No peace for the “Save As WWF” campaign

(funny update on Jan 14th, 2011, see bottom of page)

On November 30, 2010, the German section of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) launched Save As WWF, Save a Tree, a “green” (because not printable) file format. A few days later, I explained why that WWF format is dumb, anti-environment and generally useless, the format was cracked and Hans Bezemer released a .WWF toolkit to generate, convert or print WWF files on Linux.

This could have been enough to just let “Save As WWF” quietly die. Last week, instead, I discovered that not only “Save As WWF” continues to refuse critiques from the Free Software Community (see below); but it also got plenty of other attacks for being anti-enviroment, from a completely different angle.

Is printing good or bad for the environment?

Two Sides, an industry forum, labeled the SaveAsWWF campaign as non-green and “just irresponsible” because printing less would mean less trees, not more:

“This WWF has made a ridiculous statement based on two false premises, firstly that the paper industry is destroying trees, and secondly that viewing documents on a computer is somehow better for the environment.”

A thread in the Printweek forum explains this better: reading on screen instead of printing (which is the basic “Save as WWF” message) is bad for the environment because computers pollute infinitely more than paper, which comes from sustainably planted trees; therefore, paper demand is a reason to have more trees, not less.

Reality is a bit more complex than that. Of course, computers and (proprietary) software pollute a lot: reading one magazine or two on an iPad is everything but green and we should all use more trashware. However, one single computer or ebook reader can contains thousands of books plus stuff that could never be on paper, like movies or music. Besides, “Save As WWF” is not fighting books: only (and rightly!!!) completely useless printouts of files. Finally, computers and (Free!) software can be used to reduce pollution in almost every field!

No love yet between Save As WWF and Free Software. Why?

About one week ago, Hans Bezemer summed up what WWF should learn about Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) and asked them to answer questions from “the French April organization, dedicated to the promotion of FOSS and open standards, Tracy Anne of LXer and other members of the FOSS community…”. All he got so far seems to be a discussion on the “Save As WWF” Facebook page with its maintainer and some of its fans. I am certainly biased, but it seems to me that that discussion could be summarized as follows:

Hans: when are you responding to letters from the FOSS community or the April organization, or to legitimate questions of former WWF donors? And if it’s not a for-profit campaign, why wasn’t your software released as Free Software?

Save As WWF: It’s about Awareness! The international reams of blogposts, comments and clippings worldwide approve it. So this is the last admonishment… We are not to give you the space for attacking the project at this site on and on.

Some Save As WWF fans: Dear Mr. Beezmer, we are not computer experts so we think you’re a troll. Please go away.

D. Roberts: Is it not possible to admit the approach was a mistake and to work all together to produce something which really will work?

Personally, I agree with Hans and D. Roberts. This whole campaign still seems to me:

  1. Badly conceived: to me, it sounds like “since most people don’t understand at all what file formats are, let’s TAKE ADVANTAGE of this fact and let’s CONTRIBUTE to keep them ignorant”.
  2. Badly implemented (not supporting the greenest computing environment of all, that is Linux)
  3. Poorly managed after the fact, PR-wise. Heck, Hans provided for free a way to “Save As WWF” on Linux, why aren’t you happy?

Well, I just realized that (as of 2011/01/11) there seems to be no mention yet of “Save As WWF” in the “Save Paper tips” page of… the main WWF website. Besides the attacks from the printing industry, I also found a WWF representative admitting that “We stuffed up in how we presented this” and a report that the campaign may have caused a rift within WWF itself because “it reflected very badly on WWF in some countries [and in] France, it might very well cost them a partnership”.

So maybe that is the only, real reason why “Save as WWF” is so touchy: the people they are trying to dismiss as one handful of software-obsessed nerds only gave even more reasons why this whole campaign was a bad idea from the start. Let’s just admit it and go on (but using, of course, Free Software to reduce the environmental impact of computing!)

Funny update, 2011/01/14: I just saw in my Facebook wall, two WWF updates one after another, see picture below: one is the announcement from WWF Italy about the 2011 WWF partnerships with the forest industry for sustainable forest management and preservation. What’s funny is that this appeared right above the thanks for reaching 10000 fans from “Save as WWF, Save a tree” (who, see above, mightily pissed off the same industry). Rifts, again? Oh, and I even discovered that the first release of the SaveAsWWF software was copied by another program violating its license of use.


14 thoughts on “No peace for the “Save As WWF” campaign

    1. marco Post author

      what I wanted to do was connect some dots, that is provide an explanation about why Save As WWF is reacting in that way. The point is that they should have stopped immediately, after all the bad karma they got in December, rather than continuing to go “la la la, we’re right”. That’s why it seemed necessary to remember and connect some facts.

