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fsjpegWhen it comes to the sustainability of the Graphic Communications Value Chain, it’s important to separate verifiable facts from opinions and misleading information. Fortunately, Two Sides (www.twosides.us) has the resources that can help.

Two Sides has posted nine new 2-page Fact Sheets related to the sustainability of print and paper. Written in clear, easy-to-understand language and including citations to verifiable sources, these Fact Sheets make it easy to understand that print, paper, and packaging have a great environmental story to tell.

Below you’ll find a quick summary of each of the nine new Fact Sheets, plus a link leading to the fact sheet itself.  Please feel free to share these valuable resources with colleagues, customers, students and local media. You can be part of Two Sides’ efforts to end the harmful practice of “greenwashing” (using inflated, inaccurate, or misleading data to misrepresent environmental performance).  Check out the facts, then click through for the downloadable Fact Sheets:

FACT: “Go Green – Go Paperless” and “Save-a-Tree” claims are misleading and may not meet best practices for environmental marketing.  These marketing messages ignore the highly sustainable nature of print on paper – it comes from a renewable resource, is recyclable and recycled more than any other commodity in the U.S. and has great carbon characteristics. Learn More

FACT: Anti-paper environmental claims are often inaccurate and should be challenged. After research showed that more than half of America’s leading banks, utilities and telecommunications companies are using misleading anti-paper environmental marketing claims, Two Sides began its “myth-busting” campaign. To date, more than 40% of those contacted have eliminated unsubstantiated anti-paper claims from their marketing. Learn More

FACT: E-Media also have environmental impacts. A recent study estimates that developing countries will produce at least twice as much electronic waste (e-waste) as developed countries within the next six to eight years. Uncontrolled toxic emissions can result from the informal recycling practices often used in the developing world; these emissions can include dioxins, furans, and cyanide. Learn More

FACT: The carbon footprint of paper is not as high as you may think. The U.S. forest products industry is a leader in the production of renewable energy, with more than 65% of the on-site energy needed to produce paper products derived from carbon-neutral biomass. Learn More

FACT: Sustainable forest management benefits people and the planet. In addition to replenishing the supply of recycled fiber, the U.S. paper industry’s perpetual use of trees harvested from responsibly managed forests has a host of economic, social and environmental benefits. Learn More

FACT: Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world. In 2012, nearly 51 million tons or 65.1% of the paper used in the United States was recovered for recycling, up 76% since 1990. The industry’s new recovery goal is to exceed 70% by 2020. Learn More

FACT: Most of the energy used to make pulp and paper is renewable. The print and paper industry accounts for only 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions; at a global level, the greenhouse gas emissions from the forest products industry value chain are largely offset by sequestration in forests and forest products. Learn More

FACT: Paper is one of the few truly sustainable products. Paper is made from a natural resource that is renewable, recyclable and compostable; in the United States, paper is recycled more than any other commodity in the municipal solid waste stream, including plastics, glass and metals. Learn More

FACT: Paper supports sustainable forest management. The income U.S. landowners receive for products grown on their land—including wood for papermaking—encourages them to maintain, renew and manage this valuable resource sustainably, instead of converting forestland to non-forest uses. Learn More

Led by sustainable and responsible forestry, paper production and printing, the U.S. Graphic Communications Value Chain is working to ensure that, in a world of scarce resources, print and paper’s unique recyclable and renewable qualities can be enjoyed for generations to come. By sharing these Fact Sheets, you can help Two Sides U.S. and its member companies strengthen the paper, packaging, print, and related industries—and make an important contribution to real environmental sustainability. Find more resources, plus information on how to become a member company, at www.twosides.us.

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Case Study:  The Cost of Direct Mail versus Email Invoices

This blog appeared in the series “Two Sides to Sustainability” by Phil Riebel in Printing Impressions on December 5, 2013

Every now and then I come across a study that flies in the face of conventional beliefs.  This one in particular interested me because of our ongoing campaign to remove “anti-paper” green claims used to promote “lower cost” electronic billing.  It seems that the “lower cost” feature is now also being questioned by some.  Let’s take a look.

In 2009, a young Danish company called Natur-Energi A/S took on a challenge to create a better communication tool that would increase the number of invoices paid on time.  Natur-Energi is dedicated to locating, generating and delivering simple and effective energy supplies and solutions that result in lower CO2 generation.  Their customers are, for the most part, private small and medium-sized companies who are committed to CO2 reduction and slowing climate change.

