Common inaccuracies about print and paper are still a major issue for the industry. These misconceptions are further reinforced by financial organisations, utility companies and many other service providers, as they increasingly encourage their customers to switch to electronic bills and statements.

Instead of focusing on the potential cost savings of digital, often the incentive to switch is based on unfounded environmental claims such as ‘Go Green – Go Paperless’ and ‘Choose e-billing and help save a tree’. Two Sides, the global initiative promoting the sustainability of print and paper, continues to tackle misleading environmental claims made by some of the world’s largest corporations.

In the first half of 2019, Two Sides researched the websites and communications of 102 organisations around the globe. Of these, 69 were found to be using unsubstantiated claims about print and paper’s impact on the environment. So far, 38 of these organisations have removed or changed their messaging after being engaged by Two Sides.

Since 2010, Two Sides has successfully challenged 441 companies found to be using misleading claims. Industries with the highest number of Greenwashers include: telecoms providers, banks and financial institutions, utility providers and governmental organisations.

Martyn Eustace, chairman of Two Sides said, ‘We are really pleased that our ongoing effort is having such a significant effect on some of the world’s largest and most influential companies and organisations. But there is no room for complacency and there is still a great deal of work to do in tackling companies that continue to mislead their customers. We can see from our research that these misleading messages are having an impact on consumer perceptions of print and paper – particularly regarding its perceived impact on forests – which is why it is so vital for Two Sides to continue to tackle these damaging claims.

The drive to digital is not always welcome. Consumers feel strongly about their right to receive paper options from their banks, governments and other service providers and efforts by these organisations to force their customers to digital means, often citing misleading environmental claims, may just backfire. An international survey of 10,000 consumers carried out by Two Sides/Toluna in 2019 (1) found:

• Over half (53%) of respondents think claims about the switch to digital being ‘better for the environment’ is really because the sender wants to save money.
• 57% object to government, banks and other organisations persuading them to ‘go paperless’, as it’s not ‘paperless’ because they regularly have to print out documents at home if they want a hard copy.
• 81% believe they have the right to choose how they receive their communications (printed or electronically) from financial organisations and service providers.
• 38% of consumers would consider switching service providers if there were forced to go paperless.

Paper and digital communications: the facts

• 90% of the wood used by the European paper industry comes from European forests.
• These forests grew by an area the size of Switzerland between 2005–2015.
• The European paper recycling rate is over 72% (the highest of any material).
• The European pulp and paper industry is the biggest single user and producer of renewable energy in Europe. The CO2 per tonne of paper has also been reduced by 43% since 1990.
• The ICT industry accounts for approximately 2% of global emissions, on par with the emissions from the global aviation sector.
• 9 million tonnes of e-waste are generated every year from good such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets.
• Annually, Cloud computing demands twice as much electricity as the entire United Kingdom.

Eustace concluded, ‘Consumers should not be misled and encouraged to go ‘paperless’ through the use of misleading ‘green’ marketing. The true picture of the excellent environmental benefits of paper is being overlooked by these false messages. Paper is a renewable and recyclable product that, if responsibly produced and used, can be a sustainable way to communicate. The forest and paper industries rely on sustainable forests and they are major guardians of this precious and growing resource.’