The Paperless Office
Greenwashing: The Myth of the Paperless Workplace
The paperless office, it’s great for the environment. It saves time and saves money. However, a paperless workplace may not be as great for the environment as we are made to believe.
Throughout all aspects of life, we are being made increasingly more aware of the impact our choices have on the environment, and for the most part, with good reason. This is something that has found its way into all aspects of our lives, with trusted organisations and the government making statements as to how we could live more “green”.
However, sometimes, companies make claims of this nature that are not supported by scientific evidence. In this case, these claims are known as “greenwashing”.
What is greenwashing?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, greenwashing is the “Behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it is”. Wikipedia defines the term as meaning “disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image”.
Many leading organisations are culprits of greenwashing, including utility companies, banks, communications providers, etc. The example that most of us will have seen quite often is the statements urging customers to swap to paper-free billing or statements as this is better for the environment than receiving these communications by post.
The Paperless Workplace: The Damage of Greenwashing
Whether it is a statement advising you to save the trees by going to a paperless workplace or opt for digital statements to protect the environment, these claims are misleading and stand to harm both the printing and postal industries rather than being the leap forward into green living it is touted to be.
Whilst many companies claim that the reason behind the decision to change to a paperless office is because it’s better for the environment, the decision is actually a financial one. Moving to a digital communications structure is cheaper than relying on print. As a result of this, greenwashing is costing the UK print and postal services around £10 million a year.
Fact vs fiction
Greenwashing is incredibly common in all manner of industries, but the general messaging that is used remains the same. Here, we explore some of the most common myths surrounding paper usage and the facts behind them.
Myth: opting for a paperless workplace saves trees and stops deforestation
Claims that opting for paperless communications saves trees and stops deforestation are some of the most common going when it comes to organisations attempting to convince consumers to move away from paper statements. However, these claims are simply untrue.
In actual fact, a healthy market using forest products (including but not limited to paper) supports better forest management and therefore encourages the growth of the forest.
European forests provide up to 90% of the virgin wood used by the European paper industry. According to the United Nations, this controlled use led to the forests growing by around 58,390km² between the years 2005 and 2020. This is an area larger than all of Switzerland and amounts to approximately 1,500 football pitches of new forest each day.
As long as an organisation is using paper products from responsible sources, they need not be worried.
Myth: using paper is wasteful and bad for the environment
Paper is one of the most widely recycled materials on the planet, and it can be recycled time and time again. In 2019, 57.5 tonnes of paper were recycled in Europe, which gives a recycling rate of 72%. Europe even recycles paper packaging at an even higher rate, approximately 85%.
Contrary to popular belief, when done correctly, the entire process of making paper is naturally sustainable. Virgin wood from responsibly managed forests and recycled paper are used together to maintain the paper-making process.
To support this process, waste paper should be recycled and not be treated as general waste. According to CEPI, in 2019, the European pulp and paper industry currently only uses around 45% virgin fibres, and the remaining 55% comes from recycled paper.
The best way for paper to be recycled within the industry is by using a cascading system.
In the simplest form of this, virgin wood is used to create products; once used, this is then recovered and reused again and again in the creation of paper and board products until the pulp is not suitable any longer.
At this point, the pulp can then be burned as biofuel, which has much lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels.
Myth: digital communication is better for the environment
When greenwashing, many companies claim that digital methods of communication are better for the environment than printed ones. However, digital communication is not free from consequences.
As more and more services become digital, the energy required to support digital technologies is increasing. It is estimated that the energy consumption required to support our digital use is increasing by around 9% each year.
Between 2013 and 2019, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be attributed to digital technology increased from 2.5% to 3.7%. In the same way, demand for raw earth materials to use in computer chips and the like is increasing.
Estimates have shown that the information and communication technology industry could end up using as much as 51% of the world’s electricity by the end of 2030 and could be accountable for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.
By comparison, the paper and print sector only accounts for around 0.8% of greenhouse gases, according to CEPI. A staggering 60% of the energy used by the industry comes from renewable sources. Between 2005 and 2017, the European pulp and paper industry reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 25%.
The digital industry is still also suffering from a major issue with electronic waste products. Just 43% of electronic waste was collected to be recycled in 2019; the same year saw the enormous 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste being created around the world. When these devices are thrown away, all those raw materials in the chips, such as copper, gold and iron, are thrown away too when these could be recycled, reducing the industry’s reliance on mining.