According to an article in the August 2013 issue of Fresh Data (an on-line resource from Data Services Inc.), a case study details how Natur-Energi decided to test whether switching to paper invoices with a new population of customers would improve the speed of payment.  The study’s objective was to establish what effect digital invoicing has on customers and whether switching to invoices sent via physical mail could improve the on-time delivery of payments with those customers.  Secondly, the campaign would investigate whether digital invoices were cheaper than physical mail in regard to overall operational costs.

A test population group of 2,879 new customers was selected and their behavior through a two-month billing and payment cycle was carefully monitored.  Records were kept of the type of invoice sent, date and medium of the first and second reminders, traffic to Customer Service and date of write-off.

What they uncovered is good news for the paper industry.  According to the case study, evidence shows that new customers pay the required amount significantly later if they receive their invoices by email, compared to physical mail.  Natur-Energi discovered that sending invoices via email actually increased their overall costs. 

The survey found that 59 percent of customers receiving the invoice via email had to be sent a reminder, while only 29 percent of customers receiving the invoice via mail required a follow-up message.

After the first reminder, the customer helpline saw activity increase 80 percent from the customers who received email invoices which created a large strain on the company’s customer service telephones as well as personnel. Only 50 percent of the customers who received their invoices via email reached out for help. That is to say, 47 percent of those receiving an initial invoice by email called Customer Service after a reminder meaning only 14.5 percent of customers receiving an initial invoice via direct mail called Customer Service.

The survey clearly states:

  • A call to Customer Service was calculated to cost about $9 per call. On these calls, the customers were asked why they had not paid on first billing. The common responses were that either they had not received the first bill, or “Maybe it’s in the SPAM folder.”  Or, put another way, about 38 percent of the customers billed by email ended up costing the company an additional $9 (80 percent of 59 percent).  However, only 14.5 percent of those billed by mail cost the company that $9 (50 percent of 29 percent).
  • And, of course, there were non-payers in both groups who failed to pay after a second bill and the management of each of these customers was customer specific and calculated to cost on average of  $11.
  • The bottom line is that it cost the company $3.25 per customer to get paid by paper invoice and $5.75 per customer billed by email.

With every new reminder that had to be sent out, costs increased significantly for those customers needing an extra push to make their payment.  What Natur-Energi experienced by using paper invoices was a savings of 42.8 percent of the associated costs.

Another interesting element of this experiment? Direct mail postage is pricey in Denmark at almost twice what is in the United States.  It seems to makes sense to us then that the case becomes even stronger for mailing invoices in the U.S. market where the postage cost is so much lower.

According to Natur-Energi CFO Gert Lund Storgaard, “Liquidity is a vital success factor in a new and fast growing company, and we will continue to send physical invoices to new customers for this reason.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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Kudos to the team at Keep Me Posted for a great video that spells it out…with a British twist!

A group of charities, consumer watchdogs and postal operators in the UK recently launched a new campaign to stop banks, utilities and telecoms firms from forcing their customers to use paperless billing.  The “Keep Me Posted” campaign warns that switching bills and statements to digital channels is not always suitable for a “large proportion” of UK consumers, but businesses have been looking to switch transactional mail to electronic channels in order to save on cost.  Sound familiar?

The Keep Me Posted campaign wants businesses to adopt a “Right to Choose” pledge demonstrating their commitment to allowing customers to decide how they receive their important communications.

So why do we care here in the states?  Because the UK campaign highlights many similar statistics that we have seen here in North America through a recent, independent survey and helps bring those results to life.  The outcomes are comparable and can have a global message and impact.

For example, as pressure to go paperless from banks, utilities, telecommunications companies and other service providers grows, a majority of U.S. consumers want to keep the option to receive paper bills and statements, according to a nationwide survey conducted for Two Sides US  by research firm Toluna.  Similar results were also found in an earlier National US survey conducted by Infotrends on behalf of Consumers for Paper Options and in the UK by Two Sides U.K.

