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The Environmental Impact of Paper in an Ever Expanding Digital World

We all have a need to communicate – to share and consume information.  For marketing and advertising professionals it is no longer a choice of how to spread dollars between print, radio and TV.  The breadth of online options is simply staggering.  Meanwhile, sustainability-minded media buyers are juggling a myriad of additional factors – along with cost effectiveness, their choices reflect consideration of environmental and social impacts.

I have often been asked to compare the environmental impact paper vs other media choices; e.g. e-books, electronic greeting cards or online billing vs paper based options.  I have refused to embark on this type of comparative study for two basic reasons.

  • because nobody “wins” in this type of analysis
  • because nobody makes sound choices this way

In other words, no responsible CMO is going to care if an advertising campaign reduced water consumption or cut carbon emissions by 10% if half of the target audience didn’t receive the right message at the right time.   The key to a successful campaign is to get the media choices right (most often through multiple platforms)  and then design and execute responsibly within each channel.

Companies should buy and dispose of electronic equipment responsibly (tools like EPEAT can help).  Good strategies for information storage and retrieval can reduce server loads and the associated environmental impact associated with the use of electronics.

Similarly, when putting ink on paper, it is important to source, use and dispose of materials properly (consider using EPAT or other paper procurement guidelines).  Good list hygiene, right-sizing pieces and co-mailing can further reduce the environmental impact associated with printed materials.

It is time to stop pitting paper vs pixels and instead to focus on integrating media choices effectively.  The ultimate goal of communications is to deliver the right message to the right person in a means that can be absorbed.  Choose your channels for effectiveness and then design and implement with sustainability at top of mind.

Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology. Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability. Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development. This is reposted from The Environmental Quotient with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America. For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite. You can also follow @eQLauraThompson on Twitter.

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