Two Sides has highlighted unsubstantiated environmental claims at local authorities and challenged the government to enforce compliance.
In an analysis of local councils, using a random sample of 100, the print and paper advocacy group found that 42% used messaging that claimed printed matter and paper was unsustainable or harmful to forests.
Two Sides' campaigning has already persuaded 335 corporations to remove misleading greenwashing statements, following member complaints. It now hopes to replicate that success at the local public sector level.
Last Tuesday (19 Febraury), Two Sides sent a letter to James Brokenshire, secretary of state of housing, communities and local government, signed by figures in the print industry representing more than 16,000 individuals, requesting a meeting with Brokenshire and his colleagues in the Local Government Association, including chief executive Mark Lloyd, to discuss the detrimental impact of local authority greenwash.
“When government organisations want to appear sustainable, print and paper communications can often be seen as low-hanging fruit,” said Two Sides country manager Greg Selfe. “This feeds into a lot of misconceptions that then find their way into the mainstream media and the general public.
“Often these messages are subliminal, like a note on an email signature asking someone not to print it out or encouragement for residents to sign up for electronic billing on council websites.
“Councils are free to encourage digital communication on the basis of cost or convenience, but to use green justification with no evidence is unacceptable and against Defra’s own rules.”
He added: “We simply encourage authorities to give people an informed choice as many may prefer digital, but we found as many as 58% of residents prefer to receive communications about things like council tax on paper.”
Two Sides named three dates in March on which its representatives would be available to meet with Brokenshire and now awaits his response.
One key misconception Selfe highlighted was that 65% of consumers believe European forests have shrunk in recent years, though in reality they grew by an area the size of Switzerland from 2005-2015.
With such misconceptions feeding back into how consumers engage with printed media, Two Sides has urged the government to meet and discuss how the narrative can be changed to preserve the stability of the £13.8bn-turnover UK print industry.
KMS Litho account manager Natalie Tillman, who signed the petition on behalf of her Banbury-based company, said: “This campaign is about making people aware that print is not the devil. We have seen a lot of people cut back on the amount of print work they order because of these incorrect assumptions – print is much more than just throwaway items.”
Fellow signatory and Ellesemere Port-based Bell Graphics managing director Steve Bell said: “I believe strongly that people’s assumption that eliminating paper is a fix for the environment is wrong – I believe many companies use it as an excuse when they are trying to save costs.”
Woking-based Optichrome office and marketing manager Vicky Stead, who also signed, said: “We agree with all the things stated in the Two Sides campaign. This is about sustainability, which paper and print are much better for than people think. We are printers and we want to promote print and paper, of course.”
Some of the claims reported by Two Sides
- “The paperless billing system… is better for the environment and saves money on postage and paper.”
Birmingham City Council (1,137,100 residents)
- “E-Billing is the fast, efficient, environmentally friendly way to receive your bills.”
Liverpool City Council (491,500 residents)
- “E-bills are more environmentally friendly as there is no paper or printing.”
Cardiff Council (362,756 residents)