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The sustainability of print: Why we can feel good (and green) about our love for print and paper

Written by
SJC Team

Is to go paperless to go green? Does choosing e-billing help save a tree?

The short answer: no. For the long answer, we turn to the facts-based commitment of Two Sides North America to dispel common environmental misconceptions about print, paper and paper-based packaging. Armed with the latest facts around paper and forestry, Two Sides is setting the record straight that paper is one of the world's most sustainable products.

As of July 2020, Two Sides had worked with 129 North American companies – including Comcast, JP Morgan Asset Management and Starbucks – and over 500 globally to remove or change inaccurate anti-paper claims.

“As attention turns to developing a more sustainable, circular economy, the paper and paper-based packaging industry has a great, fact-based environmental story to tell,” says Two Sides North America President Kathi Rowzie. “Paper is one the few products that can already claim to have a truly circular life cycle.”

Here are four facts from Two Sides that reinforce the sustainability of print:

  1. Paper is not to blame for forest loss. Canada is home to 9 per cent of the world’s forests (behind only the Russian Federation and and Brazil.) And nearly half of Canada's forests are certified to an independent sustainable forest management standard such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forest Industry (SFI). Between 1999 and 2000, Canada’s net forest area remained stable at 857 million acres, meaning no forest land was lost. In the U.S., net forest area actually grew by 18 million acres; the average of 1,200 football fields per day. Another interesting tidbit: tree cutting and removal occurs on only 0.2 per cent of Canada's forestland. In comparison, 0.5 per cent of forestland is disturbed by fire and 4.7 per cent by insects.
  2. The entire lifecycle of paper production is sustainable. The raw material used to make paper – trees – is perpetually regrown; energy used to make it is generated using mostly carbon-neutral biofuel; and
  3. Used paper is recycled into other materials at a higher rate than any other material. Canada is a world leader in paper and cardboard recycling, with 70 per cent of paper and packaging recycled into other materials.
  4. Electronic communications creates its own environmental impact. In 2019, the world generated 53.6 million metric tons (Mt) of electronic waste, and only 17.4 per cent of this was officially documented as properly collected and recycled. Information and Communication technology is contributing to an increasing amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions each year. In comparison, the combined pulp, paper and print sector is one of the lowest industrial emitters at 0.8% of the world’s GHG emissions.

Digital then is not the more environmentally friendly option. And while we live in a digital-first world, it is not necessarily the consumer’s preference to consume or receive information digitally at every opportunity. Print is intentional and tangible; two qualities that make it standout in today’s communications mix.

Here are recent examples of consumers demonstrating their preference for print communications:

In the article published last year "Why Catalogs are making a comeback," Harvard Business Review points out that response rates from catalogues have increased by 170 per cent from 2004 to 2018. And millennials in particular are interested in the catalogues they receive in the mail.

According to the Kantar Dimensions Study 2020, 37 per cent of people worldwide say they have conviction in print; the most of any medium.

Results of a 2019 Toluna consumer survey indicated that 86 per cent of Americans and 82 per cent of Canadians agree that they should have the right to choose how they receive communications (printed or electronic) from financial organizations and service providers. Reasons for wanting paper communications include security concerns due to online fraud, lack of computer or Internet access, or just preference for paper.

Pandemic-related lockdowns incited the best year for U.S. print book sales since 2010. Sales data analysis from NPD reveal that volume in 2020 rose 8.2% year over year to reach 751 million books. And in Canada: Soaring sales at Vancouver's independent bookstores is one of the pandemic's good-news stories.

According to a study Canada Post conducted in spring 2020, 37 per cent of Canadians prefer to receive local business communications via their mailbox more than any other form of communication. Learn how to amp up your media mix strategy through direct mail.

According to Vividata’s Winter 2021 Survey of the Canadian Consumer study, Canadians are more likely to trust the information in magazines; 18 per cent more than television news and 19 per cent more than social media news pages.

The environmental choice

With the value of tactile communications, especially in our screen-heavy, Covid-altered world, marketers and businesses should not remove the consumer's choice of print or digital. There is choice in how to best take advantage of the inherent sustainability of print. Choosing a paper that is FSC of SFI certified ensures that the trees used for your project come from sustainably managed forests.

SJC Print recently worked with Canada Post to print its Incite magazine on an FSC-certified 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper that is ancient forest friendly. The environmental savings compared to using a 100 per cent virgin fibre paper were significant: 2,100 gallons of water, 4.2 tons of wood fire and a net reduction in CO2 greenhouse case emissions of 52,900 pounds - the equivalent of 5.3 passenger vehicles driven in one year.

This year, to mark SJC’s 65th anniversary, we launched a campaign to invite our staff, clients and readers to answer: “what is print to you?” Print is Trust, Print is Storytelling and Print is Tangible are just a few of the submissions we have received so far. As perhaps the most compelling fact-based attribute, we’ve added another word to the list. Print is Sustainable.

For guidance in choosing an environmental paper option for your next print project, reach out at (Bonus: SJC Print plants a tree through GrandTrees on behalf of every ton of paper through our decades-old Partners in Growth initiative.)

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