Many Americans Agree That 'Go Paperless - Save Trees' is Misleading and Ineffective
Results from a recent U.S. consumer survey suggest that the majority of Americans agree that print and paper can be a sustainable way to communicate when produced and used responsibly. In fact, it seems many people distrust and are not swayed by corporate green claims used to promote online services over paper. See below for my five favorite results from the June 2016 Toluna survey:
1. 88% agree that when forests are responsibly managed it is environmentally acceptable to use trees to produce products such as wood for construction and paper for printing (81% of 18- to 24-year-olds).
This is my favorite one! It tells me the large majority of Americans accept the use of trees as a renewable resource to make forest products — as long as it is done responsibly, i.e. by using sustainable forest management and best practices. Great news!
It’s no wonder that "go paperless — save trees" claims may be lost on most consumers, even millennials. Not only are these type of claims misleading (for more on that click here) but I would also argue that they are an ineffective marketing strategy. In fact, they probably make most people skeptical or cynical of the real corporate goal ... see stat below!
2. 85% of respondents receiving environmental claims such as, "Go Paperless – Go Green," or "Go Paperless – Save trees" believe companies are seeking to save costs.
Not only that, 57% of respondents reported that they question the validity of these claims.
Perhaps corporations and governments should not confuse "green" with "green-backs!" This is one of the reasons we suggest that organizations wishing to promote e-services focus on the convenience and practicality of e-transactions rather than environmental messaging or greenwashing. Our most engaged corporate partners have done this and even removed the word paperless and replaced it with online or digital. Call it what it is!
3. 91% agree that, when responsibly produced, used and recycled, print and paper can be a sustainable way to communicate.
Another encouraging statistic showing that people trust our products if they know industry is being environmentally responsible and paper products are used responsibly, including recycling and re-use. This result increased by 19% compared to 2013, suggesting a growing environmental acceptance of print and paper.
4. 49% of all respondents still don’t have a reliable internet connection and want paper records.
This one shocked me. It demonstrates that there are millions of people that absolutely reply on print and paper for their communications (my parents being among those). Forcing these people online just won’t work, and they should not have to pay to receive paper bills.
5. Roughly three times more people (35%) are seeing ads promoting print and paper compared to 2013 (12%)
This is great news and an indication that campaigns such as Paper & Packaging — How Life Unfolds are starting to reach more and more people. Over 35% of respondents indicated that they have seen ads promoting the effectiveness or environmental friendliness of print and paper (versus 12% in 2013), and the large majority rated the ads as credible and useful.
Some of the other key points to note are:
- Additional positive trends related to environmental awareness and the preference for print and paper between 2011, 2013 and this most recent survey (June 2016).
- The great story about sustainable forestry and recycling is not well known and more education is needed, especially with millennials.
Phil has over 28 years of international experience related to sustainability and the forest products industry. He currently leads Two Sides North America, a non-profit that promotes the unique sustainable features of print and paper, as well as their responsible production and use. Two Sides operates globally in five continents with members that span the entire graphic communication value chain. Phil has written extensively on sustainability and environmental topics related to the forest products sector. He received his Bachelor and Master's of Science degrees from McGill University in Montreal. He is a private forest owner and sustainably manages over 200 acres of forestland for both recreational and economic benefits.