Green Haze: Google's Go Paperless Initiative Riled the Paper and Printing Industries. Will an Industry Leader Please Stand Up for Print, Now?

By Vruno, Mark | Editor & Publisher, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Green Haze: Google's Go Paperless Initiative Riled the Paper and Printing Industries. Will an Industry Leader Please Stand Up for Print, Now?


Vruno, Mark, Editor & Publisher


March Madness may be just tipping off in the NCAA, but in the printing industry, a technical foul has already been called against digital giant Google for its claims of environmental stewardship.

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To help promote its Drive cloud storage service, the online search behemoth--along with HelloFax and other digital companies aligning to form the Paperless Coalition--rang in the New Year by launching a campaign for users to "Go Paperless in 2013." The effort includes an online and social media presence, plus a monthly newsletter with tips for readers to reduce paper consumption. Although the campaign's primary target is corporate workplaces, the "Go Paperless" moniker, used in conjunction with claims that digital is environmentally preferable to paper (the original tagline read, "Save money. Save time. Save trees."), has many members of the print industry rightfully up in arms.

Why the outrage? For starters, some 1 million Americans count on the U.S. print industry for their paycheck each week, according to Michael Makin, president and chief executive officer of Printing Industries of America (PIA). On behalf of PIA's members, Makin wrote an open letter to Google chief executive officer Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Sehmidt, that read, in part: '"While we appreciate that it is in your best and self-interest to operate in a digital world, inferring that going digital is better for the environment is not only inaccurate, it is irresponsible. The amount of energy that is used by servers and individual devices far exceeds that used in the production of printed goods, and the amount of energy required for electronic devices is increasing."

Don Carli, senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communication in New York, points out that print and paper are also important components of North America's gross domestic product, contributing trillions of dollars to the economy.

U.K.-based print and paper coalition Two Sides was another first responder that crafted an open letter to Google's Schmidt. Two Sides is an initiative by companies from all areas of the graphics communications supply chain--forestry, pulp, paper, inks and chemicals, prepress, press, finishing, publishing, and printing--that promotes responsible production and use of print and paper, and dispels common environmental misconceptions. In its letter to Schmidt, Two Sides argued that: "While the products and services delivered by Google are to be admired, this new initiative is dearly another example of a self-interested organization using an environmentally focused marketing campaign to promote its services while ignoring its own impact upon the environment."

Choose Print, an initiative of PIASC (the Southern California PIA affiliate), issued a press release titled, "Saving time. Saving money. Saving trees?" that quoted Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. "To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less," Moore said. "Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to grow more trees and to produce more wood. That means we can then use less concrete, steel, and plastic--heavy carbon emitters through their production. Trees are the only abundant, biodegradable, and renewable global resource."

The Go Paperless campaign is neither the first of its kind--Toshiba's "National No-Print Day" was thwarted by print industry complaints just last year--nor is it Google's first attack. Last August, the search giant placed print ads in Canadian newspapers that questioned the very power of newspaper ads. The irony gets even better: Google's Creative Lab unit won a 2012 contest encouraging creativity in print advertising, and the grand prize of $1 million worth of full-page ad space in USA Today. Five years ago, Google was directing print advertisers to newspapers via Google Print Ads, a complement to its AdWords program, which cooperated with more than 250 U.

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