Verizon Green Claims Are Misleading and Unsubstantiated

01/07/2016

Verizon is telling customers that switching to electronic billing is “good for the environment” and will “help save trees.” But customers deserve to know that these claims are without basis, and get the economic and environmental story of paper completely wrong.

Paper is one of the most renewable and reusable materials on the planet, and the most recycled commodity in North America. Suggesting otherwise not only misleads customers, it may also run afoul of U.S. Federal Trade Commission Green Guides for environmental marketing.[1] 

The FTC requires that environmental marketing claims be specific and backed by competent and reliable scientific evidence. But claims like Verizon's are vague, overly broad, and unscientifically imply that electronic communication is always better for the environment than printed materials. Such generalized claims, says the FTC are “difficult or impossible to prove, and often mislead consumers”.

Verizon’s claim that paperless billing will save trees is rooted in a basic failure to understand the nature of the forest products industry. Far from causing deforestation, the demand for sustainably sourced paper in the U.S. promotes responsibly managed forests, which is why American forests have been growing, not shrinking, for decades.  A healthy paper industry makes landowners more likely to maintain their forestland, even as they face increasing economic pressure to convert that land to non-forest uses.[2],[3],[4]

Nor does Verizon reference any scientific evidence and an unbiased analysis that measures the full impact of e-billing options, including the use and manufacturing of computers, energy use and e-waste, and compares it to the net environmental impact of paper-based communications. [5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12]  According to the FTC, this type of evidence is needed for their environmental claims to be valid.[13]  When considered alongside the sustainable features of paper – including its renewability, recyclability, and carbon storage potential—it’s far from clear that electronic is the “greener” choice.[14],[15],[16],[17],[18]  

There’s one more good reason for Verizon to remove misleading claims: the simple fact that many Verizon customers depend on print and paper to support their families.  For example, a total of 7.5 million jobs (6% of total U.S. jobs and $1.4 trillion in sales revenue) depend on the U.S. mailing industry, including production, distribution and handling of mail, paper production and printing.[19]  The people who spend their lives around print and paper know the truth and are tired of the environmental manipulation.

We recommend the following actions for Verizon:

  • Keep e-billing messages simple: e-billing is about providing customers with greater choice and convenience.  Forget the other stuff!
  • Drop misleading images of trees that wrongly signal to readers that e-billing is the “greener” choice.

Our goal is to see companies promote electronic billing on its merits, and not unscientific claims of facts about unverified environmental benefits.  We understand that companies want to reduce costs and be conscious of the environment in their decision making, and we support these efforts. However, companies need to ensure that they are following rules and best practices for environmental marketing, and not misleading the public and their customers.

We look forward to evolving Verizon’s green message to be more consistent with the facts.

Sources:

[1] U.S. Federal Trade Commission. 2013.  Environmental Claims - Summary of the Green Guides. https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press-releases/ftc-issues-revised-green-guides/greenguidessummary.pdf

[2]  World Wildlife Fund, 2012.  WWF Living Forests Report:  Chapter 4 - Forest and Wood Products. http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Living-Forests-Report-Chapter-4-Forests-and-Wood-Products 

[3] World Business Council for Sustainable Development and National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, 2007.  The Sustainable Forest Products Industry, Carbon and Climate Change.  Key Messages for Policy Makers.  http://www.twosidesna.org/US/WBCSD-NCASI---The-Sustainable-Forest-Products-Industry-Carbon-and-Climate-Change-2007

[4] Bowyer, J., 2014. Tree-Free Paper: A Path to Saving Trees and Forests?  http://www.dovetailinc.org/report_pdfs/2014/dovetailtreefree0714.pdf

[5] Arnfalk, P., 2010.  Analyzing the ICT – Paper Interplay and its Environmental Impacts.  Report for workshop on 4 May 2010. http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Arnfalk-P-Analyzing-the-ICT---Paper-Interplay-and-its-Environmental-Applications

[6] Gartner Consulting, 2007.  Gartner Estimates ICT Industry Accounts for 2 Percent of Global CO2 emissions – Press Release.  http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/503867

[7] United Nations, 2004.  Study Tallies Environmental Cost of Computer Boom.  http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Kruhr-R-and-Williams-E---Computers-and-the-Environment-Understanding-their-Impacts-United-Nations-University-

[8] Computer Aid International, 2010. Special Report Series – ICT and the Environment, Report No.3. http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Computer-Aid-International---Special-Report-Series-ITC-and-the-Environment-Report-No-3-2010-

[9] Jinglei, Y. et al., 2010.  Forecasting Global Generation of Obsolete Personal Computer.  Journal of the Environmental Science and Technology, American Chemical Society, Vol. 44, No. 9.  http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Williams-E-et-al---Forecasting-Global-Generation-of-Obsolete-Personal-Computer-Journal-of-the-Environmental-Science-and-Technology-American-Chemical-Society-Vol-44-No-9-2010-

[10] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011.  Statistics on the Management of Used and End-of-Life Electronics. http://www.twosidesna.org/US/U-S-Environmental-Protection-Agency-EPA-website-Statistics-on-the-Management-of-Used-and-End-of-Life-Electronics-

[11] Hoang et al. 2010.  Life Cycle Assessment of a Laptop Computer and its Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions. National University, San Diego.    http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Hoang-A-et-al-Life-Cycle-Assessment-of-a-Laptop-Computer-and-its-Contribution-to-Greenhouse-Gas-Emissions-National-University-San-Diego-2010-

[12] United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). 2005.  E-waste: The Hidden Side of IT Equipment Manufacturing and Use.   http://www.twosidesna.org/US/United-Nations-Environment-Program-UNEP---E-waste-The-Hidden-Side-of-IT-Equipment-Manufacturing-and-Use-2005-

[13] Baxter, M. 2014.  FTC Clarifies Green Marketing Guidelines. http://www.cutimes.com/2014/05/07/ftc-clarifies-green-marketing-guidelines

[14] World Wildlife Fund, 2010.  WWF Guide to Buying Paper. http://www.twosidesna.org/US/WWF-Guide-to-Buying-Paper-2010

[15] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010.  Municipal solid waste generation, recycling, and disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2009.   http://www.twosidesna.org/US/U-S-EPA-Municipal-Solid-Waste-Generation-Recycling-and-Disposal-in-the-United-States-Facts-and-Figures-for-2009-

[16] American Forest and Paper Association - http://www.paperrecycles.org

[17] Agenda 20/20 Technology Alliance, 2010. Forest Products Industry Technology Roadmap 2010.  http://www.twosidesna.org/US/Agenda-20-20-Technology-Alliance-U-S-Department-of-Energy-et-al---Forest-Products-Industry-Technology-Roadmap-2010

[18] American Forest and Paper Association, Sustainability Report, 2014. http://www.twosidesna.org/US/2014-AFPA-Sustainability-Report

[19] EMA Foundation Institute of Postal Studies. 2015.  2015 EMA Mailing Industry Job Study.  http://www.twosidesna.org/US/2015-Mailing-Industry-Job-Study