We think our US  survey results speak for themselves…and for people in support of paper correspondence options:

  • 64% of consumers say they would not choose a company that did not offer a paper bill option.
  • 88% want to be able to switch between electronic and paper bills without difficulty or cost.
  • 72% agree that print and paper can be an environmentally sustainable way to communicate if responsibly produced, used and recycled.
  • 50% of consumers either do not believe, feel misled by or question the validity of claims like “Save Trees, Go Paperless” and “Go Green, Go Digital.”
  • Over 84% of people agree that e-billing and e-statements are being promoted to save costs.
  • 91% of consumers say they are unwilling to pay for paper bills.
  • 44% prefer to receive bills by postal mail only.
  • 59% of consumers would refuse to switch to electronic bills and statements or would not take action when asked to do so.
  • 50% of consumers read their bills and statements received both electronically and by postal mail; only 15% read bills which they receive by email only.
  • 34% of consumers are clearly ‘home printers’ with 20% printing up to 20% of their bills and 8% printing between 80% and 100% of their bills. 66% don’t print out any bills at home.

If you haven’t already, check out the full survey report.  It is available to Two Sides members at http://www.twosides.us/Members-Only-Page

And let us know your thoughts on the “Keep Me Posted” video!

Phil Riebel
President, Two Sides US

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Although many of the “save a tree” messages are printed on bills and envelopes, consumers don’t differentiate between different paper products.  These messages are a major driver of public perception about all paper and print products.  If your company’s business and livelihood relies on print and paper, I can guarantee that this message is not helpful.  It’s not only on bills, it’s on websites, emails, Youtube videos… it’s even printed on the back of buses and in bus stops!  Major corporate marketing departments are spreading their views on paper far and wide to promote lower cost e-billing and e-statements.  These claims are harming our industry and the livelihood of millions of Americans who work in the paper value chain, from the family forest owner to the direct mail company.

Watch out not to get hit by the anti-paper bus!

Watch out not to get hit by the anti-paper bus!

As a private forest owner and someone who has made a career in the forest products industry, I have a personal agenda and a business reason to have these claims removed or changed.  Based on our recent Two Sides member satisfaction survey, I also know that the vast majority of our members feel the same way.

Banks, utilities and telecoms (among others) willingly take our money and, at the same time, their marketing departments spew out “anti-paper” slogans to convince consumers to stop using the very products we rely on for our livelihood!  Whatever happened to the basic rule that says “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”?

The Good News

It appears that many Americans are seeing behind the “greenwash”.   This was evident from our latest Nationwide survey  where we asked US consumers how they felt about the “go green – go paperless” message.

1) Half of consumers surveyed do not believe, feel misled by or question the validity of such claims.

2) 84% agreed that paperless bills and statements are being promoted to reduce costs.

In another recent study of paper versus electronic services done by Infotrends on behalf of Consumer for Paper Options, 80% of US consumers said it was not appropriate for companies to cite environmentalism when it is not their real motive.

clickThis data is greatly helping our campaign to challenge and remove the claims.  As of today, we have engaged with 61 companies, 17 of which have removed their anti-paper environmental claims.  Most of our discussions with corporate marketing and legal staff have been productive.  Due to the size of the companies and the attempt to “turn the ship”, patience and persistence is key.

A progress report on our campaign is available to Two Sides members.

The Bad News

“Go Paperless – Go Green” claims still create a misleading view of print and paper products for many people.  They link paper to permanent forest loss or deforestation and they suggest that not using paper will save forests.

Truth is: Paper comes from a renewable resource and is highly recyclable.  US forest area has been stable and growing.  There is 49% more wood volume than 50 years ago.  Forest loss is caused by urbanization and development, not forestry.  In fact, US pulp, paper and other wood products provide an incentive for forest owners to retain well-managed forests instead of converting the land to non-forest use.  If our forestland loses its economic value, it will gradually disappear in favor of other land uses.

The green claims also suggest that using electronic media instead of paper will help the environment.  However, over its life cycle, electronic media has many environmental impacts that are sometimes unknown and often ignored when companies make the switch from paper to electronic.  The interplay between paper products and electronic services is complex and depends on many variables.  For example, in many cases the use of paper is just shifted to the consumer with 34% of people printing statements or bills at home.

The role of Two Sides is to ensure people and corporations receive both sides of the story and the science behind our facts.  In the end, it’s not rocket science and many people understand the environmental, social and economic value of paper products.

