Johnson's World: Trees Love Paper

It’s up to us to tell the world the truth about the sustainability of paper and print

November 1, 2012

It is an election year, in case you haven’t noticed. If you are like most enthusiastic Johnson’s World readers, you seize the latest issue of Quick Printing magazine as soon as it arrives, immediately turn to the back page and devour the wit, wisdom, and eloquence of yours truly. That means that you are reading this story at the beginning of the month, and elections are only a few days away.

If Johnson’s World isn’t central to your life, you may be reading this after the presidential elections have passed.

Either way, I’ll bet you (and everyone else in the United States) are thoroughly fed up with the election rhetoric of name calling, sound bites, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.

One thing you probably aren’t tired of is issues. Real issues that will decide the future of our republic have scarcely been discussed. The candidates of our two major political parties avoid issues like the plague.

Break it Down

An intelligent discourse would mean identifying hard choices and taking stands that might alienate a portion of the electorate. It would mean goring sacred cows rather than milking them. It would mean exposing conventional wisdom as foolishness and showing political correctness to be incorrect.

The public doesn’t want to make hard choices, and they don’t want their oxen gored. They certainly don’t wish to be disabused of any cherished mistaken notions. Our mainstream politicians know this. The polls tell them so.

For this reason, the environmental advantages of print on paper as a medium of information exchange haven’t been addressed by this year’s candidates. A pity it is, for rarely has a subject been so mired in misconception.

Since Messrs. Romney and Obama have cravenly ducked this issue, it is up to you and me to enlighten the public.

Consider the following facts, which we all know to be true, but are lost on the public at large:

• 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.

Spread the Good Word

In short, everyone agrees trees are good, but few believe printing is good for trees.

How to educate the public? My opening paragraphs were satire; I do not for a minute think that politicians will begin to champion print. How about scientists? Nope. They, like politicians, shun controversy.

It is up to us. Making speeches won’t help and neither will abrasive tweets and postings. We must spread the word one person at a time, gently enlightening our friends and neighbors whenever we hear them make “tree killing” remarks.

Nathaniel Grant, CEO of G A M Printers in Sterling, VA, includes this text in 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 to us as new paper or cardboard.”

Clever, concise, friendly, inoffensive. Potentially viral, because it is contained in every email he sends. Provocative, because it appears precisely in a place where the opposite message is often conveyed.

Good job, Nathaniel. Now what will you do today to move this issue into the public eye?

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at