Paper's Fight For Truth

3 Paper Truths That Debunk Some Common "Alternative Facts"
By Toby Reed

Believe it or not, the truth matters.

In all aspects of our lives, today more than ever, the question of truth and who is in possession of it has taken center stage. And while recent politics have been the headliner for much of the discussion about “truth”, the reality is that debate has been had on a variety of topics for ages. Today I want to reveal some truths in my industry. The topic: Is paper really bad for the environment?

I often hear from customers who would love to integrate more direct mail into their marketing campaigns because of its effectiveness. However, they worry that their customer base (who is often very environmentally aware) may equate their using a paper-based marketing channel as being environmentally irresponsible. After all, with all the chatter about “Go Paperless, Go Green”, you can understand why my customers may be concerned.

In short, my answer to them is that paper-based communications are reusable, recyclable and sustainable. Therefore, marketers should not be afraid to use this medium. Here are three reasons why:

1. Paper is Sustainable:

Remember, the vast majority of responsibly sourced paper comes from sustainable forest sources developed for the purpose of supplying paper. This is far from the imagery that many would like to portray of a Paul Bunyan-type hacking away at Winnie the Pooh’s "Hundred Acre Wood". Instead, think of these trees as a crop (like corn) that a farmer plants to be harvested. Paper companies grow forests on their land to use for paper. They continually plant more trees for future harvests, as that is their crop. In fact, there are more trees today in the United States than there were 100 years ago. Why? Because paper companies NEED trees to make paper. Eliminating trees would put them out of business. So it makes good business sense to responsibly plant and grow trees for their own use. Just like the farmer who works his farm year after year, the process used by responsible paper mills to grow trees is very sustainable long term.

2. Paper is Reusable and Recyclable:

Paper-based communications can have a second life. Many of you may not know that paper is the most recycled material in the world today, with recovery rates ranging from 60 to 72% in North America and the EU.

On the flip side, when marketers send an electronic media transmission, it creates a carbon footprint that cannot be mitigated or recovered for any additional use. In fact, after an electronic form of communication is used for its intended purpose, it will continue to develop a larger carbon footprint as it is archived, forwarded, replied to and searched upon. The environmental impact of digital media, because it is not visual in nature, is easy to overlook but is nonetheless very real. As marketers, we need to educate ourselves on the true impact of each of our marketing channels so we don’t lose campaign efficacy over environmental impact data that is misleading.

3. Paper's Carbon Footprint is Favorable vs. Digital Forms of Marketing

Compared to an email, a paper-based direct mail piece (inserted with two pages) creates the same carbon footprint (roughly 19 grams per piece) as an email at origination. Taking into consideration that once an email is acted upon its carbon footprint increases (with every open, forward, or reply) and combining that with the fact that marketers need to send a much larger amount of emails to get the open and conversion rates of direct mail, and you can quickly see that paper-based direct mail produces a smaller carbon footprint than its digital email counterpart in many cases.


So the TRUTH of this debate is that the “Go Paperless, Go Green” claims you hear so much are misleading. Many of those campaigns are fueled by for-profit businesses attempting to drive down their own internal costs. This is by definition "greenwashing". Companies figure that they will be more effective converting their customers from paper-based communications to electronic media if they appeal to your desire to do some good for our environment. They know that an environmental message will play much better with their consumer than the truthful, profit-driven message of “Convert to electronic statements so we can reduce our mailing costs. That would help us to make more profit.”

I think you can see where that may NOT be a very effective marketing campaign! 


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