”
- 80 percent did not think it was appropriate for companies to cite environmentalism when it is not their real motive.
- More than 70 percent believe that print and paper are a sustainable way of communicating when produced and used responsibly.
- 50 percent or more of respondents don’t believe, feel misled or question “go paperless, go green” claims.
People want to have a choice…and a paper option
Switching to digital is not always welcomed by consumers, and many wish to retain the flexibility of paper-based, postal and electronic communications. Research shows that paper still has a place today, and many people want to be able to choose their preferences and even prefer print over electronic communications.8
Even today, not everyone is computer-savvy or has access to a computer. For example, access to a reliable internet connection depends on many factors, such as age, education and location. As many as 30 percent of Americans are not online, including 65 percent of seniors who don’t own computers.9 Forcing people to go paperless or pay added fees for paper bills and statements disenfranchises a significant part of the population. US consumer surveys show that 89 percent believe that “shifting customers/clients to online only documents disadvantages some groups, such as the elderly, disabled, low income and poorly educated.”10
Even those with computers seem to prefer paper for many tasks. US consumer surveys11,12 found that most people prefer reading print on paper compared to screens and want to retain a paper option. For example:
- 88 percent believe that they understand and can retain or use information better when they read print on paper. Reading on screen shows lower preference, with the lowest being 41 percent indicating that mobiles and smartphones were useful for understanding and retaining information.
- When given a choice, 81 percent of respondents indicated that they prefer to read print on paper. These percentages drop to 39 percent for screens, laptops and PCs, 30 percent for e-readers and 22 percent for mobiles or smartphones.
- 64 percent say they would not choose a company that did not offer a paper bill option.
- 50 percent read their bills and statements received both electronically and by postal mail; only 15 percent read bills that they receive by email only. Finally, 91 percent say they are unwilling to pay for paper bills.
Corporations that are eliminating paper-based options are passing printing costs to consumers given that 34 percent of respondents are “home printers” with 20 percent printing up to 20 percent of their bills and 8 percent printing between 80 and 100 percent of their bills. Respondents said that printed documents are easier to read (74 percent), better for storage and archiving (56 percent), more secure (55 percent) and less likely to be lost (47 percent).13
Consumers value the physical mail piece as a recordkeeping tool and reminder to pay.14 An integrated marketing strategy that includes both print and online components spans preferences and generations, allowing everyone to get the message.
Phil Riebel is president of Two Sides North America and has more than 30 years of international experience acquired in senior management positions in industry and consulting related to the forest products industry.
1. U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 2013. Environmental marketing guidelines.
2. Arnfalk, P. 2010. Analyzing the ICT – Paper interplay and its environmental implications.
3. USDA Forest Service, 2012. Forest Inventory Analysis.
4. EMA, 2015. 2015 Job Study.
5. Two Sides, 2013. Most US consumers want the option to receive paper bills and statement.
6. EMA, 2014. Highlights of EMA nationwide survey.
7. Two Sides, 2013. Paper bills and statements – A real necessity in a digital world.
8. Two Sides, 2013. Most US consumers want the option to receive paper bills and statement.
9. U.S. Department of Commerce, 2011.
10. EMA, 2014. Highlights of EMA nationwide survey.
11. Two Sides, 2013. Most US consumers want the option to receive paper bills and statement.
12. Two Sides, 2015. Reading from paper or reading from screens – What do consumers prefer?
13. Two Sides, 2013. Most US consumers want the option to receive paper bills and statement.
14. US Postal Service, Office of the Inspector General, 2015. Will the check be in the mail? An examination of paper and electronic transactional mail.
Global Study: Most People Highly Value Paper and Print
Consumer survey results on global attitudes toward paper and print, as well as toward corporate environmental claims promoting digital over paper-based communications, indicate a clear preference for print on paper across all countries and regions analyzed. For more information, visit www.twosidesna.org.
Most people still need and prefer paper for many day-to-day activities. Organizations should fully investigate the implications of switching from paper to digital.