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Archive for June, 2012

Yesterday SI Live published an article titled: Paper trail: Staten Island lawmakers push legislatures to go paperless”.  It contains several misleading environmental arguments on going paperless in favor of electronic communication, including this statement by the author:

“Whole forests are destroyed to comply with this quaint and, in this day and age, entirely unnecessary tradition. It’s a colossal and, frankly, shameful waste in a time when government is supposed to be more environmentally conscious. “

Below I address the main points, but I would also encourage people in the print and paper industries of NY State to voice their concerns to:

As a private forest owner who has made his living in the forest and paper industry, this type of misinformation really disappoints me.  I wish that more people could be connected with forests and understand all the environmental, economic and social benefits they bring us.  People need to connect paper and other forest products with well managed forests, not forest destruction.   Two Sides has assembled many facts on this topic: Paper production supports sustainable forest management

Going paperless by switching to electronic communication is not going to save the planet.  Just think for a minute of all the environmental and social impacts of our rapidly growing electronic infra-structure.  The energy consumed, the billions of gadgets manufactured using non-renewable plastics, metals and fossil fuels.  The millions of tonnes of e-waste generated every year, much of it going for disassembly in third world countries and in some cases creating health issues there.  It is not a question of paper or electronic, but rather which combination of the two has the least impact on the environment while meeting social and economic needs.  They both complement each other and each method can deliver advantages that the other cannot.  Get the facts here.

Paper has inherent sustainability features that people need to understand.  It is the most recycled commodity in the world, with a much higher recycling rates than electronics, plastic, glass, and metal.  It is primarily based on a renewable resource – wood fiber from well managed forests.  These forests provide important benefits to rural communities, including jobs and income for family forest owners.  Perhaps our politicians need to go for a walk in a family-owned forest someday and meet some of the hard working NY forest owners.

Here are some key facts:

  1. Paper has unique features that make it a preferred choice for reading and storage of documents for 70% of Americans [1].
  2. Going electronic is not necessarily “greener” than print and paper.  The direct impact of electronic products and services replacing paper is far from negligible, and the trade-off between the two depends on how often we use them, the source of energy and how we dispose of the products [1].
  3. Paper is made from renewable resources, and responsibly produced and used paper has many advantages over other, non-renewable alternative materials [2].
  4. Paper is the most recycled material that we use [3].
  5. It is made with a high percentage of renewable energy [4].
  6. Over the last 50 years, the volume of trees growing on U.S. forestland increased 49% [5].
  7. The amount of U.S. forestland has remained essentially the same for the last 100 years [6].
  8. The manufacture of forest products in the U.S. supports and promotes well-managed forests that provide many environmental, social and economic benefits [7].
  9. The livelihood of 8.7 million Americans depends on our U.S. mail industry, including the production of print and paper [9].

The more people voice their concern, the more we can educate the public and our politicians that print and paper have a great environmental story to tell!

Phil Riebel

President and COO

Two Sides U.S., Inc.


  1. Two Sides U.S., 2012
  2. Arnfalk, P., 2010
  3. TAPPI Paper University ;  WWF, 2010
  4. U.S. EPA, 2010 ; AF&PA
  5. Agenda 20/20 Technology Alliance, 2010 ; AF&PA, 2010
  6. Society of American Foresters, 2007
  7. USDA Forest Service, 2010
  8. UN FAO, 1995 ; WWF, 2010 ; WBCSD and NCASI, 2005
  9. Direct Communications Group, 2011

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Toshiba announced recently announced a “no-print day” to take place October 23rd to raise awareness of the impact printing has on our planet.

The main issues are the following:

  • They have linked paper use to deforestation (or killing trees and destroying forests) when, in fact, responsibly made paper is one of the most sustainable products that surrounds us.  Paper is the most recycled commodity in the US, with a recycling rate of 67% compared to 18% for electronic waste.  A large portion of paper comes from well-managed US forests that have numerous environmental, social and economic benefits for our planet.  These benefits include climate change mitigation, recreational use and many jobs and income for family landowners.  In the U.S. alone, 8.7 million people make their livelihood from mail, print and paper.  What do they all think of the Toshiba message?
  • They have overlooked the fact that US forests have been stable for the last 100 years while our population has tripled, and our forest are producing 49% more trees (standing wood) than 50 years ago.
  • Toshiba may have also ignored the environmental impacts of electronic communications, and there are many.  Just saying you are eliminating print and paper really does not mean you are helping the planet.  It’s a lot more complex than that.  We have assembled some key facts here: http://www.twosides.us/e-media-and-paper

Everything we do has both negative and positive environmental, social and economic impact.  We need to look at the big picture to make the right environmental decision which also meet our social and economic needs.  Arbitrarily selecting one product over another based on environmental perceptions instead of facts can lead people and companies to make the wrong environmental decision.  This seems to be happening over and over again with print and paper.

Not printing documents reduces consumption and environmental impacts, however we all need to communicate.  For example, switching from paper-based communications to electronic media is not necessarily the answer due to the complex life-cycle of both communication methods.

For “no-print day” to be effective, Toshiba should in no way increase the environmental impacts of electronic communications on that day (energy used by servers, computers and other electronic communication devices).  This would ensure that any environmental savings from eliminating paper are not replaced by environmental impacts of communicating electronically.  It is interesting to note that Toshiba is planning a social media campaign in support of “no-print day”.  This campaign will likely mean more emails, messages, energy use, etc…

Furthermore, Toshiba employees will need to read reports, studies and other long documents on-line and fully comprehend them to do their daily work.  Yes even those 100 page reports – no printing allowed.  This may prove to be a challenge since science has shown a number of times that print media is better for “deep learning” and is very practical for making annotations and grasping topics and concepts.  Basically, print on paper is more tangible and helps many people understand.  Check the Two sides resource pages for more facts and reports on this topic (www.twosides.us).

Sustainable communications is about using all forms of communication responsibly while meeting social and economic needs.   In their decision-making, companies need to consider the unique sustainability features of print and paper (renewability, recyclability, carbon capture and storage), and the environmental impacts of both print media and electronic media.

The goal of Two Sides is to set the record straight on the sustainability, responsible use and production of print and paper by relying on science-based facts.

Phil Riebel

President and COO

Two Sides U.S., Inc.

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