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Google is Greenwashing, Paper Industry Claims

A paper industry-led campaign has accused Google of greenwashing and federal trade violations, and urged it to reconsider a campaign urging businesses to “go paperless.”

Two Sides sent an open letter to Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt warning that by promoting its Go Paperless in 2013 campaign, Google is trying to promote its services as environmentally preferable to print.

Google launched the Go Paperless campaign at the start of the year in coordination with Fujitsu, which makes the ScanSnap scanner, and the companies behind online services HelloFax, HelloSign, Manilla, Expensify and Xero.

But Two Sides – whose member companies hail from forestry, pulp, paper, printing and related industries in over 12 countries – said Google is making “spurious and unattributed” environmental claims, and said there is significant evidence that Google’s own activities create a significant and increasing environmental risk.

According to the letter, “such Greenwash marketing is not only damaging to corporate reputations but also increasingly, we consider, in flagrant disregard of advertising standards such as those of the U.S Federal Trade Commission and DEFRA (UK).”

Two Sides pointed out that Google uses 2.3 million MWh of electricity a year, and that e-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream. The group also said studies have found that documents can be more environmental friendly on paper than on screen, if they are read more than once or by several people – although its citation links to a four-page report prepared for an undergraduate physics course, not a paper in a peer-reviewed journal.

Two Sides also says that in the US more trees are grown than harvested, and the volume of trees on US forestland has increased 49 percent over the past 50 years. Biomass accounts for 65 percent of energy used to make pulp and paper in the US, and 54 percent in Europe, the group says.

The letter does not, however, address whether the paper industry poses a threat to rainforests and the endangered animals that live there. Environmental groups have been targeting paper companies and customers – such as HarperCollins – that the non-profits see as linked to rainforest destruction.

This is not the first time that Two Sides has taken arms against an anti-paper campaign. Last July the group said it convinced UK companies British Telecom, Barclaycard, Vodafone and EON Energy, among others, to withdraw their environmental claims about print and paper. Two Sides said that more than 80 percent of the companies approached agreed to change or kill their messaging about the environmental costs of printing and paper.

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11 thoughts on “Google is Greenwashing, Paper Industry Claims

  1. Obviously Google is trying to “green wash” this issue as you try to get more businesses utilize their services (both free and paid).

    But Google’s marketing efforts is not what bothers me. What really bothers me is that they think people are so stupid as to believe that it’s possible for a business to go paperless. I’ll bet my last dollar that there isn’t an office in the entire Google complex which doesn’t rely upon paper at least once a day so why should they expect any business to do so when they can live up to their own marketing hyperbole.

  2. It’s important to understand that Google and its partners in this campaign are the ones that started to push the so-called “environmental” aspect of Paperless 2013. In Google Drive’s blog post on Jan.1, 2013 they wrote, “If you’re up for saving time, money and trees, going paperless might be a good goal for you in 2013.” Will people really “save trees?” (https://plus.google.com/+GoogleDrive/posts/YG2VzB3iuue)
    And, it was campaign partner Jamie Sutherland, President of U.S. Operations for Xero, who said the campaign is, “good for the environment.” Another partner, Jim Schniella, CEO of Manilla said, “It’s truly representative of Manilla’s overall mission to … help improve the environment by reducing the overall use of paper.”
    (https://www.manilla.com/press/hellofax-partners-with-other-web-services-to-launch-paperless-2013-to-deliver-the-paperless-office)

    Are they really helping the environment by exchanging one communications technology for another? This campaign is 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.

  3. Thank you for publishing this. This pertains to your rainforest comment. I would like to point out that Two Sides focuses on facts which are pertinent to the countries it operates in, such as the US, the UK, Australia and many in the European Union. We recognize the issues in certain areas of the world, including poor forestry practices, illegal logging and loss of habitat. However, the companies responsible are not Two Sides members and we do not currently operate in these countries. As with all products, including electronics, there is wide range of environmental practices across the globe. However, we believe that when produced and used responsibly, paper can be a very sustainable way to communicate. This means sustainable forest management, good performance of pulp and paper mills and responsible use of print media, including promoting paper recovery and recycling.

  4. Most of us find value in integrating electronic documents with our print communications. The printing industry does not promote cessation of digital communications in order to promote our printing services. Instead, we integrate to create an effective, cross-channel communications offering. Where these digital companies are running afoul is not in the encouraging of eliminating waste, but in a greenwashed marketing campaign that perpetuates the myth that paper is destroying the earth’s resources. Wouldn’t the public and the environment be better served if the paper/printing industry and industries like Google worked together to simply encourage offices to reduce waste without giving the false impression that the paper industry destroys the environment?

  5. Maybe we should have a “Do Not Use Electricty Day” which consumes more energy and is more destructive to our Environment than paper ever will. So let’s all shut off our computers!!!! Google stick to your search engine platform and leave paper that you know nothing about to the paper industry!

  6. Hi Environmental Leader, I have to say that I 100% support any robust discussion that not only makes us think about the environment but encourage us to take action. I’m in business and also support proactive moves in creating positive outcomes that help to produce an environmentally friendly and sustainable business mode will assist in creating a better future for both ourselves but more so for our future generations. I have to agree with others that at the moment it seems it is difficult balancing the world’s delicate economy and the even-more delicate environment with no easy solutions it appears in immediate sight.
    However, I am disappointed in what seems to be to be an article that seems to me is skewed towards supporting Google’s and other “online” providers “Paperless 2013 Campaign”.
    In my opinion Google and others are at least a bit of a pot calling the kettle black.
    I am certainly not advocating that the paper and print industry does not have it’s challenges and does need to continually look for opportunities to become truly green with both production and recycling with at least a truly zero environment impact. However I was doing a spring clean a few weeks ago of our home, the shed and the yard and I had to go to the tip as a result, my green waste had a recycling section, my cardboard and paper products had a recycling section, but my e-waste went to land fill in this particular tip? Anyone seen the movie Wall-E? Is this animated movie a crystal ball into the future! I know solutions are being worked on, but I don’t think at this stage the electronics / online world is on par with the paper and print industry.
    How about Google and other “online” solution providers before throwing stones in a glass house be good world citizens and sort out their own backyards first and start practicing what they preach, by both investing in and working on truly sustainable solutions for their own and third party products and services required to use theirs because becoming a paperless office or even popping solar panels on the roof if they choose to does not cut it! How about they work on sustainable ways for producing and reducing Ewaste and also educating the public and their consumers about the challenges of e-waste and how we can deal with it responsibly.

  7. I’ve re read the article and I must admit while there is nothing really specific I think with presenting and the questioning of two sides arguments with what seems not equally challenging the go paperless campaign is rightfully or wrongfully why I felt it is skewed

    • I appreciate your comment, but it doesn’t really stack up for me. I gave Two Sides plenty of space to explain why they think Google is greenwashing – in fact, if you count it up, there’s far more words devoted to that then there are of me questioning Two Sides.

  8. i appreciate the feedback and it is fair. I guess personal interpretation by the reader is one of the challenges of blogs and email, being new to blogging and article writing I’m certainly appreciating the challenge of getting across clearly and concise as possible to all and what’s more to communicate appropriate tones and emotion, which I am learning myself.

    That aside, please keep up the great work, while I am new to your site, I love what you do. I will have a good look, but do you have an article / post regarding supporting or debunking the merits of the Paperless argument and that electronic is greener?

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