Fighting the myth of the 'dead tree'
Sunday, January 27, 2013 9:00 PM
I recall a cartoon from some twenty-odd years ago, when the movement toward widespread recycled content in paper was finally taking hold. The cartoon showed an executive type gently admonishing a crestfallen cafeteria lady.
"Of course I support the company-wide use of recycled paper, Edna," the caption read. "But not in the mashed potatoes."
I think the cartoon was published in an internal Xerox newsletter, which is not surprising since Xerox has always been a leader of the environmentally responsible corporate movement. This little bit of comic relief reflected the very serious dangers that face any new movement in which well-intentioned enthusiasm is inclined to leap ahead of good science, facts, and plain ol' common sense.
We all remember where the road paved with good intentions leads, don't we? Especially when a movement is hijacked by opportunists who have their own agenda to promote. In this modern world dominated by social media it is name calling, sound bites, half-truths and outright falsehoods that spread fastest.
Real issues aren't always easy to discuss. An intelligent discourse means identifying hard choices and taking stands that might alienate others. It means goring sacred cows rather than milking them. It means exposing conventional wisdom as foolishness and showing political correctness to be incorrect.
The public doesn't want to make hard choices, and they don't want their oxen gored. They certainly don't wish to be disabused of any cherished mistaken notions. For this reason, the environmental advantages of print on paper as a medium of information exchange are seldom addressed. A pity it is, for rarely has a subject been so mired in misconception.
This means it is up to you and me to enlighten the public. Consider the following facts, which we all know to be true but are lost on the public at large:
Paper is carbon locking, meaning that paper retains carbon dioxide, just as if it were still a tree.
The paper industry plants more trees than it harvests. Without paper, there would be fewer trees.
No virgin forests are used for papermaking.
Only one-third of paper is made from cutting trees. Another third is made from sawmill waste and another third from recycled paper.
Newspapers in particular have been on the forefront of the recycling movement. Newspapers may very well be the greenest medium of all.
The manufacture and use of computers, e-readers and mobile devices is damaging to the environment. Ditto for the internet and cloud computing, which rely upon vast arrays of power-gulping servers.
In short, everyone agrees trees are good, but few believe print is good for trees.
After all, what is John Q. Public to believe, when every day he receives an email from his credit card company encouraging him to "go green" by opting for emailed statements? How is John Q to know that the credit card company's only real objective is to skimp on postage?
Who will educate the public? Certainly not our political leaders. How about scientists and academics? Nope, they, like politicians, shun controversy.
It is up to us to counterbalance the misinformation. Making speeches won't help, and neither will abrasive tweets and postings. We must spread the word one person at a time, gently enlightening our friends and neighbors whenever we hear them make "tree-killing" remarks.
Nathaniel Grant, president of GAM in Sterling Virginia, includes this text in his email signature:
"It is okay to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of men and women, and working forests are good for the environment, providing clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. When you don't need it anymore, be sure to put it in a bin designated for recycling and it will come back to us as new paper or cardboard."
Clever, concise, friendly, inoffensive. Potentially viral, because it is contained in every email he sends. Provocative, because it appears precisely in a place where the opposite message is often conveyed.
Good job, Nathaniel. Now what will you do today to move this issue into the public eye?
Steve Johnson is the president of Copresco. For more information about his business log onto www.copresco.com.