By: Mark Vruno
March Madness may be just tipping off in the NCAA, but in the printing industry, a technical foul has already been called against digital giant Google for its claims of environmental stewardship.
To help promote its Drive cloud storage service, the online search behemoth — along with HelloFax and other digital companies aligning to form the Paperless Coalition — rang in the New Year by launching a campaign for users to “Go Paperless in 2013.” The effort includes an online and social media presence, plus a monthly newsletter with tips for readers to reduce paper consumption. Although the campaign’s primary target is corporate workplaces, the “Go Paperless” moniker, used in conjunction with claims that digital is environmentally preferable to paper (the original tagline read, “Save money. Save time. Save trees.”), has many members of the print industry rightfully up in arms.
Why the outrage? For starters, some 1 million Americans count on the U.S. print industry for their paycheck each week, according to Michael Makin, president and chief executive officer of Printing Industries of America (PIA). On behalf of PIA’s members, Makin wrote an open letter to Google chief executive officer Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, that read, in part: “While we appreciate that it is in your best and self-interest to operate in a digital world, inferring that going digital is better for the environment is not only inaccurate, it is irresponsible. The amount of energy that is used by servers and individual devices far exceeds that used in the production of printed goods, and the amount of energy required for electronic devices is increasing.”
Don Carli, senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication in New York, points out that print and paper are also important components of North America’s gross domestic product, contributing trillions of dollars to the economy.
U.K.-based print and paper coalition Two Sides was another first responder that crafted an open letter to Google’s Schmidt. Two Sides is an initiative by companies from all areas of the graphics communications supply chain — forestry, pulp, paper, inks and chemicals, prepress, press, finishing, publishing, and printing — that promotes responsible production and use of print and paper, and dispels common environmental misconceptions. In its letter to Schmidt, Two Sides argued that: “While the products and services delivered by Google are to be admired, this new initiative is clearly another example of a self-interested organization using an environmentally focused marketing campaign to promote its services while ignoring its own impact upon the environment.”
Choose Print, an initiative of PIASC (the Southern California PIA affiliate), issued a press release titled, “Saving time. Saving money. Saving trees?” that quoted Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. “To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less,” Moore said. “Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to grow more trees and to produce more wood. That means we can then use less concrete, steel, and plastic — heavy carbon emitters through their production. Trees are the only abundant, biodegradable, and renewable global resource.”
The Go Paperless campaign is neither the first of its kind — Toshiba’s “National No-Print Day” was thwarted by print industry complaints just last year — nor is it Google’s first attack. Last August, the search giant placed print ads in Canadian newspapers that questioned the very power of newspaper ads. The irony gets even better: Google’s Creative Lab unit won a 2012 contest encouraging creativity in print advertising, and the grand prize of $1 million worth of full-page ad space in USA Today. Five years ago, Google was directing print advertisers to newspapers via Google Print Ads, a complement to its AdWords program, which cooperated with more than 250 U.S. newspapers. However, Google pulled the print plug in 2009, saying the program did not generate the level of impact it had hoped.
Not surprisingly, Google executives have declined to comment on the Go Paperless brouhaha. Their silence speaks volumes. Nevertheless, there’s no longer room for denial when it comes to the decline of print mediums in favor of digital platforms.
“In North America, the secular decline in print and paper use is a fact,” Carli said. That decline in use has come with a matching decline in advertising.
Last year, for the first time ever, Google’s ad revenue surpassed that of the entire U.S print industry. In the first six months of 2012, the 15-yearold tech darling raked in a whopping $20.8 billion, while newspapers and magazines generated $19.2 billion from print advertising.
Awash in not-so-green claims
“Our stance is that digital is not bad, either,” said Gerry Bonetto, vice president of government affairs at Printing Industries of California (PIC), which encourages members to use both mediums. Bonetto said he does not believe that the imagery and word choice on the Go Paperless landing page was intended to be malicious or misleading. But mislead it does, premeditated or not.
While saving money and time are certainly worthy goals, the claim that going paperless saves trees is the gut punch that has the paper and printing industries reeling, because it implies that electronic forms of communication are more environmentally sustainable, which is simply not true.
“We understand that marketing is a component of all media, but the tree angle is a hellacious argument,” said Bonetto, who can spout environmental statistics with the best of them. The bottom line, he said, is that “trees are a sustainable commodity, a crop” that is essentially farmed. To help educate the general public, PIASC launched the Choose Print campaign two years ago, in part, to reinforce the fact that print on paper is recyclable, renewable, and ultimately sustainable.
In his open letter, PIA’s Makin also contends that the Go Paperless campaign puts Google at odds with FTC guidelines.
“In addition, the campaign seems to be clearly in conflict with the recently revised Federal Trade Commission’s ‘Green Guides’ that define appropriate environmental marketing and claims,” Makin wrote.
While that reprimand may sting, ISC’s Carli said it is unlikely to make much of an impact. “Greenwashing” flies in the face of FTC regulations, but such claims can be difficult to prove and require a $5,000 fee just to open an investigation with the Council of Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division.
“The Green Guides were updated last October, because consumers have been increasingly exposed to ‘green’ claims that are unsubstantiated, hyperbolic, or misleading,” Carli said. “But the Green Guides are not the law,” he stressed. “The burden of proof is high. There needs to be economic damage. In other words, a company has to have been financially harmed by such false claims.”
