The Printing Industry Fights Back . . . Let’s Do It Responsibly

By | January 4, 2011

For a long time, the printing and publishing industry was letting the e-media industry win the PR battle on green. E-media had positioned itself as the environmental alternative to print simply because of its lack of paper. In reality, however, the power consumption required to support the e-media industry creates an environmental nightmare.

For awhile, our industry seemed willing to lie down and take it. After all, print was dying anyway, right? But then in came the calvary. There have been a growing number of campaigns like Do You Know the Facts? and Print Grows Trees, as well as detailed initiatives from companies like International Paper, that pull together statistics from the American Forest & Paper Association, the U. S. Department of Energy, and private industry that provide a commanding rebuttal.

Here are some of my favorite data points:

  • The energy used by the average data center could power 25,000 households. — Data Centers: How to Cut Carbon Emissions & Costs, McKinsey Company
  • 62 trillion spam email are sent every year, producing the same greenhouse gas emissions as using 2 billion gallons of gasoline. — Carbon Footprint of Spam Email, McAfee
  • Over the past 25 years, the average U.S. data center increased its energy consumption by 24%. Meanwhile, the U.S. pulp and paper industry decreased its energy use by 42%. — “Down to Earth,” International Paper
  • The paper industry uses 11% of the total forestland used. The lumber industry uses 28%. The energy industry uses 53%. — “Down to Earth,” International Paper.
  • U. S. mills generate two-thirds of their energy onsite from renewable biomass. — 2010 AF&PA Sustainability Report
  • U. S. pulp and paper mills and wood products facilities, together, produced 94% of the renewable fuel energy generated by all manufacturing facilities in all sectors. — U. S. Department of Energy (2008)

I’m glad to see the industry fighting back. At the same time, we need to do it responsibly.  All of these data points were taken from a great site promoting the environmentally responsible nature of print, but not a single one of them was sourced.  I spent an entire morning attempting to find the original sources but was only able to find about half of them.

This site was not unusual. Nearly all of these educational campaigns are characterized by unsourced data. Great talking points appear to simply be copied from one site to another, seemingly without any attempt to verify or attribute them.

If we are going to promote print as the green alternative to e-media, we need to do it responsibly. Online sites make it easy for information to go viral. But whether intentional or unintentional, it’s easy to put out (or perpetuate) misinformation, too. Documenting sources for our talking points lends credibility to our argument. After all, at some point, a client, a prospect, or a competitor might check up on us. Our story becomes that much more powerful when we can back it up.

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11 thoughts on “The Printing Industry Fights Back . . . Let’s Do It Responsibly

  1. Patty Traynor

    Well said, Heidi! I would like to see our national/international trade associations step up to the plate here and re-educate the public. It has become politically correct to bash printing – based on myths and mis-information. The well-regarded organization WWF has come out with a PDF format to prevent anyone from printing it. They are promoting it as “Save a Tree.” They don’t need any data to back up their campaign, as it is simply public perception. Even when armed with real data, my “tree-hugger” friends (I have a lot of those friends) dismiss the data. Changing the mind of a person who believes they are already educated is very difficult. They become skeptical of the data, suspecting that it is skewed in order to save a dying technology.
    I, too, am glad to see some in the industry fighting back – but there is so much more that needs to be done.

  2. Elizabeth Gooding

    Domtar’s “Paper Because” campaign and related site has quite a few statistics available and does provide sources for all of their talking points. While some of the published versions of the campaign did NOT reference all of the sources – it did refer readers back to Domtar site where source information was provided. This approach may have been used by some of the other companies you refer to, but I agree that it would be better to reference sources in all versions of published materials.

  3. Elizabeth Gooding

    Just spotted another good source – The Sierra Club posted a pretty balanced piece on e-readers versus printed books citing a number of studies. The comments to the post are interesting too – demonstrating other reasons for choosing an e-reader or a printed book other than sustainability.—which-is-greener/

    One other thought: sustainability is about more than environmental stewardship. I would like to see a study on how the print industry versus the electronics industry stacks up in terms of other aspects of the “triple bottom line: of sustainability: People, Planet and Profit. I suspect that the printing industry may have a better social responsibility record than electronics (which may offshore/outsource a lot of manufacturing to the cheapest location.) Has anyone seen any 3BL reporting that tracks printing industry versus others?

  4. Bryan Yeager

    Thanks for this information, all. I agree with Patti’s comment on this issue. It’s great to see these start-up efforts by private companies and association affiliates. Yet, I too fail to see any major effort coming from the leadership of the industry’s major associations to publicly promote sustainability, as well as the transformation that the industry has undergone over the past decade-plus. Sustainability, permanence, and communication effectiveness are all issues that can be positively promoted regarding the print industry. The ultimate point is that print is still an extremely viable (and sustainable) tool in an arsenal of many that can be used for communication.

