January 10, 2011
An Open Letter to the Industry, from Charlie Corr, Chief Strategist, Mimeo.com (March 2009)
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It is increasingly popular to bash the use of paper. The industry is an easy target as everyone uses paper and the presentation of the industry is laughable (think Dunder Mifflin on The Office).
Despite the many environmentally friendly actions taken by the paper, printing and publishing industries, little is known of these efforts due to a self-inflicted inability to publicize them. Unlike the auto or fuel industries, we don't spend any money as an industry on effective green promotion.
Think about it, paper primarily comes from trees. Trees are a renewable resource. They come from farms. You don't see people bashing farmers, why paper? Trees improve the environment by moderating climate, improving air quality, conserving water, and harboring wildlife. According to the Department of Agriculture, one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
Most of us are concerned about the environment but we don't want to change our behavior. We certainly don't seem willing to give up our computers, PDA's, bottled water, appliances or gas-guzzling vehicles. There isn't a much easier way to assuage our guilt than to slap a tag line at the bottom of our e-mail urging others to do something. Here are two of the more popular ones:
Think before you print.
Please consider your environmental responsibility before printing any documents.
I have received the first most recently from a sales representative for printing equipment. I have seen a version of it used by Mimeo staff. The second comes from our travel agency. It might as well have been, "we no longer want to incur the cost of printing so we will cover it with an environmental message." The same can be said of many financial institutions who say they want you to "go green" but really want to cut mail costs and shift the cost of printing from them, to you.
Paper is made from cellulose fiber, the source of which can be pulped wood, or a variety of other materials such as rags, cotton, grasses, sugar cane, rice, or waste paper. The first piece of paper was produced from rags in AD 105 by Ts'ai Luin in China. Today, wood pulp is the most common source material for the manufacture of virgin paper, i.e. paper which has no recycled content.
Due to reforestation, forests in the US have actually grown over the past century. About one-third of the United States - 747 million acres - is covered with trees. An estimated 4 million trees are planted each day. On the nation's commercial forests, net annual growth exceeds harvests and losses to insects and disease by 47 percent each year.
Paper is Biodegradable
Unlike plastic water bottles, computers, PDA's and most electronic devices and appliances, paper decomposes in a landfill. Disposed paper is not dangerous. Compare this to cell phones, PC's and paperless reading devices like the Kindle. They contain lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and polyvinyl chlorides.
There are materials that have known toxicological effects that range from brain damage to kidney disease to mutations, and cancers. E-waste is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide. It is estimated that we dispose of 130,000 computers every day in the United States and 100 million cell phones annually.
Plastic is not generally biodegradable. Of the 30 billion plastic water bottles sold in the United States in 2005, only 12 percent were recycled leaving 25 billion bottles landfilled, littered or incinerated. Plastic water bottles produced for U.S. consumption require the use of 1.5 million barrels of oil per year.
That much energy could power 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000 cars in that same time period. Of course, giving up our bottled water, electronic devices or gas guzzlers would require us to actually change our b