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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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pharmHere’s one of those instances of political tinkering that’s ripe for the sage advice, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”   Congress is considering legislation to make our prescription drug supply chain more secure, and there are surely things we can do to make the U.S. prescription medication delivery system safer and more efficient.  But a specific provision in the House version of this proposed law (H.R. 1919, Section 8) would do just the opposite.

As currently written, this proposed law would eliminate the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requirement that says printed information – on things like proper drug dosage, side effects, potential drug interactions and risks — must accompany all prescription medication, replacing it with a provision for electronic-only information.   You won’t get any argument from me that the internet is a valuable tool for disseminating this type information to those who dispense dangerous prescription drugs, but Congress really needs to summon up a little common sense before mandating electronic-only communication.    

Think about the diversity of settings where health care practitioners dispense prescription drugs.   From pharmacies and cruise ship infirmaries to EMT transports and rural nursing homes, internet access and reliability vary considerably.   Do we really want to legislate a system where vital patient information is available to almost every health care practitioner?  That’s just not good enough for me – especially if I happen to get sick in one of those undeserved locations and need a prescription!

We need a safe, reliable system where vital prescription drug information is available to all health care professionals and their patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.   One of the most effective ways to make this happen is for important printed information to accompany a drug through the product distribution system from the manufacturer to the health care professional … just as it does today.   

 H.R. 1919 passed the House of Representatives on June 3.  A similar bill is coming up for consideration  in the Senate, but without the paperless provision.   The two measures will then go to a Conference Committee as legislators work to merge them into what may eventually be voted into law. 

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

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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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I am ticked off at my bank, utilities and telecom providers for saying “go green – go paperless.”

I’ve had it with my bank and all the other companies that are bashing paper products to promote electronic billing, statements and other e-services.  Yes…I’ve finally lost it.

I have decided to be diplomatic and not name you…but we all know who you are.millions

To my bank and other providers out there who are doing this:

You are damaging my livelihood and you are misleading people with greenwashing so that you can cut costs.  Please be honest.

I am your customer and I have spent the last 25 years of my life working in the forest and paper industry.  This industry has allowed me to lead a good life, raise a great family together with my wife, and provide a good education for my children.

My youngest son standing on a beaver dam on our forestland. This was taken during a weekend exploration trip several years ago. He's 17 now and graduating from high school in a few months.

My youngest son standing on a beaver dam on our forest property. This was taken during a weekend adventure several years ago. He’s 17 now and graduating from high school in a few months.

I buy your products and services: banking services, cell phones, TV services, electric and water services.  I spend my money to make you more profitable – money that comes from the pulp and paper industry.

Not only are the green claims making me upset, it makes many of your other customers upset as well.  In fact, millions of them.

It may come as a surprise to you but 8.4 million Americans make a living in the print, paper and mail value chain that generates 1.3 trillion in revenues (EMA 2012 Job Study).  I bet you’re getting a lot of this money in your coffers.

About 10 million Americans own private forestland (US Forest Service) and many of them rely on the income from their properties to make a living (ex: lumber for construction and pulp used for papermaking – yes PAPER).

I am one of those forest owners.  My family owns 200 acres of woodlands and we manage it responsibly for economic and recreational benefits as well as biodiversity.

How do you think I and the millions of other family forest owners feel about your “save a tree” claims?  I think they are very misleading because I believe we are the ones saving forests for the long-term by managing them responsibly and making sure our society can benefit from forest products (like paper) that are highly renewable, highly recyclable and store carbon for their useful life.  These inherent environmental features make paper quite a sustainable product compared to all the other things that surround us, including electronics.

Most of us are well aware of the massive infrastructure and environmental impacts of electronic media that you forget to mention in your green claims.

All products and services have pros and cons.  To bash one product in favor of another is an easy game to play when you have no verifiable facts or evidence that consider all the economic, social and environmental benefits of our forest resource and products like paper.  I believe your green claims fall short of many rules and guidelines for environmental marketing.

