Martyn Eustace of Two Sides - the initiative that promotes the attractiveness and sustainability of print and paper - was recently awarded the Gold Medal by the Paper Industry Gold Medal Association for his longstanding contribution to the industry. Should you be joining him on the quest to make print’s environmental credentials better understood? Here’s his take on the situation…
Do any of these things make you cross?
- communications from your bank or other service providers that tell you that they’re going paperless to save trees and the environment and that going digital is much more sustainable?
- a child or grandchild who comes home from school and tells you that the teacher says that paper is ‘really bad’?
- when you can’t get your mobile boarding pass because your phone battery has died
- email footers saying: ‘Think Before You Print’.
Well these things annoy me - and fortunately many others - and that was the start of the Two Sides campaign.
The reality is that such statements are usually incorrect and not backed by any evidence. After challenging over 100 major companies in the UK Two Sides has successfully managed to get 92% of these statements removed from websites and correspondence.
So it’s relatively easy to get false statements removed but how do we change the public perception of a wasteful and unsustainable industry?
It must be of concern to all of us that 80% of UK consumers think that using paper is contributing to the loss of rainforests, and 60% think we only recycle about 25% the paper and board we use - the European recovery rate is about 72%.
Let's look more deeply at the most recent survey from Two Sides in 2016, which also compared how consumer opinions have changed over a five year period:
Compared to the 2011 Two Sides survey, the following positive trends are apparent:
- 79% agree that print on paper is more pleasant to handle and touch when compared to other media (compared to 70% in 2011)
- 73% agree that paper is based on a renewable resource (65% in 2011)
- 16% believe that our forests have either stayed the same or increased in size (vs. 10% in 2011)
- 31% believe that the paper industry has a higher than average recycling rate (25% in 2011)
- 14% have seen adverts related to the effectiveness and sustainability of print and paper (vs. 8% in 2011), and a large majority rated the ads as credible and useful.
So, consumers are feeling ‘warmer’ towards print and paper but more education is needed to raise awareness about the industry’s positive environmental message.
Forest growth in Europe - where 80% of our paper comes from - is still misunderstood. Consumers are unaware of the fact that European forests have grown by more than 30% in size over the last 50 years. 76% believe forests have either stayed the same or reduced in size.
The great recycling story of print and paper is also not well known. Consumers are not aware that 72% of European paper is recycled and have a very mixed opinion of the percentage of paper recovered for recycling across Europe. Only 8% of consumers believe that the industry recycling rate is more than 60%. It is, in fact, over 72%.
There is a preference for print on paper in all age groups, indicating a more fundamental and more human way that we react to the physicality of print on paper. However, the acceptance of digital media is stronger amongst younger ages. One alarming trend was that the 18 - 24 year old age group had an even lower awareness of the state of European forests and recycling rates for paper when compared to overall survey results.
Some of the other survey findings are worth noting:
- 83% of respondents receiving environmental claims like “go paperless - go green”, or “go paperless - save trees”, or “get your bills online - it’s better for the environment” believe companies are seeking to save costs. 40% feel misled by these claims
- 41% of consumers print some or all of their financial services bills and statements at home
- 80% still prefer reading print on paper than from a screen.
- 79% of consumers enjoy the tactile experience of paper and print
- 78% are concerned about the effect on forests by the production of print and paper
Since 2008, Two Sides has been uniting the whole of the print media value chain which realises that, by working together, we can improve the environmental perception of our industry. Sustainability is now an accepted and fundamental part of corporate strategy and, even if short term commercial pressures predominate, sustainable products and practices will be at the heart of all businesses.
And let’s not forget paper and board packaging, which can be a highly sustainable way to protect and, with imaginative print and design, be a highly effective promotional material. Of course, it is not suitable for all applications but new recyclable barriers and innovative coatings are creating fantastic opportunities for paper and board to replace many other less sustainable materials.
There’s always more to do but, with an increasing public focus on the environment, no better time to do it!