Greenwashing and advertising
It is a well known fact that making misleading statements in advertising contravenes the Advertising Standards Authority’s guidelines. What you may not have been aware of is that making misleading environmental claims contravenes both the Advertising Standards Authority and DEFRA’s guidelines.
The Advertising Standards Authority
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has a dedicated set of guidelines to cover environmental claims, the UK CAP Code. Section 11, Environmental Claims reads:
11.1 The basis of environmental claims must be clear. Unqualified claims could mislead if they omit significant information.
11.3 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation.
11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle analysis.
11.5 It must not be suggested that claims are universally accepted if a significant division of informed or scientific opinion exists.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (or DEFRA) have its own guidelines that run concurrently with those set out by the Advertising Standards Authority.
These claims relate to any business looking to make an environmental claim, whether that is in marketing, on their packaging or in any other situation.
These rules state that whenever an environmental claim is made, it must be relevant to the consumer, it must be clear and accurate, and finally, it must be justifiable.
It is easy to see how greenwashing can contravene both of the above sets of regulations; however, there are situations where greenwashing causes a problem out of the scope of DEFRA or the ASA’s guidelines.
As a result of growing concerns regarding businesses misleading consumers over their environmental claims. The Competition and Markets Authority has been asked to step in to work on legislation to better protect consumers against false or misleading claims of this nature. This will extend beyond marketing and cover all aspects of the customer journey, including communications.
Promoting digital communication methods
Cost and convenience are two key reasons that a company might decide to promote digital communications to their customers, and this is still possible. However, greenwashing should be avoided at all costs as it can cover up unsustainable business practices and hinder the adoption of legitimate initiatives.
Instead of relying on unsubstantiated environmental claims, businesses should focus on promoting the fact that consumers can decide for themselves if paper or digital is better and more convenient for them.
The wider impact of greenwashing
The most common form of greenwashing in our lives today is companies sending people and their documents online in order to save costs. Whilst this can be just an inconvenience for younger and tech-savvy people, it can have a negative impact on the most vulnerable members of our communities.
A study by the Office of National Statistics in 2018 found that 4.5 million adults in the UK have never used the internet, and these tend to be the most vulnerable members of society, whether they are elderly, disabled, or live in the most rural of locations.
These people are much more likely to rely solely on postal communications, and the shift in the market to defaulting to online documentation risks leaving them behind.
Socially responsible organisations
Organisations should not stop consumers from being able to choose for themselves whether they want to receive their documents digitally or by post. By defaulting to digital communications and sometimes even charging to change to paper. These organisations are making it difficult for at-risk individuals to access their services.
According to a study by Two Sides in 2021, 74% of European consumers believe they should be able to choose to receive their documents either electronically or by post, and 54% believe they should not be charged for opting for a paper bill.
When you shop online with Printroom Group, you can rest assured that you are doing your bit to help the environment. Printroom Group are environmentally conscious, and so all paper used is FSC certified and harvested from FSC-approved responsibly managed forests.
Paper Production and Sustainable Forestry
The paper and pulp industry both depends upon and promotes sustainable forestry practices, as, without these, the industry would not have access to a reliable, responsible source of raw materials. In addition to this, there is a wide range of benefits to wider society that well-managed forests can bring, including (but not limited to!) supporting livelihoods, the ecosystem and biodiversity.
Truly sustainable forestry practices in Europe supply the industry with 90% of its wood fibres, and yet the forest in Europe has been growing by the equivalent of 1,500 football pitches each and every day. This is thanks to the fact that more than 60% of the forest is certified to either FSC or PEFC standards, an achievement that has been supported wholeheartedly by the print and paper industries.
56% of the fibre used by the European paper industry is recycled
Cellulose is the primary raw material that is used by the paper and pulp industries. Of the cellulose that is used by the industry in Europe, as much as 56% of this fibre comes from recycled paper products, and the remaining 44% is virgin fibres.
Technically, cellulose can be found in most plants, and some fibre from sources other than wood is actually used in the industry. Despite this, wood fibre is much more commonly used because it is renewable, easy to manufacture, endlessly recyclable, affordable, and available all year round.
By maintaining a commercial interest in wood supply, true sustainable forest practices can be achieved. Forest spaces used for fibre production can buffer protected areas and support vulnerable forest spaces to keep them protected from illegal activity or conversion to farmland.
Benefits of well-managed forests
There are a wide variety of benefits to sustainable, well-managed forests beyond just supporting the commercial interests of the paper and print industry.
