Paper Is Good for Learning and Is Sustainable
Last week, USA Today published a column entitled "Paper may be bad for trees, but it is good for people," by Tal Gross, an assistant professor at Columbia University.
Here at Two Sides we could not agree more with the findings and statements related to the benefits of paper for education and learning. Mr. Gross outlines research showing the following:
- Students that read on paper versus screens score better in comprehension tests.
- Those that take notes on paper versus a laptop learn more from lectures.
- Those that doodle on paper (versus sitting still) while listening to a recording performed better in memory tests.
Neuroscientific experiments have shown that there is a stronger emotional connection with print and paper versus screens, and our fact sheet Print and paper play a key role in learning and literacy highlights the tremendous social benefits of print and paper.
We also have more good news for Mr. Gross, as outlined in the facts below, regarding the environmental sustainability of paper.
MYTH: Making paper always destroys forests.
FACT: Paper production supports sustainable forest management.
In North America we grow many more trees than are harvested every year. In the U.S. alone, the volume of trees on timberlands has increased 58% over the past 60 years. In addition, much of that wood isn’t used for pulp and papermaking, but rather lumber (for housing and construction) and other solid wood products. Mr. Gross may also be very surprised to learn that going "paperless" does not "save trees." Our recent white paper on this topic explains how wood is a valuable renewable resource used for many products, and even with declining paper use, wood harvesting levels are the same in key regions. In fact, a loss of markets for wood products (including pulp and paper) can have a significant negative impact on forests by increasing the risk of forest loss. By providing a dependable market for responsibly grown fiber, the paper industry encourages landowners to manage their forestland instead of selling it for development or other non-forest uses. Read more.
MYTH: Brown paper is better for the environment than white paper.
FACT: The color of paper does not drive the environmental footprint of paper.
The life cycle of paper is complex and depends on many factors besides bleaching, such as forestry practices, environmental performance of pulp and paper mill sites (emissions to air, water, landfills), the use of best-available-technology, environmental regulations in place, type of fuels used (renewable vs fossil fuels), and so on! For more see Responsible Production and Use of Print and Paper.
MYTH: Paper is a wasteful product.
FACT: Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world.
Mr. Gross mentions "all the paper he wastes." Are the students and teachers not recycling? Paper happens to be one of the most recycled products in the world with a recovery rate over 65% in North America and improving. Recycled paper is one of the key raw materials in paper production worldwide. Switching to electronic communications may be a step backwards in this respect as you can read below. Click here for more.
MYTH: Going digital is greener.
FACT: Not necessarily. E-media also has environmental impacts.
The switch to digital is not without environmental impacts — far from it! The ICT sector worldwide has more than double the greenhouse gas contributions than the print and paper sector, and this will continue to increase. E-waste is a growing global concern due to the volume produced, low recycling rates and many non-renewable materials and rare elements used in the manufacture of electronics. Click here for more.
MYTH: Paper is bad for the environment.
FACT: Paper is one of the few truly sustainable products.
Paper is made from wood, a natural resource that is renewable and recyclable. These features, combined with the industry's advocacy of responsible forestry practices and certification, use of renewable biomass and advances in efficient papermaking technology, make paper one of the most sustainable products around us. Think about the life cycle of electronics in comparison. Read more.
All products and services have environmental impacts and the key is to produce and use them responsibly. Paper is not a cause of deforestation in North America and we can continue to produce and use print and paper products responsibly, and get better at it all the time.
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.