Paper and electronic can happily co-exist and I need both…so do most other people I know.  I use e-billing and on-line banking regularly, but I need a paper copy to remind me to pay the bills.  I also keep the paper copy, or print the e-statements for accounting and record-keeping.  It’s more secure and won’t get lost.

All my paper gets printed on both sides and gets recycled.  I also buy paper that has been made with fiber from forests certified to the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Paper is far from being a “bad” product as your marketing suggests.  I believe that the majority of people see paper as a sustainable way to communicate as long as it is produced and used responsibly, including recycling it.

It’s time to gather your marketing team in a room and tell them to stop greenwashing the millions of people who earn a living from the print, paper, mail and forestry value chain.  Please focus your message on the true benefits of e-media: speed, convenience and maybe a few others.

Remember…we are your customers and most of us care about the environment just as much as you do.

Now it’s time for me to shut down my computer and cell phone for the day and go for a walk in the forest.  Happy Earth Day!

Phil Riebel
Family Forest Owner and Proud Paper Supporter

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Background

Shortly after its beginnings in 2008, Two Sides launched a campaign in the UK to challenge negative environmental claims about print and paper being made by many companies in order to promote electronic statements (ex: e-billing).  You’ve all seen them: Go green – Go paperless.  Go GreenSave trees.

Two Sides made this a focused initiative with a strategic approach to get the claims removed or changed.  The reasoning behind this is:

  • The “go green – go paperless” message is damaging to the print, paper and mail value chain and millions of jobs rely on this value chain.
  • Print on paper has unique environmental features that many other products and materials do not.
  • The “saving trees” and “go- green” messages create a false impression that forests and trees are a finite resource that is being lost instead of a renewable resource being replenished based on sustainable forest management practices.
  • Corporations must follow best practices for environmental marketing.  Claims should be based on sound and peer-reviewed scientific evidence (ex: CSR Europe guidelines, UK CAP, US FTC Green Guides and ISO14021)
  • The full impact of switching to e-media are often not properly considered and sometimes ignored.
  • The life cycle of e-statements is not paperless because many people print e-statements at home or at the office for record-keeping and other uses.

Although the process was time-demanding and required many discussions and exchanges, our success was more than what we had expected.  In total, 80% of the companies (27 out of 34) we engaged changed or removed their anti-paper claims, including several large corporations.

In July 2010, we launched the same campaign in the US with a strategic approach and focus to engage the top banks, utilities and telecoms that are currently using similar environmental claims.  We looked at over 100 companies and discovered that half of them are using misleading claims.  We are now systematically addressing these.  The “list” is growing weekly and our database now includes about 250 companies in many different sectors.

Thanks to all of you who have been sending us claims of concern.  If you see one, just email it to us at inquiries@twosides.us

Our goal is an 80% success rate in getting claims changed or removed.

We are collaborating  with some member companies as well as with the AF&PA in this initiative to avoid duplication of efforts and discuss how we can best address the numerous claims being made.  The PrintMediaCentr has been very supportive in spreading the message.  PIA and PIASC have also greatly supported the cause by sometimes issuing their own letters and press releases to draw attention to this issue.

 Progress to Date

Number of U.S. companies who have received a first letter from Two Sides

46

Number of additional cases that Two Sides has referred to member companies and allies

9

Total cases to date

54

Number of companies who have removed their anti-paper environmental claims

7

Success rate

13%

Number of companies who have responded to Two Sides

16

Number of companies that Two Sides has had (or is having) discussions with

11

Number of companies who have not yet responded

32

Our current success rate is only 13%…but the night is young!

First, we would like to thank to the companies who have taken the time to listen to us, those that are currently working with us, and those that have corrected their claims.

We are now in the process of sending a second letter to companies who have not responded and to those who have decided to keep their existing environmental claims.  The letter lists specific actions that Two Sides will take in the near future to draw attention to these companies.

Our view is that misleading environmental claims about print and paper products require a strong response due to the potential damage to the paper, print, publishing and mail value chain which supports 8.4 million U.S. jobs and generates $1.139 trillion in sales revenue (1).

Phil Riebel
President and COO
Two Sides US, Inc.


1 – Direct Communications Group, 2010.  The EMA Job Study. www.envelope.org

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