It's OK to Print This Email
I recently received an email from a colleague who added a rather lengthy tagline after his signature at the bottom which read as follows:
“It's OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago."
I am quite certain the person who sent this to me added that tag line as a response to other, more commonly seen e-mail taglines. These typically read something like this:
"Save Trees: Print Only When Necessary."
"Please Consider the Environment Before Printing this Email."
I have been hearing about the environmental impact of paper ever since I was a child. I can remember making paper footballs out of tablet paper and then hearing from my school teachers about how many trees I was destroying because I was being wasteful. My best friend Bruce was admonished as well for drawing airplanes in his tablet. Those same teachers would hand out printed exams and while doing so they would say things such as, “I am sorry for killing trees in order to conduct this math test but we need to make sure you understand the material.”
The logic behind these well-intended statements goes something like this: Science tells us trees convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. Humans breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Trees take in the carbon dioxide and the cycle continues. Without trees, there would be no oxygen and humans would die. Paper comes from trees. Using paper kills trees. Killing trees kills humans. Therefore using paper also kills humans.
However, according to the Global Footprint Network, an organization devoted to improving the scientific quality and precision of all information associated with measuring humanity’s impact on our planet, the use of paper has roughly the same impact on the world’s oxygen supply as the use of deodorant. Ask any environmentalist to list the top human activities that are killing our planet and they will talk to you about the decisions we make in regards to what we eat, what we buy, how we travel and where we live. Very few would mention paper, and those who do will most likely be referring to cardboard and packaging, not paper used for printing or copying.
Let’s put it this way; suppose you live in a small, comfortable house with about 1,600 sq. ft. of comfortable living space. You have taken care to stock your dwelling with enough supplies for two weeks. Your refrigerator and pantry are stocked full. You have an ample supply of necessities, and you have budgeted for your anticipated needs in regards to power, water, sewage, garbage, transportation and entertainment.
Now suppose you get a phone call from a long lost cousin who is married with 7 children. You learn that these family members have suddenly found themselves without shelter, so you invite them to stay with you out of the goodness of your heart.
After the first three days of extra-familial occupation, your house basically looks like a heard of buffalo has stampeded through it. All of your stocked food has been consumed, your supplies have been depleted and your water and electric meters are tracking 700% higher usage than is typical. At your wit’s end, you decide to do something about all of this consumption that is taking place at your expense. So the very first thing you do is unplug your inkjet printer? I don’t think so. In fact, you are going to need that printer so that you can issue eviction notices.
Please note: I do not wish to make light of a serious problem. Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. According to a Global Forest Resources Assessment conducted in 2005 the world’s forests will disappear completely in 310 years. But the facts could not be clearer, this is not happening because people print things on paper, and the paper industry is not guilty of destroying our planet.
Those who measure these things generally report that 50% of the trees that are cut down in a given year are utilized for fuel, and 25% are used for shelter. In the United States, homebuilding, remodeling and home improvements account for two-thirds of domestic wood-product consumption. When you factor in the unsustainable agricultural practices occurring predominately in the southern hemisphere and you review a comprehensive list of the many products that are made from wood throughout the world (as can be seen here: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/woodproducts.pdf) it becomes evident that paper is taking the rap (or wrap if you prefer) for a consumer-driven society carelessly using up the world’s supply of natural resources.
As part of its strategy to address climate change, the European Commission (EC) launched a comprehensive study in 2011 to assess the impact of EU consumption on forest loss at a global scale. The study revealed that the biggest contributors to global deforestation were consumption of oil crops — such as soy and palm oil — and their derived processed goods, as well as meat consumption. According to their report, if you truly want to save trees, stop eating processed baked goods and cheeseburgers. In fact, they conclude the carbon footprint of a half pound cheeseburger is 2.5 times greater than the carbon footprint of one printed copy of their report.
So does this mean it is OK for me to print those emails?
No. Not if by doing so you believe you are helping the cause of sustainability.
When we e-mail and when we send letters we are consuming energy and we are using resources. Every decision to communicate has some level of impact on our environment. The decisions we are making about print and mail should be filtered through conversations about how information technologies and paper can work together to communicate, educate and market effectively with minimal impact on our environment.
As in-plant professionals we should be leading the charge. Here are just some of things we can be doing:
- Educate ourselves. Read. Attend Conferences. Be the experts. Demonstrate to our parent institutions that we have an intelligent understanding of environmentalism and best practices.
- Promote the use of paper manufactured by companies like Rolland Paper who consistently demonstrate a passion for environmental stewardship.
- Encourage decision makers and budget approvers to recognize that environmental responsibility is just as important as fiscal responsibility.
- Promote our sustainability initiatives through social media.
- Become FSC certified. (If you do not know what FSC stands for, go back to the first bullet point on this list.)
- In our staff meetings and in our annual reports, be sure to routinely include environmental statistics.
- Partner with our marketing teams. Get out in front of the marketing and communication processes.
- Be role models. Turn out the lights when you leave the room. Track power and water usage. Recycle. Partner with our communities. If someone accused us of being committed to the cause of environmental stewardship, would there be enough evidence to convict us?
- Set fleet copiers to default to two-sided printing.
- Partner with companies like PrintReleaf that help empower organizations to reduce the environmental impact of using paper products.
- Create an environmental statement and include it on our webpages with our mission and identity statements.
- Support the environmental initiatives of other departments.
- Encourage the use of FSC, Rainforest Alliance, wind power and recycled marks.
- Encourage organizations like IPMA and ACUP to offer awards and/or certifications to in-plants who practice environmental stewardship.
Oh, and if you do feel the need to add a tag line at the bottom of your emails I suggest using these words from Pope John Paul II:
“The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”
Dwayne Magee is now in his 17th year as director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu