‘Paper and print can be the most environmentally sustainable method of communication and is very attractive and efficient.’ This is one of the core messages from the organisation Print Power. “Unfortunately, misconceptions about paper are far too common, so Print Power has a hugely important task,” says Thomas Schimanowski, CEO of Papier Union GmbH and head of the steering group for Print Power Deutschland.
Print Power Deutschland: “We fight myths and misconceptions”
With over 80 million inhabitants and high living standards, Germany is one of Europe’s most important markets for printing paper. Germany is also a market where demand for ‘eco-friendly’ printing paper is more explicit than in many other countries.
Facts versus myths
High environmental standards are to be welcomed by serious paper producers, but in some cases the good intentions of environmental organisations can be off the mark. A campaign aimed at schools, for example, claimed that recovered paper is the best choice and that other papers should be avoided. One of the campaign’s slogans was that tigers, chimpanzees, hares, foxes and moose ‘love recovered paper’. Anyone who wants to protect the forest and the animals should therefore choose recovered paper, nothing else.
Through means such as campaigns, conferences and direct contact with opinion leaders and decision-makers, Print Power Deutschland attempts to correct this type of generalisation, as well as many other myths about paper and forestry.
“Public perceptions are coloured by the messages put out in the environmental organisations’ campaigns. Even among players in the market and among authorities and political decision-makers there are misconceptions about paper,” says Thomas Schimanowski.
‘CEOs Pro Recyclingpapier’ is another example of current campaigns which have had an influence on opinion in favour of recycled paper – and also against paper made of fresh fibre from the forest.
Myths about recovered paper
The belief that, for environmental reasons, we should only use recovered paper is one of the myths that Print Power is trying to shoot down. One way is to explain that paper fibre can be recycled only 5–7 times and that the ecocycle therefore has to be topped up with fresh fibre from the forest. Imports of fresh fibre-based paper from the heavily forested Nordic region are necessary to keep the European paper ecocycle going. The balance between fresh fibre and recovered fibre in Europe has already changed and lower imports of Nordic paper could make the situation more difficult.
Calls to use recovered paper are most vocal in the newsprint and magazine paper market, while such requirements are less common when it comes to fine paper, with the exception of office paper.
“The newspaper publishers and also the retail chains, which send out a great deal of direct mail, are particularly sensitive to public opinion. Even though they may not always agree with the arguments put forward, they want to avoid criticism from environmental organisations.
“In Germany the Print Power activities are a success. The strategy behind them is to convince key decision-makers about the various advantages print and paper can offer. In Europe’s key country, the touch and feel argument and the efficiency arguments are very important in promoting print and paper. We therefore conduct campaigns, carry out various PR initiatives and once a year we organise a respected nationwide event,” says Thomas Schimanowski.
Myths about forestry
The claim that making paper always destroys forests is another myth that Print Power and national pulp and paper federations are trying to dispel in Germany, and in the rest of Europe. The deforestation that is happening in the tropics, for example, cannot be compared with the situation in Europe. The main causes of the deforestation in the tropics are also activities that have nothing to do with paper manufacture. In fact, 90% of deforestation is caused by unsustainable agricultural practices*.
“Naturally, the destruction of tropical rainforest must be stopped. However, confusing sustainable forestry in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe with the way forests are treated in other parts of the world is regrettable. Europe’s forests are actually 30 per cent bigger now than they were in the 1950s.”
Myths about digital media
Another myth that Print Power Deutschland is trying to combat is that digital media are generally more eco-friendly. Digital media are, in fact, major energy consumers and electronic waste is a rapidly growing environmental problem.
“It’s a complex picture, and personally I feel we should try and take the best from both worlds. Exploiting the benefits of both digital and print media makes perfect sense.”
Optimistic after all
Print Power Deutschland’s work to tackle the myths about paper resolutely continues, but its initiatives struggle to compete with the campaigns of environmental and certification organisations.
Despite its limited resources, Thomas Schimanowski is optimistic about Print Power Deutschland’s ability to influence opinion.
“In our contact with companies, public agencies and political decision-makers, we’re noticing they’re taking on board the facts we present. Despite differing opinions on key issues, we also have a good dialogue with representatives of the environmental movement.”
Keen to make the public understand
On the question of what he most hopes Print Power’s work will achieve, his answer is clear.
“The vision is to also improve the general public’s knowledge and the decision-makers’ attitudes towards paper and forestry. If we could get consumers to understand what an important role paper can play in a sustainable society, that would be a major boost for our cause,” says Thomas Schimanowski.
*Underlying causes of deforestation, World Rainforest Movement; UN FAO