Forests provide more than 86 million jobs around the world, and through these jobs, they support the livelihoods of many more individuals, families and communities. Protected forest spaces can have recreational uses, and they can hold cultural significance in some areas too.
In addition to providing wood products, they can support renewable energy and the natural capture of excess carbon from the environment. A flourishing forest can also help to control floods, reducing the risks of erosion, damage to properties and risk to human life.
When it comes to biodiversity, the vast majority of the world’s plant and animal species are found within our forests. All in all, the forests of the world contain more than 60,000 unique species of tree, which provide the habitat for 80% of amphibian species, 68% of mammal species and 75% of the world’s species of birds. Even beyond animal life, approximately 60% of vascular plants are found in the tropical forests of the world. Without the support and protection of sustainable forestry practices, these animal and plant species could end up lost to history.
Maintaining these benefits does put a lot of pressure on forest resources, which only goes to encourage innovation within forest management.
European forest growth
The forest management practices that are in place in Europe’s forests mean that between 2005 and 2020, the forests grew by an area larger than Switzerland. The new 58,390 square kilometres of forest equates to approximately 1,500 new football pitches of growth each day.
This has been supported by the planting and seeding of new trees on land that was not previously part of the forest and through the natural growth of new trees on unused and abandoned land.
Forests in Europe cover approximately 202,150 million hectares (excluding the Russian Federation), and an additional 25 million hectares are classified as being other woodlands. The Nordic countries are home to the greatest share of European forest space, and the smallest concentration is found in the Benelux states and some Mediterranean countries.
Governments, businesses and individuals are all naturally concerned about the rate of deforestation the world is experiencing. According to WWF, this is of the greatest concern in the tropical rainforests of the world, which are home to the majority of the world’s biodiversity.
As an example, around 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost in the last fifty years, mainly due to the land being converted for cattle farming. Whilst deforestation in the Amazon is particularly problematic near populated areas, roads and rivers, it has started to become an issue in even the most remote regions of the Amazon.
The issues faced in rainforests such as the Amazon highlight to the world just how important sustainable forest management is, not just to support the paper industry but to preserve habitats for wildlife and limit the damaging effects of climate change.
Print and paper industries support certification
Across the world, it is widely acknowledged within both the paper and print industries that sustainable practices and healthy forests are crucial to success. This is why certification schemes have become ingrained into how the print and paper industries work. At the simplest commercial level, without the sustainable forestry that is supported by these certification schemes, the industry would not have access to the raw materials that it needs to succeed.
Europe has two widely recognised certification schemes; these are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both of these schemes aim to independently certify forests that meet specific guidelines of forest management, including (but not limited to) protecting the natural habitats, protecting the rights of forestry workers and respecting local communities.
What is FSC certification?
The FSC or Forest Stewardship Council is an international organisation with a simple goal; to promote responsible forest management processes. Since its foundation back in 1994, FSC has become the world’s largest and most common forest certification system.
As of the beginning of 2022, there are more than 200 million hectares of forest around the world that are being managed to FSC standards.
The FSC has ten principles that must be adhered to for certification status to be granted. At the basic level, this includes complying with all applicable laws, treaties and regulations, at the very least maintaining (if not enhancing) the well-being of workers, and maintaining or enhancing the wellbeing of the surrounding communities.
In addition, responsible forest management should include respecting the rights and usage of the forest by Indigenous Peoples, maintaining the ecosystem and taking a precautionary approach to conservation. Having a paperless office will not give any benefit to the communities who rely on the supply of paper to help maintain their communities.
What is PEFC certification?
The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (or PEFC, for short) is an international non-profit organisation working as an alliance of national forest certification systems.
PEFC endorses individual national forest certification systems as they believe forest certification needs to be managed at a more local level as priorities and conditions can vary dramatically from country to country. They work to provide all forest owners, from small all the way to large scale, with the tools to demonstrate their responsible practices and help consumers and companies alike purchase responsibly.
When you purchase your printed products online through Printroom, you can rest assured that all of our paper products are FSC certified and only sourced from FSC-approved, responsibly managed forests.
Whether you need printed brochures, business cards, posters, presentation folders, annual reports or letterheads, The Printroom Group offer the perfect print solution.
Our clients include blue-chip companies, software companies and charities. We also produce all aspects of school printing and promotional material and work closely with marketing and communication departments in many industries.