After all, 72% of people we polled said that when print on paper is responsibly produced, used and recycled, it can be an environmentally sustainable way to communicate.

For more about the above facts, go to http://www.twosides.us/mythsandfacts  and http://files.twosides.info:8080/content/facts/pdf_312.pdf

Phil Riebel
President, Two Sides US

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Any first-year marketing undergrad can tell you that successful selling comes from building trust and listening to customers.  So, why are many U.S. banks, telecom companies and utilities turning a deaf ear to the majority of consumers who say getting paper bills and statements is important to them?

Just about anybody can tell you that the push to go paperless is really about cost savings. In fact, 84% of people in a recent Two Sides survey agreed that paperless bills and statements are being promoted to reduce costs.  But how much does cost cutting benefit the bottom line if companies are losing customers as a result?  In that same survey, 64% of consumers said that when they’re shopping for a new service provider, they would skip companies that don’t offer the option of a paper bill.   Nearly six in 10 also said they would refuse to switch to e-bills and statements or would not take any action if asked to do so.

Most consumers aren’t buying the companies’ “go paperless, go green” marketing claims either.  According to the survey, half of consumers do not believe, feel misled by or question the validity of such claims.   Nearly three quarters, 72%, believe that when print on paper is responsibly produced, used and recycled, it can be an environmentally sustainable way to communicate.   The survey also found that about a third of people who receive electronic bills and statements print them out at home, so the claim that e-billing is paperless isn’t really true in many cases.

Some may believe that a single survey doesn’t provide enough evidence to make the case for any particular point of view, but even the most skeptical observer can’t deny the growing body of research that shows consumers want a choice when it comes to paper versus electronic billing.  In a national survey conducted by Consumers for Paper Options, 80% of consumers said it’s not okay for companies to force electronic-only bills and statements on their customers.  87% agree the main reason companies want to shift customers to electronic delivery formats is to save money, not to be environmentally responsible.  Similar sentiments were expressed by Britons in surveys conducted by Two Sides U.K. and Keep Me Posted, a broad-based coalition of organizations whose members depend on postal mail.

To me, the decision to continue offering free, paper-based billing options is a no-brainer, especially in industries like telecommunications and banking where competition is fierce.  Consumers have made it pretty clear that paper bills and statements are an important option they want to keep.   When the research data show that even a majority of technology savvy under-25 year olds share the belief that paper options should be preserved, billing companies must ask themselves three important questions:

  1. Can we truly afford to ignore the majority of our customers?
  2. What will be the long-term reputational (and potential legal) implications if we willfully disenfranchise the nearly 30% of American households that don’t have regular internet access, including 45% of seniors who don’t own computers (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2011)? and,
  3. How long will it be before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission takes notice of the vague, unsubstantiated environmental claims we’re using to disguise our cost-saving efforts?

I’m certainly not suggesting that e-billing is a bad thing – it has a lot of positive benefits, including convenience.    But most consumers want and many need paper options.   Companies that dismiss this fact risk losing business.  And those that continue to use unverifiable claims like “go paperless, save trees” as a green cloak for cost cutting risk greater scrutiny by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.

For information on the successful Two Sides educational campaign that is helping leading U.S. companies change their messaging to meet best practices for environmental marketing as outlined in the U.S. FTC Green Guides, click here.

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Below is the second progress report on our ongoing campaign to promote best practices for environmental marketing of print and paper products.  We issued our first report in April 2013 which also included the background and rationale for the campaign.

Progress to Date

Number of U.S. companies who have received a first letter from Two Sides 48
Number of additional cases that Two Sides has referred to member companies and allies 14
Total cases to date 62
Number of companies who have removed their anti-paper environmental claims 13
Success rate 21%
Number of companies who have responded to Two Sides 32
Number of companies that Two Sides has had (or is having) discussions with 17
Number of companies who have not yet responded 20

Our success rate is now 21% and has increased 7% since the last report.  We increased our number of target cases by 8 companies overall, for a total of 62 to date.  Many companies have received a second letter from us and more have responded and removed their claims.  Just this week I received an encouraging letter from a major West Coast utility company that removed all their green claims related paperless billing.  Here is the letter:

________________________________

Dear Mr. Riebel:

This letter is in reply to your January 30, 2013 and June 19, 2013 letters regarding [company name] messaging around electronic billing . Because these issues fall within my area of responsibility,  I have been asked to respond to you.  In particular, your letters express concerns over messages that encourage customers to switch to on-line billing for environmental reasons.

