What is the true environmental impact of “no-print day” announced by Toshiba?

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 06/11/2012

June 11, 2012 

Toshiba announced recently announced a “no-print day” to take place October 23rdto raise awareness of the impact printing has on our planet.

The main issues are the following:

They have linked paper use to deforestation (or killing trees and destroying forests) when, in fact, responsibly made paper is one of the most sustainable products that surrounds us.  Paper is the most recycled commodity in the US, with a recycling rate of 67% compared to 18% for electronic waste.  A large portion of paper comes from well-managed US forests that have numerous environmental, social and economic benefits for our planet.  These benefits include climate change mitigation, recreational use and many jobs and income for family landowners.  In the U.S. alone, 8.7 million people make their livelihood from mail, print and paper.  What do they all think of the Toshiba message?

They have overlooked the fact that US forests have been stable for the last 100 years while our population has tripled, and our forest are producing 49% more trees (standing wood) than 50 years ago.

Toshiba may have also ignored the environmental impacts of electronic communications, and there are many.  Just saying you are eliminating print and paper really does not mean you are helping the planet.  It’s a lot more complex than that.  We have assembled some key facts here: http://www.twosides.us/e-media-and-paper

Everything we do has both negative and positive environmental, social and economic impact.  We need to look at the big picture to make the right environmental decision which also meet our social and economic needs.  Arbitrarily selecting one product over another based on environmental perceptions instead of facts can lead people and companies to make the wrong environmental decision.  This seems to be happening over and over again with print and paper.

Not printing documents reduces consumption and environmental impacts, however we all need to communicate.  For example, switching from paper-based communications to electronic media is not necessarily the answer due to the complex life-cycle of both communication methods.

For “no-print day” to be effective, Toshiba should in no way increase the environmental impacts of electronic communications on that day (energy used by servers, computers and other electronic communication devices).  This would ensure that any environmental savings from eliminating paper are not replaced by environmental impacts of communicating electronically.  It is interesting to note that Toshiba is planning a social media campaign in support of “no-print day”.  This campaign will likely mean more emails, messages, energy use, etc…

Furthermore, Toshiba employees will need to read reports, studies and other long documents on-line and fully comprehend them to do their daily work.  Yes even those 100 page reports – no printing allowed.  This may prove to be a challenge since science has shown a number of times that print media is better for “deep learning” and is very practical for making annotations and grasping topics and concepts.  Basically, print on paper is more tangible and helps many people understand.  Check the Two sides resource pages for more facts and reports on this topic (www.twosides.us).

Sustainable communications is about using all forms of communication responsibly while meeting social and economic needs.   In their decision-making, companies need to consider the unique sustainability features of print and paper (renewability, recyclability, carbon capture and storage), and the environmental impacts of both print media and electronic media.

The goal of Two Sides is to set the record straight on the sustainability, responsible use and production of print and paper by relying on science-based facts.

Phil Riebel, President and COO, Two Sides U.S., Inc.