    The publishing industry has certainly put their money where their mouth is by launching “The Power of Print” campaign ( to promote the value and relevance of print magazines. In addition, while I don’t agree with their stance, CTIA and the National Association of Broadcasters have launched TV ads to try and (mis)inform people about the net neutrality issue. Whether you agree with that issue or not, they are still getting skin in the game to get their viewpoint to the public. That’s more than can be said for our own trade associations.

  5. Bart Hulst

    Great article Heidi and I fully agree with your points. Several organisations are promoting against the use of paper using arguments which sound logical to consumers. The industry should help change the perception of the consumers to the paper industry and all the work done to manage and maintain forests and the environment. The perception of the consumer is that paper harms the environment more then an email as the link between paper and the environment is easier to make while the infrastructure required to manage the large stream of digital data is less obvious.
    Fighting the (mis) information of organisations like WWF is probably not the right way to go, focusing on the actual work the industry puts into the environment is a better way to counter this I believe.
    We are just about to launch a new campaign for our recycled paper grade “revive” which we used to sell as the environmental better option but the focus will be changing to providing better insight in the actual facts behind the production of paper and recycled paper in particular.

  6. Eddy Hagen (VIGC)

    Also an interesting point to add to this discussion is e-waste… Which is a huge issue. Last year I was at a conference and a producer of e-readers told that on average each e-reader has a serious fall at the latest when 7 months old, which breaks the screen. Which eventually means that the e-reader will be replaced, the broken one will end up in the garbage, maybe recycled.

    The awareness of the issues of e-waste is starting to grow:

    Isn’t paper a lovely product? 🙂

  7. David McKnight

    I too think there is more opportunity to re-educate the masses…with citations of sources.

    In 2009 we hired an energy consultant in Madison, WI to help us study the energy consumption of our production process to distribute a publication in print, on CD or On-line. It was an exhaustive process and numerous assumptions had to be made…plus where to you start the calculations – form harvesting trees, or copper or silicon? Some of the biggest OMG was the energy consumed by Data Centers (as pointed out above and still isn’t fully understood – as opposed to paper mills that have been under the microscope for 30 years) and energy consumed to recycle, which can be another black hole of waste. The study generally showed the energy consumption was about the same no matter what form you distributed your publication – although there are more unknowns about digital such as waste.

    We serve the Association market which does take a holistic view, or tries too, so more information/education is needed on other aspects of the “triple bottom line: of sustainability: People, Planet and Profit…as Elizabeth points out.

    When all said and done we encourage our customers to focus on their members needs and wishes. – forget the hype of “green” because they may be miss informing them. If buyers prefer print – provide it….if it’s digital provide that too. That does present a publishing challenge for what are typically smaller quantities (a few thousand to hundreds)…but there lies the opportunity to meet those needs.

  8. Dan Tallarico

    Printing Industries of America has a bevy of useful articles, facts and resources to equip printers with the information necessary to reinforce the value of print. You can find PDFs, videos, interviews, FAQs and letters to the editor at

    It’s difficult to argue statistics and it’s more important than ever that printers keep educated on why print is so effective/reliable/green. Great post!

  9. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro Post author

    Yes, it is hard to argue statistics because there are so many unknowns and variables involved. That’s why, in my report “Greening Print Marketing: A Practical Guide,” I talk about some of these things but ultimately I focus on how the print applications themselves “green” marketing. By replacing a traditional “spray and pray” blast with a targeted, personalized mailing to the top 10% of your customer base (or whoever you’re targeting), you’ve just reduced your carbon footprint by 90%!

    “Greening” print marketing doesn’t just have to be about print vs. email or using certified paper. It can also be about how you USE print, and that’s something this industry doesn’t talk about enough.

  10. martyn

    Two Sides is a European organisation dedicated to the promotion of the sustainability of print media. And all our facts are sourced!
    We are trying to start a Two Sides US.
    Hope our site is useful to you. Please visit
    Best regards


  11. Phil Riebel


    Thanks for this. I am quite engaged in this topic. You may be interested in my work in this area. I write a blog for RISI. The latest one is here:

    The one before that was on sustainable design of paper and print products.
    I also recently wrote a paper on greening your paper:

    All these get posted one month later on my own blog at:

    I am also working to get Two Sides off the ground in the US.

    I have just written several piece on misleading “paperless” marketing and you can expect to see more on that topic in the future.



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