Save the earth – use paper!

You’ve seen the strident message  – “Go Green, Go Paperless!”, “Go Paperless, Save a Tree!”, and countless variations – in all kinds of advertising and on websites. But is this slogan an honest, scientifically based suggestion or is this a much more complicated issue?

The companies in the paper and printing industry got tired of the bad rap paper was getting in these messages and started an organization, Two Sides NA, to collect and disseminate some facts in defense of the use of paper.  They make a point to approach large companies that urge their customers to go paperless, confront them with the facts about the production and use of paper, and try to get them to change their anti-paper marketing.  They have been quite successful recently in getting companies to comply.

Since paper is made from trees does that mean that using paper destroys trees?  Or doesn’t it mean that thanks to the paper industry large portions of our planet are covered by forests, rather than the cornfields or shopping malls that would take up that land if the paper companies did not need it?  It is true that paper production requires some electricity but how much more electricity is required to run the digital devices and the data networks that the paperless alternative requires?  Isn’t paper one of the most recycled consumer products in the world, as opposed to computers and digital equipment?

What exactly are the motivations behind the paperless advocates?  Are the companies urging you to go paperless trying to save themselves the costs of printing and mailing invoices and statements or are they only worried about the planet?  Is Amazon trying to build their dominant position in the ebook market when they tell you how much greener it is to read an ebook instead of a print book?  Has anybody considered the serious cybercrime and security issues that we are faced with before urging us to do all our transactions online?

These issues are relevant to educators as well as to consumers.  How many school districts are pushing ebooks, a digital curriculum, online testing and all the elements of a virtual school, at least partially on the basis of environmental and cost saving benefits that might not exist?  Some studies are suggesting that there are cognitive, educational benefits to reading and writing on paper that are lost when a school goes high tech.  It is often assumed that today’s children are “digital natives” and prefer to do everything online.  But there are now studies being done that show this is not true and that even digital natives prefer reading on paper in many situations.

Go to to find the latest research, all kinds of information about how paper is produced and the benefits of paper vs. digital.  Of course, all the information is available in a printed format as well!