Local councils, generally pillars of guidance in communities, have been doing print a disservice. Analysing a random sample of 100 UK councils, print and paper advocacy group Two Sides found that 42% used messaging that claimed printed matter and paper was unsustainable or harmful to forests. This harmful “greenwashing” discourages office printing, moves people away from mail communication and leads to falls in print volumes.
Last month, Two Sides managing director Jonathan Tame wrote to James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, appealing to meet and discuss how the misleading messages from local and central government “explicitly contradict with almost all of Defra’s guidelines on making environmental claims and endanger tens of thousands of jobs in an industry that is a significant contributor to the UK economy”.
In his letter, signed by organisations representing 14,000 industry employees, Tame offered a handful of dates when he could meet with Brokenshire or his colleagues in the Local Government Association (LGA). As of last week, nothing had been heard.
Tandy Wakeford, Two Side’s events and membership manager, says: “Attempts to contact both James Brokenshire and [Parliamentary under-secretary] Rishi Sunak have been difficult, as the phone numbers default to an answering machine. Messages have been left for each of them. We have had an email address confirmed for James Brokenshire, and have sent copies of the letter and press release to this address twice.”
Going forward, Wakeford commits herself to following up with the LGA, Brokenshire and Sunak. Further, she plans to write to each offending council in the sample requesting they change or remove their websites’ greenwashing statements.
Claims by local councils, and many other public and private organisations, have clout. Greenwashing statements can easily leak into public consciousness. A recent segment on BBC World Service’s Newsday online radio programme entitled ‘Why are we flushing forests down the toilet?’ railed against loo roll as a blight on our green earth.
Two million people living within the local authorities of Birmingham, Liverpool and Cardiff city councils have been confirmed by Two Sides to be vulnerable to calls to move to electronic billing systems as “environmentally-friendly” alternatives to post.
One concern among printers is that councils are masking cost-saving measures with pretences of eco-activism – cutting paper budgets to ease cashflow but claiming altruism.
“There is so much negative campaigning where people want to save money and use environmental impact as an excuse,” says Chris Goslar, managing director of eco-advocating print operation Conservatree in Reading, a co-signatory of the letter to Brokenshire.
“Paper is renewable and still one of the best ways to communicate. The public is being misinformed and we want to help Two Sides pioneer the message that it is simply not the case. We have had suppliers switch to electronic invoicing and it just makes things more difficult with passwords, downloads and things getting lost in cyberspace.
“From a client point of view, people who are not aware of the process behind paper manufacturing and recycling will choose to reduce run lengths as they have been misinformed that storing something on a disc is greener that printing.”
Order reductions hang forebodingly over printers across the UK due to the disingenuous nature of greenwash, but pioneering printers who put their green credentials front-and-centre can push back against the tide.
Rochester-based 24 Hour Printline managing director Amy Browne, another co-signee, has managed to pull customers considering going paperless back from the cliff edge with her company’s focus on green messaging and scientific fact on what print really means for the planet.
“Print is not wasteful, and the digital footprint is far worse,” she says. “We had a couple of customers about five years back who printed a lot of NCR pads and internal newsletters with us who said they were going paperless. This was five years ago, but they are still now getting their print from us – in fact, orders have probably increased.
“The message that Two Sides is putting out is just one you have to keep hammering home. There is so much nonsense out there about ink on paper and obviously if you want to get the message to people, you have to go high-profile – there isn’t much more high-profile than government.”
She adds: “So many printers are going under and we have to pull ourselves up. I find that customers like engaging with printers that are open about being environmentally friendly.”