Paper and Sustainability

futureIt’s been a remarkable week for paper and sustainability. New Leaf Paper released Reincarnation 100, the first coated paper made in the USA from 100% post-consumer waste. Sappi came out with three new sheets for direct-mail produced with 80% renewable energy, and that feature SFI Chain-of-Custody certification. And Two Sides US announced that more than 20 leading U.S. companies that tout their tech-based services as being more environmentally friendly than paper-based ones have removed “their ‘anti-paper’ green claims”.

This last comes after a vigorous crusade by Two Sides throughout 2013 to get companies to drop slogans like “Go Paperless, Save Trees” from their advertising.

Why ‘greenwashing’ matters

“The goal is to put an end to unsubstantiated and misleading claims that electronic communications are more environmentally friendly than print and paper,” said Two Sides President Phil Riebel.

Not only do anti-paper slogans piss off organizations like Two Sides that have committed themselves to promoting sustainability and  “responsible use” of paper, they contravene guidelines for environmental marketing established by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

What does the public think?

One thing that remains a mystery is just what people outside the paper industry make of print and sustainability discussions, or if they even think about those subjects at all.

The suspicion is that the “casual environmentalists” (the “they give you recycling bins, might as well use ’em” type) will probably buy recycled paper if it’s of a reasonable quality and price, and realize that companies pushing “e-billing” are out to save a buck.

However, there is a big public relations challenge here. Most people probably sense that the discussion of paper and sustainability is being framed wrong. Instinctively they know that if you really want to preserve trees, you don’t cut them down. Nor do you use up boatloads of energy to power your “green” e-billing and e-marketing systems.

Many paper companies have done a remarkable job in not only developing top-quality recycled papers, but managing to keep discussion of the subject above the fray. We don’t get a lot of pictures of children holding dandelions in their literature, but rather loads of figures that demonstrate exactly how much energy is saved and how many trees don’t have to be cut down when you use their papers, compared with non-recycled ones. In short, they treat their customers like adults.


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