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.

No peace for the "Save As WWF" campaign /img/wwf_and_forests.png