The Takeover of Paperless 2013

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 01/15/2013

A group of companies including Google recently created the Paperless 2013 campaign to promote the use of online solutions, but unsubstantiated environmental claims caused the program to backfire.


January 13 2013

Dead Tree Edition

A group of companies including Google recently created the Paperless 2013 campaign to promote the use of online solutions, but unsubstantiated environmental claims caused the program to backfire.

The campaign went viral in the past few days, with hundreds of Twitter messages a day using the hashtag “#paperless2013.” But the tweets are running roughly 10 to 1 against the campaign, with most criticizing it for implying that digital media are always greener than paper-based media without providing any facts.

Welcome to a protest tool for the 21st Century – the hashtag takeover. I didn’t invent the concept, but I think I’m the first to use the term (which is ironic given my lack of social-media savvy. My Facebook page has cobwebs from neglect.)

The tactic sprang up in June as one of the grassroots responses to Toshiba’s ill-fated No Print Day. Toshiba was using "#NoPrintDay" to promote its gimmick, but defenders of print turned that hashtag into a rallying point for anti-Toshiba efforts. (See 9 Lessons From Toshiba's No-Print Day Debacle and Toshiba's No-Print Day As Popular As a Turd in the Punchbowl for the story of how Toshiba backed down.)

Two Sides brought the Paperless 2013 greenwash to light this past Tuesday when it sent an open letter to Google's
CEO
, challenging the campaign as "another example of a self-interested organization using an environmentally focused marketing campaign to promote its services while ignoring its own impact upon the environment." The letter cites chapter and verse about Google's own environmental impact.

Deborah Corn, a ringleader of the opposition to No Print Day, rallied the troops this time around with her article, Going Guerrilla Against Google's #Paperless 2013 Campaign. (Yes, she quoted me accurately, including the key point about sending a message to corporations: "If you make false environmental claims about electronic media always being greener than print, expect backlash.")

Here's how the hashtag takeover works: People supporting (or paid to support) the Paperless 2013 campaign have been sending out tweets beginning “My New Year’s resolution is to go paperless in 2013” and including “#paperless2013”. The “#” turns the phrase into a search term that’s supposed to make it easy for people to find fellow pledge takers.

But those who used the hashtag were barraged with replies pointing out that the campaign is misleading, demanding data to back up the vague claims, or highlighting more objective assessments of when to use digital or print media.

Searching Twitter for #paperless2013 has turned into a wonderful way to connect with others who object to the demonization of print and to discover articles and resources about how to make green media choices, including this great infographic. It's also become a forum for exploring what else can be done to fight paperless-is-good greenwash: A hashtag takeover is an effective opening salvo but it won't win the war.

If you want to get in on the action, here's a hint: When "Mr. Greenwash" tweets a message bragging about going paperless, don't just hit "Reply" and write your response. Put a colon, period, or other character at the beginning (so that, for example, it starts ":@Mr. Greenwash") and include the hashtag "paperless2013" (no spaces) to ensure your message is seen by as many people as possible.