Going Green Will Not Go Paperless in 2013

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 01/11/2013

Our friend Mr. Tree (if that is his name) at Dead Tree Edition suggested we call this "Son of #NoPrintDay"...

January 2013, What They Think Newsletter

Our friend Mr. Tree (if that is his name) at Dead Tree Edition suggested we call this "Son of #NoPrintDay"...

Since Google et al.'s announcement of their "Go Paperless in 2013" campaign (which I noted early last week), The Facebook Machine has been abuzz with chatter and consternation, which led me to a thoughtful post by Deborah Corn at Print Media Centr and the corresponding "Say No to Paperless 2013" Facebook page. Mr. Tree tells Ms. Corn:

"Not wasting paper is different from going paperless, especially if you're going paperless because you think that's green. The Go Paperless campaign feeds the masses' ignorance about print and also takes advantage of it. The key thing we need to do now is to send a message: If you make false environmental claims about electronic media always being greener than print, expect backlash."

Whilst there is nothing wrong with a) promoting electronic media (heck, I am posting this on a blog), b) promoting the cloud (I've looked at the cloud from both sides now and I think I am on board with it, or at least iTunes' implementation of it), or even c) reducing paper waste (reducing any waste is a good idea), there is a difference between all of these things and "going paperless" because of some misconception of what "green" means, or out of confusion as to what media and processes truly constitute sustainability.

As the Two Sides letter I cited in my original post indicates (and as I have posted here many many times), electronic media do not exactly have the cleanest environmental footprints, so it's not half-hypocritical to base a "Go paperless" campaign on ostensible greenness. We could just as easily make the claim that "Going Google-less in 2013" would have a positive effect on the environment--and we would be just as misguided.

Think about this way. Print comprises one communication channel (of which--spoiler alert!--there are many), and it has its advantages and disadvantages, just like any other channel does. For those of us who use media, these advantages and disadvantages tend not to have anything to do with the environment, but everything to do with reaching an intended audience in some fashion and communicating a message in a timely and effective manner. Naturally, we choose one channel (or combination of channels) vs. others for its/their advantages in reaching an audience. To deliberately pledge to avoid any one medium makes about as much sense as pledging to not make so many phone calls, or to not send e-mails (actually there are some folks I wish would make this pledge), or to stop using Facebook or Twitter (ditto)--or even to stop using Google (I have some librarian friends who might get on board with that).

There are many many reasons to use electronic media, and, yes, there are some reasons to not use print in certain cases--but "greenness" should not enter into the conversation. Otherwise you're just greenwashing.