  1. Hans Bezemer

    What can be said is that large organizations like WWF still have no idea what the Internet is and how to cope with it. With relatively “objective” search machines like Google you cannot simply “bury” a story. With collectors like LXer or Linux Today even simple bloggers have the opportunity to get heard all over the world to a relatively large audience in a very short time. “Viral” goes two ways. More than this, bloggers can collect data very easily without leaving their PC, time that “ordinary” media do not have anymore. Internet isn’t a “one way” route either. It isn’t broadcasting, it is all about interacting. That means, if you don’t interact, that will have repercussions as this case has clearly shown. In short, they simply don’t understand the medium. And if you don’t you’ll fail.

  2. Arjan Tupan

    I came here because M. Fioretti commented on a blog post I wrote about Save as WWF. First of all, I don’t think critical thinking should mean that if someone states something, you call that dumb. The premise of Save As WWF is not, as you state, that not printing a file is better for the environment than reading it from a screen, but that not unnecessarily printing is better. I think you acknowledge that above as well. So in my opinion, the ecological claim is not dumb at all. In companies, many sheets of paper get wasted because of unnecessary printing. That includes printing a file for one time use, and printing it again a day later.
    What technologically savvy people like you (and to a degree, me) sometimes overlook is the way ‘regular users’ act. A simple program that prevents printing can in real life, in companies where not everybody is a Linux specialist, have a great impact. That the original piece of software is made for proprietary systems like Windows and Mac is because the most users that will be affected by this are using these systems. I think that is a good start. Would it not be better from the Linux community to extend a helping hand, than to criticize the WWF? That would be beneficial for both the WWF and the Linux community. In my humble opinion a better approach than fighting each other.

    1. marco Post author


      Thanks for your comment, but frankly I wonder if you did bother to read carefully mine and the other critiques to SaveAsWWF.

      If something is objectively dumb, it is dumb.
      You write “The ecological claim that not unnecessarily printing is not dumb at all”. Of course it isn’t. In and by itself that premise is excellent. But I have explicitly said and approved such a premise from the start, haven’t you read it?

      But the solution remains dumb, because it takes advantage of the ignorance of people rather than explaining. And the way to implement and, above all, communicate it, remains dumb too. Haven’t you read the embarassment it is causing to the other branches of WWF? Last but not least, you ask:

      “Would it not be better from the Linux community to extend a helping hand, than to criticize the WWF?”

      The Linux community, this time in the person of Hans, did criticize SaveAsWWF but also, at the same time, extended a helping hand for, by releasing the .wwf toolkit. The SaveAsWWF people (NOT the WWF) simply refused that hand.

      All of this is documented here and in the articles linked from here.

  3. Arjan Tupan

    Dear Marco, thanks for your reply, and I did read your post. Even referred to it. But I just think that calling an effort dumb, needs more explaining than you do. At the heart of the matter is the simple fact that many people that print unnecessarily simply don’t care. No matter how much you explain things, or add a ‘please don’t print this’ request. So having a tool that makes it harder to print a file, surely helps in is, in my opinion more pragmatic than dumb.
    And yes, I glanced over the comments you mention of Mr Bezemer. Quite frankly, however right they might be about the topic of open source software, they are beside the point. The point is to prevent unnecessary printing, and that happens most in companies that do not use Linux. So extending a hand to help is not very useful if you first tell the people you claim to help that they are going at it the wrong way. A much better approach for FOSS would have been not to send letter or complain publicly, but just build and send the improvements publicly. Now, to the people who don’t understand much about this movement, or simply don’t care, are driven further away from their cause.

    1. marco Post author

      “I just think that calling an effort dumb, needs more explaining than you do”

      More than the 2500/3000 words I’ve already published with plenty of links? No, thanks.

      1. marco Post author

        I forgot to add one thing: in general, something can surely be very pragmatic, and terribly dumb at the same time.

      2. Arjan Tupan

        Explaining something well doesn’t necessarily depend on the number of words, but mostly on the quality of the arguments. Although I like critical thinking, and am a fan of debate, I’m just not convinced by your arguments.
        You’re right that something pragmatic can be dumb, but I believe that in this case, it is not.

  4. Hans Bezemer

    @Arjan Tupan
    Taking my point of view is that you are beside the point. The WWF didn’t release their software as FOSS (so how could we improve it?!) and it uses DRM. In my world, saving a few trees is completely beside the point: you simply don’t use DRM for any purpose. For a FOSSer like me that is like saving nature by completely eradicating the African population – to put it to the extreme, but I hope you catch my drift.

    This always happens when ideologies clash. “My cause is better and more important than yours”. The WWF should have known that when they enter the realm of software, they enter the realm of FOSS. Ignorance is not an excuse when you throw so much money of your donors at a campaign. Three, to be exact and not the cheapest. I hope you’re not so naive to assume they’re doing it for free..

    But, as the FOSS community has already proven, there could be a cooperation. It is the WWF however, that refused all and any of our attempts to contact them and come to an agreement. That’s like not living in the 21st century. So, if they stay playing dead, we’re moving ahead. I’m close to porting the .wwf tools to Windows. And what was WWF’s reaction? Despite their claims they are not censoring Facebook, they took that screenshots quicker offline than I could put them on.

    Now you.

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