Surely you’ve seen this message, or something similar, in your inbox. Usually it’s tucked in under the signature block from well meaning folks. There’s actually a whole organization (thinkbeforeprinting.org) dedicated to increasing awareness and reminding folks that wasting paper, ink and toner doesn’t make economic or environmental sense. They are not opposed to the printing of e-mails, they just want folks to think before they print. Mostly I can get behind this concept, as I’ve seen my share of blank “page 2 of 2.”
Yet, this guilt laced directive, to think before printing, may be missing the point. Or at least missing another perspective on the topic.
A column hit my inbox recently (Johnson’s World: Trees Love Paper) that caused me to seriously reconsider the issue. After a bit of satire on our recent national elections, Mr. Johnson went on to make several points about paper in his column;
- Paper is carbon locking, meaning that paper retains carbon dioxide, just as if it were still a tree.
- The paper industry plants more trees than it harvests. Without paper, there would be fewer trees.
- No virgin forests are used for papermaking.
- Only one-third of paper is made from cutting trees. Another third is made from sawmill waste, and another third from recycled paper.
- The manufacture and use of computers, e-readers, and mobile devices is damaging to the environment. Ditto for the Internet and cloud computing, which rely upon vast arrays of power-gulping servers.
The last entry is the real kicker. Think about the rare earth minerals, heavy metals, petrochemicals, and other stuff that must be on some EPA list somewhere that abound in the computers and the digital devices we print from. What exactly was my concept of waste? I do think it wasteful to print out pages of information I know I will never refer back to. But I’m not out to save another tree from the paper mill. As a veteran of the printing industry, I know that the paper industry is ever mindful of its resources and manages its “cash crop” just as any other farmer seeking a fruitful future would. There is even an organization promoting this effort; PrintGrowsTrees.org.
So, what’s worse for the earth? I’m inclined to say the device you are reading this blog entry on!
Mr Johnson further writes about a Mr. Nathaniel Grant, CEO of G A M Printers in Sterling, VA, who includes the following statement with his email signature:
It is okay to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of men and women, and working forests are good for the environment, providing clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, and carbon storage. When you don’t need it anymore, be sure to put it in a bin designated for recycling and it will come back as new paper or cardboard.
As with most issues in life, it all depends on your prospective.
Now go ahead, print out this blog entry, pass it along and then recycle…