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Going Green Will *Not* Go Paperless in 2013

By on January 11th, 2013

Our friend Mr. Tree (if that is his name) at Dead Tree Edition suggested we call this “Son of #NoPrintDay”…

Since Google et al.’s announcement of their “Go Paperless in 2013” campaign (which I noted earlier this week), The Facebook Machine has been abuzz with chatter and consternation, which led me to a thoughtful post by Deborah Corn at Print Media Centr and the corresponding “Say No to Paperless 2013” Facebook page. Mr. Tree tells Ms. Corn:

“Not wasting paper is different from going paperless, especially if you’re going paperless because you think that’s green. The Go Paperless campaign feeds the masses’ ignorance about print and also takes advantage of it. The key thing we need to do now is to send a message: If you make false environmental claims about electronic media always being greener than print, expect backlash.”

Whilst there is nothing wrong with a) promoting electronic media (heck, I am posting this on a blog), b) promoting the cloud (I’ve looked at the cloud from both sides now and I think I am on board with it, or at least iTunes’ implementation of it), or even c) reducing paper waste (reducing any waste is a good idea), there is a difference between all of these things and “going paperless” because of some misconception of what “green” means, or out of confusion as to what media and processes truly constitute sustainability. As the Two Sides letter I cited in my original post indicates (and as I have posted here many many times), electronic media do not exactly have the cleanest environmental footprints, so it’s not half-hypocritical to base a “Go paperless” campaign on ostensible greenness. We could just as easily make the claim that “Going Google-less in 2013” would have a positive effect on the environment—and we would be just as misguided.

Think about this way. Print comprises one communication channel (of which—spoiler alert!—there are many), and it has its advantages and disadvantages, just like any other channel does. For those of us who use media, these advantages and disadvantages tend not to have anything to do with the environment, but everything to do with reaching an intended audience in some fashion and communicating a message in a timely and effective manner. Naturally, we choose one channel (or combination of channels) vs. others for its/their advantages in reaching an audience. To deliberately “pledge” to avoid any one medium makes about as much sense as pledging to not make so many phone calls, or to not send e-mails (actually there are some folks I wish would make this pledge), or to stop using Facebook or Twitter (ditto)—or even to stop using Google (I have some librarian friends who might get on board with that).

There are many many reasons to use electronic media, and, yes, there are some reasons to not use print in certain cases—but “greenness” should not enter into the conversation. Otherwise you’re just greenwashing.

  1. 7 Responses to “Going Green Will *Not* Go Paperless in 2013”

  2. By Jay on Jan 11, 2013 | Reply

    It’s important to understand that Google and its partners in this campaign are the ones that started to push the so-called “environmental” aspect of Paperless 2013. In Google Drive’s blog post on Jan.1, 2013 they wrote, “If you’re up for saving time, money and trees, going paperless might be a good goal for you in 2013.” Will people really “save trees?” (https://plus.google.com/+GoogleDrive/posts/YG2VzB3iuue)
    And, it was campaign partner Jamie Sutherland, President of U.S. Operations for Xero, who said the campaign is, “good for the environment.” Another partner, Jim Schniella, CEO of Manilla said, “It’s truly representative of Manilla’s overall mission to … help improve the environment by reducing the overall use of paper.”

    It’s important that we don’t just sit by and let these statements be made without a challenge.

  3. By Phil Riebel on Jan 11, 2013 | Reply


    Thanks for this coverage! As you know we have written an open letter to Google to do our part: http://www.twosides.us/US/Two-Sides-sends-open-letter-to-Mr-Eric-Schmidt-Chairman-and-CEO-of-Google-in-response-to-the-newly-announced-Go-Paperless-in-2013-campaign

    However, I believe what really makes a difference is when others in the industry also jump in and voice their concerns, and then use social media to distribute all these posts more widely.

    I invite all to use the http://www.twosides.us to get the facts needed, including our most recent page on best practices for environmental marketing of print and paper: http://www.twosides.us/Environmental-Marketing-Best-Practices-for-Print-and-Paper

  4. By brian mahoney on Jan 14, 2013 | Reply

    Excellant information – can this be circulated
    in the mainstream media ? ie : Wall St Journal, NY Times etc.
    I’m in Fine Paper Distribution to the Corporate and Commercial Printing Industries.

  5. By Gary Jones on Jan 14, 2013 | Reply


    Great job on framing the issue as electronic communication serves a role and is clearly one of the choices for distribution of information. However, to say that it is far superior to paper based communication is ill-conceived and shows a complete lack of understanding of environmental issues. In order to help prevent these types of statements in the future, it will require all of us involved in printing to educate those who are not familiar with the issues. To that end, the Printing Industries has written a letter expressing its displeasure with this latest campaign. See http://www.printing.org/news/11040 for more information.

  6. By Tony Hodgson on Jan 16, 2013 | Reply

    Richard, here’s some more fuel for the flames:

    I see that Deborah Corn at Print Media Centr has followed up with another very useful and thoughtful post to help clarify the arguments and get to the heart of the matter.

    She says that the only problem with Google’s phrase going paperless “saves time, money and trees” is that the “save trees” point is not true. It may well not be true, but I don’t agree with her that it is the core issue with the Go Paperless 2013 campaign. Isn’t the big problem for printers that the other two points are true? Going paperless really does save time and money.

    Businesses and consumers will not be persuaded to go paperless because they are told it saves trees, the environment and the world. Of course it is greenwash to imply that it is a good thing to “save trees” by not using paper, but if environmental arguments had any real influence on us we would have gone ‘car-less’ years ago. But if using less paper means our customers can save time and money then they will. In fact, they already are.

    Smart printers recognise this and so they already encourage their customers to use less paper. Printing on demand, relevant direct mail, cross-media marketing and e-publishing are all solutions offered by printers to help their customers save time and money by printing less. And they do it because they know that if they can help their customers to save time and money, it means more profit for their customers and more profit for them.

    Instead of rallying against the “Go Paperless in 2013” campaign the printing industry should launch its own “Go Less Paper” campaign to show printers how they can increase the value of print within a multi-media world by printing less.

  7. By Deborah Corn on Jan 18, 2013 | Reply

    First off, thank you Richard for sharing my posts. It’s really an honor to be recognized by the What They Think community, and I am most appreciative for that!

    I wanted to respond to Tony’s comment… hi Tony!

    I completely agree with you that “save money and save time” are truths, and that is a bigger picture problem for the industry. But to get back to the point of my post that you shared, it’s a tangent subject although a very relevant one. I stand that at the core of the Go Paperless in 2013 is the further demonization of paper, and in this case it’s being perpetuated by one of the biggest and most influential corporations on the planet, and must be stopped.

    I don’t believe it’s fair to compare going paperless to going car-less. The use of paper is a CHOICE, driving a car I would categorize as a necessity, and within that necessity there are some environmentally friendly options available. I also dont agree that consumers are immune to go green messages and imagery. This is evident by the amount of messages we receive to go green, the amount of products on the shelves highlighting that it’s greener than the one it’s sitting next to, and why it’s pointed out in Google’s campaign. Green is the new black.

  8. By Steven jones on Jan 31, 2013 | Reply

    Going paperless suddenly will not be accepted by the masses. But the point out fact about where it is mentioned that not wasting paper is not going paperless is a true fact. In fact I came across a website called printing green where they use the term green printing thus recycling paper and saving our tress.