Tag Archives: paper

Misreading Paper and Print

Sometimes in the rush of change people misread what they are seeing.  If there’s a mantra for the 21st Century it should be “take a closer look”.  While the floodgates of modern media have brought us an amazing array of information, images, and ideas, it has also brought with it an outrageous amount of mis-information.  Sound bites are less about news and more about noise.  The alarming absence of perspective both fascinating and frightening.

Paper is a good example.  A surprising number of people believe that not printing on paper saves trees.  While being a responsible user of natural resources is important, the reality is the paper and forest industry grow and harvest trees specifically for paper making.  These managed forests better serve the environment through carbon sequestration and cleansing of the water aquifer. Print creates a demand for paper, which in turn creates a demand for trees and managed forests, all the while holding development or other less environmentally friendly uses of land at bay.  It may seem counter-intutitve to you, but it’s true.

A surprising number of people believe the e-devices (smart phones, iPads, laptops, net books, etc) populating the modern world have little to no impact on the environment.  The fact that it’s against the law in 50 states and the District of Columbia to toss your cellphone in the trash ought to tell you something—lithium batteries are hazardous waste.  Unfettered access to the on-line world sucks up a huge amount of energy.  It requires bricks and mortar, air conditioning, electricity, computers and huge data centers operating 24/7/365.  The increasing use of fossil fuels including coal and petroleum to provide the electricity for data centers is growing 24% a year. “E” is not free.

While some take newspapers, magazines and book manufacturers to task for not quickly adopting new forms of content delivery such as e-readers, the argument that paper is used to create scarcity conveniently overlooks the fact that only 83% of US homes have computers, fewer still broadband access and that e-readers are largely out of financial reach of many families and especially children.  Paper, in the form of books, magazines, and newspapers are readily available free in public and school libraries, at reasonable prices on newsstands and if you’re not too fussy on seats in subways, bus stations and coffee shops.  Paper as a metaphor for scarcity or the means to slowing idea creation seems wildly outdated.  E-devices are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean paper or print must go.  If you love breathing fresh air and drinking clean water assuring a demand for print, paper and trees may be the best and most beneficial idea yet. It could likely turn out that print is the renewable way a responsible world communicates.

Print Grows Trees

“Print Grows Trees” is an educational campaign that uses facts to show that print on paper actually helps to grow trees and keep our forests from being sold for development. By connecting the dots between print and the private landowners who own almost 60 percent of U.S. woodlands, “Print Grows Trees” challenges the widely held belief that by using less paper, trees will be saved.  This post is reprinted with permission from Print Grows Trees 

Print on paper gives landowners a reason to grow trees. More than half of all U.S. forestland is owned privately. Private landowners decide the fate of these forests. Many require an income from their land, and when a working forest cannot make money, the land is often put to another use. Research shows that 55 million acres of private U.S. forests will be sold or transferred in the next five years. With no financial incentive to grow trees, will these forests be converted permanently to other uses?

We live in a fragile and imperfect world where every decision made by governments, businesses or individuals affects the delicate balance of our planet. We cannot afford to make decisions without taking all the facts into consideration. Climate change is the most important issue facing our planet and the people on it. Our forests and the trees in them can, and must, play an integral role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Deforestation is a complex and critical problem, with no easy answers. Printed paper is taking a lot of the blame in the public’s mind for this act. We are told to “Think before you print” in order to save trees and shown pictures of clear-cut forests that break our hearts and anger us.

But when we see a beautiful pasture with grazing cows, a field with new-mown hay or endless acres of corn, we think it is beautiful. The fact is that those beautiful scenes were once forests. Between 1850 and 1910, we lost about a third of our forests – about 190 million acres. When you fly across the Midwest, it’s the most evident. That’s where most of it was converted to agricultural land – when Americans cleared more forest than the total amount cleared in the previous 250 years of settlement. The fact is that when landowners have a financial incentive, they will grow more trees to replace the ones they cut down and even where there currently are no trees.

Cutting down trees is not sufficient in itself to cause deforestation. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines deforestation as “a non-temporary change of land use from forest to other land use or to the depletion of forest crown cover to less than 10 percent. Clear cuts (even with stump removal), if shortly followed by reforestation for forestry purposes, are not considered deforestation.”

What really matters is whether the forest is removed permanently, or reforested with new trees. By depressing the market for paper and wood products, we encourage landowners to “cut and run” – harvest their primary forestland for quick income and then sell the land instead of growing more trees. When this happens, much of the forested land gets converted to other uses, such as development or agriculture.

Plantation forestry (planting only one type of tree specifically as a crop for eventual harvest) is criticized, and although it may not fully compensate all of the biodiversity benefits of a primary forest, it is widely recognized that these trees will sequester carbon and can play a role in helping to address climate change.

What would be the ideal?
The ideal would be if growing trees was so profitable that landowners could not only afford to manage existing forestland with all its biodiversity in a sustainable manner, but they could also convert land that currently has no trees into forests grown specifically for harvesting as timber, much like Christmas tree farmers do. That would reduce the pressure on primary forests and add, rather than subtract, trees from our landscape.

What if we gave landowners a viable reason to plant more trees in places where there are none now?

Maybe we need to “Think before we DON’T print.

Why Print Matters.

There’s a fascinating discussion going on at the LinkedIn Print Networking Group about the viability of print in the age of web, email and social networking.  While guessing about the imminent death of an industry is always great sport, the death of print is wildly overstated. While print now has numerous competitors for “eyeballs” and attention, it still remains one of the most effective communication mediums on the planet. In a time when only 77% of American households own computers, print narrows the digital divide by providing ready access to books, magazines and other knowledge resources affordable to most everyone or available for free at community libraries.

Information technology marketing has long thrived on “smoke and mirrors” announcing new product launches well before the underlying technology is ready for “prime time” and by selling products that do not function as promised or are so complex they require a programmer’s level of knowledge to operate.  While I love technology and use plenty of it, I have also seen it unnecessarily waste limited financial resources, deliver mediocre results and frustrate even the most devoted users. Technology companies positioning themselves as the “green” alternative conveniently overlook the  24% annual growth in energy demands from server farms essential to powering the Internet.  Browsing the Internet for just 12 hours a week will require over 300 pounds of coal to fuel the electrical demand.  Who browses only 12 hours a week?  It’s clear we need to be paying closer attention to the impact of our prolific technology usage.

The United States alone dumps 200-300 million electronic items every year. While the Basel Convention bans the export of hazardous waste, US e-recyclers have successfully circumvented the treaty rules resulting in global e-waste dumps around the globe. With only about 14-18% of computers and computer related junk suitable for recycling, the race for the next generation of faster chips or the latest Netbook is really a race to top off landfills. Toss a computer into the landfill and your great, great, great grandchildren will be unearthing the circuitry, along with mercury, cadmium, and other toxins five decades from now. Toss a book or newspaper into the landfill and all of it will be gone by the time your grandchildren head off to school in the spring and probably sooner. That’s something to think about.  E-waste is a big environmental issue and a huge business opportunity for someone with the necessary smarts and funds to create a responsible recycling management system.

While the ‘digital natives’ among us will always sing the siren song of a technology future and the well meaning will believe they are saving trees by not printing e-mail, the paper industry continues to lead the way in recycling nearly 58% of all paper consumed while printers are finding new solutions to complex communication needs.  Printing companies remain among the most resilient, technologically sophisticated and nimble manufacturing enterprises on the planet. Printers bring a unique perspective and deep knowledge to the communications marketplace found nowhere else.  That’s the real story about the future of print and the graphic communications industry today.