Go Green, Go Paperless, Go Jobless

Print and paper have a great environmental story to tell

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Time and again we see the messages that ask – nay, demand even – that we go paperless and it is then referred to as going green. Many people, especially government agencies put on the bottom of an email a text such as “consider the environment before printing this email” or similar.

woodHowever, what are the broader implication of the choice to go paperless. First of all it has nothing to do, from the side of the companies and agencies, with saving the environment; it has all to do with money.

On the face of it opting for paperless, seems pretty innocuous to most people, generating the feel-good, albeit unsupported, vibe that corporate marketers intend. But there is a hidden consequence in using unsubstantiated environmental claims to promote paperless communication: potential job loss for millions of people.

Millions of people could lose there jobs? It sounds like a stretch until you consider how many families depend on the paper, print and mailing industries for their livelihoods. The U.S. mailing industry alone supports 8.7 million jobs.

These are people who are directly employed in forest products, paper, printing, direct mail design, mail management and mail delivery jobs, 91.7 percent of them in the private sector.

Include here supply chain jobs, many in small companies that would go belly-up if print and paper go away, and the reach of a collective online click extends even further.

There are also some 10 million family forest owners in America who depend on income from the wood they supply for pulp and paper making.

These folks are the backbone of the print and paper industry, filling the demand for the sustainably grown wood fiber used in printed phone bills, bank statements and other customer communications.

In fact, 60% of the wood used to manufacture paper in the United States comes from these small family owned tree farms.

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), family forest owners account for 92 percent of all private forest owners and 62 percent of the private forestland (35 percent of all forestland) in the United States with the average family farm holding at around 25 acres.

Without the demand for sustainably grown wood to make paper and the income it provides, many families would be tempted to sell their land for development, the leading cause of U.S. forest loss, rather than continue to manage it responsibly. This is especially true in today's tough economic times.

The USFS says U.S. family forest owners have held their land an average of 26 years. Should these people on the front lines of sustainable forest management be forced to make the difficult financial choice to

sell long-held family land when a drop in paper demand results from green marketing claims that don't hold water?

If companies and government agencies want to encourage a switch from paper to electronic communication because it's speedier or more cost-effective, we cannot argue with that. But don't tout that electronic bill or monthly statement as the greener alternative because it's just not true.

The green movement also needs to gets its fact right about paper as the claim that going paperless saves the trees of the tropical rainforests is not only a fallacy but it is an outright lie. Hardwood trees are not suitable for the making of paper pulp and about 99.9% of the trees of the (tropical) rainforests are hardwood.

The only broadleaved trees that are suitable for the making of paper are poplars, and one or two other species, as their wood is light enough, but hardwoods per se just not for paper pulp make.

Paper is made, predominately, from coniferous woods, that is to say from the likes of spruce, pine and fir, grown more often than not on marginal land that cannot grow hardwoods or have much use for agriculture.

Trees are not saved if and when people reduce their use of paper. The contrary would be the case for the paper companies that own those forests and others who supply the timber for the making of paper would, if the market should dry up, fell the trees and turn the land over for other purposes, more than likely for urban development. Not the result we should be aiming for.

Let's stop greenwashing and tell the real story, and the green movement should be waking up the truth as well.

© 2013