PIC’s Bonetto said he thinks there is merit in filing an official BBB challenge, but three months have passed and no single industry association or other consortium of printing firms has yet to take the lead.
“We have a timid group of people,” one frustrated industry executive told My Print Resource under the condition of anonymity. “No one wants to take bold action.”
Some believe the industry’s paralysis is due to fear. The BBB process, which can take up to 60 days, is self-regulating and fairly non-confrontational, Carli said. However, if the FTC were to rule against the printing industry, the findings would go public — making matters worse by further tarnishing print’s already tainted reputation. So the prevalent attitude among print professionals is to “leave well enough alone.”
Defenders of print?
It’s doubtful that cost is the sole determining factor for inaction, because the $5,000 fee is a drop in the ink bucket for many print industry leaders. Carli said he thinks what the industry needs to better support its cause is to commission a double-blind consumer perception study to determine what percentage of consumers have been misled by false “green” marketing claims. “Twenty to 30 percent of the population is sufficient (to pursue further action),” he said.
Such a study could take four to six weeks to conduct and cost in the neighborhood of $100,000. Some would consider that sum a nominal investment, especially since the findings could be used repeatedly in BBB advertising and marketing challenges.
Raising $100,000 among the nation’s printers would not be a difficult endeavor, but again, someone has to pick up the print torch. Will it be Makin at PIA? Or Joe Truncale, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL)? Or perhaps Ralph Nappi, president of NPES, the Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies? Caroline Little, president and chief executive officer of the Newspaper Association of America and American Press Institute, may be another candidate, or perhaps a chief executive or two from a major publishing company, such as News Corp., Gannett, The New York Times Co., or Tribune Co.
Print Media Center blogger Deborah Corn said we should keep applying pressure. “If it matters to you that automakers can’t make up how many miles per gallon their cars get and slap it into ads, or that cosmetic companies can’t make claims and then use retouching to show results, or that airlines now have to include all of their ‘hidden’ fees in pricing, this situation is no different, and there are laws against it,” Corn wrote. “Greenwashing isn’t good for anyone or any industry.”
Bonetto agreed, telling me he doesn’t mind the debate on Twitter. He said he is more concerned about the rebuttals dying down, the dialog stopping, and people forgetting. “What about tomorrow, next week, next month?” he asked. This stirring of the pot “happened last year (with Toshiba) and it will, inevitably, happen again.”
The first quarter of 2013 has come and gone, with more than 500 tweets but no “official” response. As the clock continues to tick, I pose this question to our global print community leadership: What, if anything, are you prepared to do? Print and newspapers desperately need a leader to step up — soon.
Editor’s note: Since Vruno’s initial reportage in late January, the tagline at paperless2013.org has been revised to read, “Take the paper out of ‘paper work.’” Much of the green visual imagery remains.
No Water in Persian Gulf?
The benefits of waterless printing were presented at WAN-IFRA’s Middle East Conference in Dubai in late February. Among the key presentations was insight from market leader Gulf News, which spoke publicly for the first time about its waterless experience and the reasons for investing in the technology, the subsequent improvement in printing capabilities, and the added benefits possible from a more environmentally sustainable approach.
“This (trade show) is a fantastic platform … to present to the region’s successful newspaper publishers and printers ways they can further improve their print production and services for their customers, while introducing significant economies,” said Junichi Ishii, sales manager for Graphics and Chemicals Sections at Toray Intl. Europe GmbH. “We are convinced that the combination of benefits offered by waterless will be very interesting for many printers across the Middle East.”
Toray also showcased the variety of product possibilities waterless affords adopters of the technology with an array of creative coldset and heatset print samples. Underlining the award-winning capabilities of the process were coldset prints with water-based varnish from Freiburger Druckerei, the German “Newspaper printer of the year 2012.”
3 Days a Week
A few days before the U.S. Postal Service announced that it will end Saturday mail deliveries come August, the Oneida Daily Dispatch had to change the New York newspaper’s name, because it is no longer printed daily. Now known as the Oneida Dispatch, it moved to a three-day production cycle in early February, printing on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, while adding its first-ever Sunday edition.
“When we decided to explore this,” said publisher Jan Dewey, “I told the news staff I wanted to publish, not just three, but three great papers every week. I want to be sure readers won’t be missing out on any local news or their favorite syndicated features. I think the plan our editors devised accomplishes this, and even added some excellent new features.”
The declining subscription base was a major factor in the Journal Register Co.-owned paper’s decision. Currently, the Dispatch has 7,000 subscribers and claims an additional 10,000 print readers, while Web traffic continues to grow. Dewey explained that a larger emphasis is being placed on digital components — including the website and social media, adding that reporters are posting news on demand, digitally, as it happens.
The good news, so far: No employees have been laid off.
C&W Inks New Deal
C&W Pressroom Products recently announced an exclusive partnership with Central Ink Corp. that will allow customers to purchase ink and chemistry from its C&W rep.
In a statement, C&W president Michael Walsh said the alliance allows customers to purchase a pre-formulated, more efficient combination of ink and pressroom chemistry, including a bundled package of ink, fountain solution, blanket wash, tape, and all pressroom chemistry.