Why We Must Fight Greenwashing Not Toshiba, Google or Each Other

Back in the 20th century circa 1998, a jury of eight women and four men reached the verdict of not guilty in the defamation charge against Oprah Winfrey filed by members of the Beef Industry. In a show that aired in April of 1996, a segment about dangerous foods led to a discussion about an outbreak of Mad Cow disease in the United Kingdom that killed 10 people. Oprah vowed to never eat a hamburger again, and cattle prices plummeted resulting in a loss of over $11 million for the plaintiffs.

Oprah won the suit because she expressed her opinion, and in the United States that falls under free speech, one of our most respected and protected rights.

Companies that use “Go Green, Go Paperless” as a marketing message, value proposition, or call to action, either communicated as such, or implied through phrases such as “save trees,” are not expressing their opinion. They are making a claim and entering into an understood covenant with consumers to deliver on that promise. It’s a promise that they cannot keep.

Google Drive, and their partners who devised the marketing campaign for Go Paperless in 2013, have faced an onslaught of backlash in the socialsphere. Following in the wake of Toshiba’s failed National No Print Day, once again the call to action for consumers to reduce unnecessary/excessive desktop printing was soured with inaccuracy and greenwashing. The Go Paperlessin 2013 claim: “Save Time. Save Money. Save Trees.” and instead of paper, use their cloud and digital products and services.

Much has been written on this topic of late, (see “Why is the Print Industry Whining about #Paperless2013” for an explanation of the reaction to the Go Paperless 2013 campaign) but focusing on anything but the defamation of paper is hypocritical to me. The print and paper industries have an environmental footprint; the digital industry has an environmental footprint. Companies in our industries offer cloud and digital products and services; we use cloud and digital products and services. As a matter of fact, the print industry has spent the last two+ years incorporating print and digital to work together through QR codes and pURL’s for example, and championing that partnership even though the digitals promote themselves as being in, and us being out.

Deborah is the Principal and Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse at PrintMediaCentr which provides topical information and resources to the Print & Integrated Marketing community, with some fun in the mix! She also is the founder of the Print Production Professionals Group on LinkedIN and works behind the scenes with several print organizations and companies helping with their marketing and social media efforts. With more than 24 years of experience in print production, print buying and project management, Corn has worked for some of the largest and most influential ad agencies and has played an integral role in projects that have won ADDY, CA and other advertising award honors.
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  • Werner R

    Remember the 1980’s when Xerox pushed the "paperless society?"
    They shot themselves into the foot.
    Thanks to computers, easy to use software and digital printing endeavors, we now print and bind more than ever. Just look at the 3 million+ non traditional titles published annually in the U.S. alone. Add to that the photo books and you get the message. No further comment needed.
    Werner Rebsamen Prof. Emeritus RIT

  • Bernie Miller

    Good article and good points. That said, maybe there’s a bigger need to educate the general public about how forests producing trees used to make virgin paper are responsibly owned, replenished and managed by paper producers. Have them understand that using paper doesn’t permanently wipe out trees.

  • Dave G.

    Why do they always seem to forget that trees are a renewable resource? You harvest some for making paper and you plant more. It’s not rocket science.

  • MZazeela

    Deborah – Very insightful. We must examine everything and not just accept at face value. There can be an agenda on either side,and there usually is.

    Further, eliminating print and paper would also serve to kill a few billion dollar industries and put lots more folks out of work. The paper and print industries are not only green in their own rights, but they are vital to our economy as well.