Killing the paper industry off with a greener message - ICT Part II

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Killing the paper industry off with a greener message - ICT Part II

May 24, 2010 - 01:22
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LONDON, May 24, 2010 (RISI) -Well, it looks like we have stepped on a hornets' nest. Part I in the series ofInformation Communication Technology (ICT) and its effect on the paper industryhas created a lot of dialogue - the hits on the RISI website went into the 1000s, and are still mounting, and the topic is being discussed on business media sites all around the world. Which all goes to prove that even we in the paper industry are using ICT to its full potential!

We had some educated responses and messages in relation to the article from all over the globe. Philip Lawrence, environmental and business strategist, and head of Ecostrategy based in Australia, says of email versus post: "There are sections of all industry that can be replaced by new methods, despite worries about what is more environmentally friendly or not." Quoting from Professor Anthony Gidders "Structuration Theory", Lawrence applies an example to the debate: "Over time there is a compression in time. For example at a point in time it would take about two years to walk across the US, then by horse it would take a few months, by train a couple of weeks, by plane less than a day and in with faster planes just hours. Given the choice modern society will opt for less time to complete tasks. Time is money. A paper letter takes days to deliver, an email can be seconds."

A mountain of research work ahead

But it is true to say that if the paper industry is going to have a voice in the environmental debate, then there is going to have to be a mountain of work carried out on the research front. Another comment the article evoked was from Laurel Brunner, consultant to the global printing industry and managing director of Digital Dots: Brunner says: "Such comparisons (between paper and ICT) require very specific system boundaries and need data that may not yet exist. What data is available is often funded by people with vested interests and so may lack credibility, no matter how sound the work. Independent analysis and data are hard to come by, so ground up research is needed. This adds to the time and complexity of such a project."

"In considering environmental impacts, it's very easy to overlook the social role of media, particularly as drivers for growth and development", continues Brunner. "Is digital media more or less effective, given the overall cost of content delivery (platform, infrastructure, energy access), than paper based media? Which media has the greatest potential for direct change in developing economies?" Lawrence also re-enters the debate at this point, and poses more questions as to whether print on paper is a still the great educator: "In regards to the wider printing industry I think there are strong positive arguments. There is continuous global concern about literacy, and in particular declining literacy levels in the developed world. I think it is an area that needs exploration, why has the decline in literacy in the developed world followed an uptake of the internet in society? Will faster networks only make this problem worse?

Meanwhile, some very proactive, and even aggressive work is being carried out by two pro paper campaigns, one in Europe and one in Australia.Two Sidesis scanning the emails of major consumer companies in Europe, looking for the ‘Save the environment, don't print this email' type messages. When found, these companies are being asked to account for the messages, and soundly told that they are breaking advertising standards rules as they cannot provide truth in their messages. Martyn Eustace, head of Two Sides says: "The fact is, these companies cannot prove that what they are saying to the consumers is true and therefore they must be brought to task, they are damaging the industry."

In the case of the Australianpaper - part of every daycampaign, companies are also being contacted, particularly those that are encouraging their customers to view their bills online and using the environment as an excuse. The campaign is warning those companies about the pitfalls and dangers of greenwashing and putting them right about sustainability and the environment in paper production and usage.

More discussions and more debates

These discussions, debates and affirmative action are going to be an important one for the future of the pulp and paper industry, and in particular how it is perceived by the general public from an environmental angle. Meanwhile, ICT, in the form of e-readers and e-book publishing, as well as for reading newspapers and magazines, is already becoming a hot topic in the mainstream media. This weekend saw an article in the Observer newspaper in the UK posing the question of just how manyApple iPads will be boughtin the UK (it is estimated somewhere between 1 and 3.6 million), and that the popular little device won't necessarily save the newspaper industry.

Clearly, this particular debate, whether in be environmental, speed, ease of use, or cost, will run and run and we will be keeping up with the pace with regular updates and feedback on ICT and the pulp and paper industry as part of an ongoing series. Your contribution would be most welcome: contact Mark Rushton atmrushton@risi.com