Print Marketing and the Environment: Dispelling the Myths

It’s fairly common place to hear companies and individuals talk about how they want to reduce their carbon footprint through a reduction in paper, which has led many to believe that the printing industry is not environmentally friendly, as a Glasgow printing company we’ve decided to take it upon ourselves to dispel that myth. The argument of this myth usually follows the idea that the solution to deforestation and carbon emissions caused by paper production is to go digital and 100% paperless, however after conducting a quick bit of research we can see that this argument does not match up to the facts. The electronic devices that we use as alternatives for paper actually carry quite a significant carbon footprint and in many instances lead to deforestation themselves. Production of electronic devices is at an alarming rate as products are bought and then thrown away when the latest device is available. It’s not just the production of electronic devices that carries a high environmental impact, the running of digital devices is rarely green as a result of both the electricity and internet used. The printing industry is revolutionising its production process using sustainable resources and reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted.

The visibility of print marketing waste can lead many to believe that the industry has a wasteful culture, for example on our daily walk around town we can often see posters and leaflets littering the floor and filling up the bins. However the vast majority of print marketing is reusable and recyclable, Banners for example are created once and reused on several instances, whilst business cards are very small for the massive marketing impact that they have. We also have to remember that paper is not a finite resource and can be reproduced by planting more trees, which is exactly what the print industry does. Mark Pitts the executive director of American Forest and Paper Association (AFANPA) stated that, “the paper-making process is sustainable, and claims to the contrary are misleading to the consumer,” According to AFANDPA 65% of the US’s paper is recycled. Quite often it’s financial considerations that are driving businesses to pledge to go paperless, the process of filling as well of the cost of paper can add up it is estimated to cost in the region of $25,000 (£17,500) to fill a four-draw filing cabinet for a year and $2000 to maintain it. However companies stating that they are going paperless for the sake of the environment rather than money receive far better PR, which in turn fuels the belief that paper is environmentally unfriendly.  The paper manufacturing industry often work with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programmer for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) to ensure that print material originates from sustainable forest sources.

The process of creating paper does use a fair amount of electricity and thus does carry a carbon footprint however the printing process is constantly innovating to become more efficient and thus becoming more environmentally friendly. The use of vegetable-based inks, recycling materials and using cleaner energy are among the many ways that the printing industry is trying to innovate to create a greener industry. Whilst the digital industry sources a large proportion of its electricity from coal-fired power plants which leaves behind a hefty carbon footprint as well as contributing to deforestation and biodiversity loss. Going paperless is not the solution to an environmentally sustainable world,  the print and paper making industry as well as the digital industry needs to move beyond using outdated methods of forest fuel based energy along with wasteful and inefficient production methods creating a greener and sustainable printing process.

Contrary to popular belief print media actually helps produce more trees and prevent forests from development projects. Printing companies realise that if they continue to cut down trees for paper production eventually they’ll run out of therefore many printing companies plant more trees in order to ensure that the continuity of their paper production. The planting of trees means that more oxygen is produced to combat the effects of global warming, which previously would not have existed. When we talk about deforestation quite often it is the result of fossil fuels, development projects or illegal logging as frequently the case in the Amazon rainforest. However, when we turn our attention to the deforestation caused by fossil fuels there is seldom a commit to plant more trees from energy and digital companies to offset the trees they have destroyed. This is made apparent by the startling fact that mountaintop-removal coal mining in has led to the destruction of over 600 square miles of forest in the US.

The environmental impact of the printing industry is highly visible when homes and businesses are filled with paper its important to remember that paper is both recyclable and biodegradable. The environmental impact of digital technologies however is less visible companies frequently destroy products that are no longer financially viable, consumers buy an updated version of their device every couple of years usually disregarding older devices and leading to the production of more environmentally unfriendly devices.  According to a UNEP report global e-waste is growing by about 40 million tons each year.

Both the digital and print industry can have environmental impacts as can anything that we do in our lives however rather than looking at reducing the amount we use we should move towards efficiency and renewable and sustainable resources. The drive for paperless businesses is largely as a result of financially incentive rather than environmental, within the print marketing world there has been an increase in production as print marketing provides a source of revenue. For the reasons stated in this blog post it could be argued that the print industry is more environmentally friendly than the digital industry however the overarching problem for both the print and digital industry is the world’s addiction to fossil fuels and its slow up-take of renewable energy.


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