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.
It becomes a slippery slope for us when paper is demonized. Once the underlying premise that paper is bad is accepted as fact, it's not much of a leap from there to say that anything printed is bad. When companies perpetuate that going paperless will save trees, and is better for the environment, ergo paper kills trees, we have to speak up and make it stop. But how?
TwoSides US has been doing this all along, though quietly and peacefully. They brought Paperless 2013 to everyone’s attention, but what you might not know is they have been working with corporations and utility companies to remove the “Go Green, Go Paperless” message from materials offering electronic statement and billing options, and are having success. In our instant gratification world, this isn’t as satisfying perhaps as going on the attack, but there is a much bigger picture, and it’s more than ironic. The same companies that are demonizing paper are also large-volume customers of paper and print.
Like any good story there is a protagonist and antagonist. In this case, either can be labeled as such. Companies for whatever reason championing the cause to reduce office paper waste are not bad. Appearing as though you are “pro-waste” can be. On the other hand, using the reason that paper is evil and trees need to be saved to make that point is wrong, and fighting back against that is right, not just because it affects us as an industry, but it’s factually inaccurate.
Last week, I decided to take a whole new approach to this situation. While the misguided arguments continue that the industry is under attack, and print is a viable communication tool and the tangents, and Two Sides US focuses on the actual greenwashing issue company by company, I am going to do my best to remind everyone why we love paper. I hope you join me!
Deborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse at Print Media Centr, a Print Buyerologist, international speaker and blogger, host of Podcasts From The Printerverse, cultivator of Print Production Professionals the No. 1 print group on LinkedIn, Girl No. 1 at Girls Who Print, host of #PrintChat every Wednesday at 4PM ET on Twitter, the founder of International Print Day and the founder of #ProjectPeacock. She is the recipient of several industry honors and sits on the board of the The Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, and is an advisor for the Advertising Production Club of NYC.
Deborah has 25+ years of experience working in advertising as a Print Producer and now works behind the scenes with printers, suppliers and industry organizations helping them create meaningful relationships with customers and members, and achieve success with their social media, content marketing, event marketing and sales endeavors.