 I appreciate your bringing the concerns of Two Sides U.S. to our attention and your willingness to discuss them. [Company name] takes seriously any suggestion that its messaging to customers might be unreliable or contain inaccuracies.

The statements cited in your letters were, we believe, appropriately incorporated into our customer messaging based on information we had available at that time. Nevertheless, following receipt of your initial letter in January, [company name] reconsidered our messaging and determined that cost savings is the most significant driver for our campaign. As such, we decided to discontinue statements regarding environmental benefits of electronic billing, and to focus on the cost savings associated with electronic billing. Accordingly, we believe our actions have addressed your concerns.

 Let me assure you that we share your desire that the public be accurately informed on issues regarding the environment. It is also important to [company name] that our messaging to customers is accurate, reliable, and helpful. {Company name] would therefore welcome any further suggestions you may have in this regard.

Finally, we assume that this matter is now concluded, but please let me know if you believe further discussion would be helpful .

 ______________________________

There is hope!  In other words, it’s more about “fees” than “trees”.

We have agreed not to publicly name companies who are working with us, however a list of all companies and results is available to Two Sides commercial members.  Our plan is continue our initiative and start taking actions to convince non-responding companies to pay attention.

Phil Riebel
President and COO
Two Sides US, Inc.

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Infotrends study commissioned by Consumer for Paper Options

Infotrends study commissioned by Consumer for Paper Options

As banks, utilities and other types of companies push paperless bills saying electronic communications are “greener” and “protect the environment,” results of a new nationwide poll  show consumers just don’t buy those claims.  In fact, an overwhelming majority — 87% — believe the main reason companies want to shift customers to electronic delivery formats is to save money, not to be environmentally responsible.

The poll, conducted for Consumers for Paper Options (CPO) to determine American attitudes toward government mandates and private sector programs that require electronic-only communications, also found that 84% of consumers think companies should not be able to force the shift to electronic bills, statements and other documents.   (The Executive Summary of the poll, Access for All: American Attitudes Regarding Paper & Digital Information, is available here.)

It’s clear that just about everybody thinks “go paperless, go green” marketing is ultimately about cost savings – a perfectly legitimate corporate goal – so why not just say that?   Does is make good business sense to continue making unfounded claims about the sustainability of paper (aka greenwashing) if most consumers don’t believe them? 

Companies that continue to use unsubstantiated environmental marketing claims about print and paper not only risk eroding trust in their brands, but also may invite attention from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, better known as the Green Guides,  are very clear that environmental claims should be based on “competent and reliable scientific evidence” which they further define as “tests, analyses, research, or studies that have been conducted and evaluated in an objective manner by qualified persons and are generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results.”

But even without the full scientific scrutiny of a complete life-cycle assessment, three basic comparisons of print on paper vs. pixels serve up a pretty compelling case for paper’s environmental sustainability and for keeping it as a communications option for consumers. 

  1. Paper is made from a renewable resource, wood fiber from trees. Computers and the data center infrastructure that supports them are made primarily from finite resources – petroleum-based plastics, metals and rare earth minerals.
  2. More than 65% of the energy used to manufacture paper in the United States comes from renewable, carbon-neutral biomass.  With very few exceptions, the growing infrastructure of the U.S. information and communications technology sector is powered by electricity generated from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. 
  3. In 2012, 65.1% of paper produced in the United States was recovered for recycling (AF&PA) compared to only 38% of computers in 2009 (the most recent figure available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and e-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the United States.  

Whether or not they always follow through, I think most people want to be environmentally responsible in their choice of products and services.   Companies that play fast and loose with environmental marketing claims like “go paperless, go green” only serve to make it more difficult for people to make valid choices and to erode trust in all green marketing claims – including those that represent real environmental value.

It’s time to wise up corporate America!  Show your customers a little respect and pull back the green veil that covers the real intent of your anti-paper marketing messages.   They’ll appreciate your honesty … and so will the FTC.

Kathi Rowzie is a Two Sides guest blogger and a sustainability communications consultant with The Gagliardi Group in Memphis, Tennessee.

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