My Earth Day Request: Cut the Anti-paper Greenwashing!

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 04/21/2013

April 21, 2013

I am ticked off at my bank, utilities and telecom providers for saying “go green – go paperless.”

I’ve had it with my bank and all the other companies that are bashing paper products to promote electronic billing, statements and other e-services.  Yes…I’ve finally lost it.

I have decided to be diplomatic and not name you…but we all know who you are.

To my bank and other providers out there who are doing this:

You are damaging my livelihood and you are misleading people with greenwashing so that you can cut costs.  Please be honest.

I am your customer and I have spent the last 25 years of my life working in the forest and paper industry.  This industry has allowed me to lead a good life, raise a great family together with my wife, and provide a good education for my children.

I buy your products and services: banking services, cell phones, TV services, electric and water services.  I spend my money to make you more profitable – money that comes from the pulp and paper industry.

Not only are the green claims making me upset, it makes many of your other customers upset as well.  In fact, millions of them.

It may come as a surprise to you but 8.4 million Americans make a living in the print, paper and mail value chain that generates 1.3 trillion in revenues (EMA 2012 Job Study).  I bet you’re getting a lot of this money in your coffers.

About 10 million Americans own private forestland (US Forest Service) and many of them rely on the income from their properties to make a living (ex: lumber for construction and pulp used for papermaking – yes PAPER).

I am one of those forest owners.  My family owns 200 acres of woodlands and we manage it responsibly for economic and recreational benefits as well as biodiversity.

How do you think I and the millions of other family forest owners feel about your “save a tree” claims?  I think they are very misleading because I believe we are the ones saving forests for the long-term by managing them responsibly and making sure our society can benefit from forest products (like paper) that are highly renewable, highly recyclable and store carbon for their useful life.  These inherent environmental features make paper quite a sustainable product compared to all the other things that surround us, including electronics.

Most of us are well aware of the massive infrastructure and environmental impacts of electronic media that you forget to mention in your green claims.

All products and services have pros and cons.  To bash one product in favor of another is an easy game to play when you have no verifiable facts or evidence that consider all the economic, social and environmental benefits of our forest resource and products like paper.  I believe your green claims fall short of many rules and guidelines for environmental marketing.

Paper and electronic can happily co-exist and I need both…so do most other people I know.  I use e-billing and on-line banking regularly, but I need a paper copy to remind me to pay the bills.  I also keep the paper copy, or print the e-statements for accounting and record-keeping.  It’s more secure and won’t get lost.

All my paper gets printed on both sides and gets recycled.  I also buy paper that has been made with fiber from forests certified to the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Paper is far from being a “bad” product as your marketing suggests.  I believe that the majority of people see paper as a sustainable way to communicate as long as it is produced and used responsibly, including recycling it.

It’s time to gather your marketing team in a room and tell them to stop greenwashing the millions of people who earn a living from the print, paper, mail and forestry value chain.  Please focus your message on the true benefits of e-media: speed, convenience and maybe a few others.

Remember…we are your customers and most of us care about the environment just as much as you do.

Now it’s time for me to shut down my computer and cell phone for the day and go for a walk in the forest.  Happy Earth Day!

Phil Riebel
Family Forest Owner and Proud Paper Supporter