Patty Traynor is the president at Finish On Demand, Inc a full-service, short-run bindery. A couple of days ago, Ms. Traynor found the first of several articles I’ve written about the Save as WWF, Save a Tree campaign and commented on it. Since that comment contained lots of information, I have published it as a whole post here, with Ms. Traynor’s permission and a short comment from me at the end.

Ms. Traynor: The widespread misconception that not printing saves trees is completely the opposite of the truth. Figures around the world do differ, but I can give you some statistics for the US (from www.afandpa.org and www.safnet.org). In 2010, 63.4% of paper and paperboard consumed in the US was recovered for recycling. 43% of the material used to make paper comes from recovered fiver & wood residues (wood chips & scraps from forest & sawmill operations, not harvested new trees).

The manufacturing of paper does not cause deforestation. The main causes currently, historically, in the US and globally, are changing the use of the land to agriculture and development. Again, reality here is the opposite of popular belief. According to the US Dept of Agriculture’s Forest Service, we grow more trees than we harvest. There is a net gain in the amount of forest as a result of forest management practices. The growth from 1953 to 2007 was 49%. Forest owners have practiced sustainable forestry for many decades, as doing so maintains an income (Even in the century before when forests did greatly decline - paper was only a small fraction of the cause.) As society uses less paper and other forest products, the value of the trees decline and private landowners (currently 53% of forests in the US) have more incentive to sell the land for agriculture or development use … never to become a forest again.

The Forests Dialogue is an international initiative that has spent several years in discussion & debate, with 250 leaders in all sectors, concerning the part that forests play in mitigating climate change (among other topics). A representative of WWF was on the steering committee for this organization. The detailed results of these efforts included a recommendation in 2008 that governments, companies, and organizations worldwide promote the INCREASED use of forest products as an important climate change mitigation strategy. Increased paper usage (and other forest products) increases forests, increases biodiversity, and decreases greenhouse gases.

Apparently the WWF representative didn’t communicate this huge worldwide effort to the rest of the organization. One might wonder how much the organization spent on this effort only to disregard the results. The Save as WWF campaign is the epitome of not seeing the forest for the trees. Many companies promote getting invoices online rather than printing them out by saying that it is “green.” The reason companies want us to do that is that it saves them money. They have jumped on the green bandwagon to put a positive spin on it. That is called greenwashing and these companies have led most of society to believe that it is true when it isn’t.

Currently, these companies are receiving cease & desist letters for the use of false or misleading statements in advertising. I assume that WWF will eventually be forced to drop the whole thing because the “save a tree” part of the campaign is both false and misleading.

Instead of putting “don’t print this” on the bottom of your emails, consider this tag line: If you need to print this, go ahead. Paper is a completely sustainable and renewable resource.

Marco: personally, I would replace that tag line with one like this: If you do need to print this, don’t feel guilty, since paper is a completely sustainable and renewable resource, much more than the electronic circuits you’re already using. Printing without a real need, as it often happens in many offices, is a waste of many different resources, the less it happens the better, but not because you remain with less trees than before. In general, it is essential to keep in mind the whole picture, and how habits and whole business processes are or could be changed. For example, buying an iPad (or any other computer) just to read some text on a screen is surely not green, but if it replaces a whole bunch of tapes, CDs, photographs and all the machinery and raw materials they imply (from tape factories to living room shelves) is another issue. And in business, if you send an invoice via email but still visit customers every other day with the company SUV it’s hard to call you an eco-friendly business. Ms. Traynor’s explanation remind us how important it is to never look at just one part of a problem. Thanks!