Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Clearing up print misconceptions

I try to run a paperless office. My to-do lists are all paperless since I work with those lists on software I can call up on my computer, tablet or iPod. (I’d hate to go back to a paper organizer.) I do a lot of document review (and annotation) on my tablet and computer, which makes it easier to share my thoughts and corrections with other people. I don’t need to scan a paper copy in after scribbling notes in my near-illegible handwriting.

The topic of using less paper recurs in a technology column I write. I encourage people to scan documents into digital forms so they don’t have to deal with paper. Software like Adobe Acrobat lets me avoid paper entirely. There’s also no way I’m going to read articles at 425 words per minute on paper.

In business settings, whenever a process involves paper, it can probably be made more efficient. That said, I do sometimes print the stuff I write to review away from the screen. (Once I’m done with the document, into the recycling bin it goes.) I also journal every morning using a notebook and fountain pen, inspired by Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artist’s Way. I read both ebooks and actual books, enjoying them regardless of the medium. There’s something about working on paper instead of a computer screen that makes it a great change of environment.

I also mailed Christmas cards this year, and I like to occasionally send greeting cards by mail. Mail is so much less common these days that it gets people’s attention.

There’s even huge potential for paper manuals, provided they ship with great indices so you can quickly find the things you need. New cars still ship with paper manuals, for instance. There might also be potential for paper manuals for small electronic devices if properly designed.

And, of course, there’s one room in the house where paper rules.

The punchline in this video reminds people that paper is far from dead. It’s probably the most successful (and the funniest, I bet) argument for paper in an increasingly digital world.

That said, the paper industry has gone overboard trying to gain legitimacy in an increasingly digital world. Many of its efforts are nowhere near as effective as the video above.

For instance, this “paper and packaging” video tries to tug at  heartstrings, but the lack of realism in it makes it fall short.

The story begins with a kid throwing paper airplanes over a fence containing letters for his dad serving overseas. Really? The video begins with the kid reading a map to see where his dad is. Any kid knowledgeable enough to read a map, as this kid does at the beginning of the video, must also know how far paper airplanes fly. You really need to suspend disbelief or not have any ability for critical thinking for this video to have any emotional effect on you.

Here’s a “hard facts” video on the relative impacts of paper versus electronic communications.

The “market” seems to have judged this video harshly. It had garnered 5,600 views when I first watched it a year and a half after it was first posted on Youtube in 2014. That isn’t bad for a video that contains no explanations as to who produced it or what it’s about. All it says on the Youtube page is “environmental statements.”

It’s created by “apologists” for the paper industry ( “The world leading distributor of paper, packaging solutions and visual communication products for professionals” according to the web site) and it feels like that. For credibility, it cites a variety of other organizations towards the end.


I haven’t fact-checked its claims, some of which seem farfetched. (Sending 20 emails a day every day for a year creates as much CO2 as a 1,000 kilometre ride in a car? OK. I’ll take your word for that.) The data that went into these claims must be staggering in volume… perhaps staggering enough that few people will question the claims. (Or that so few people would watch the video in the first place.)

This video avoids certain apples-to-apples comparisons, maybe because they can’t be made. I also find it useless to discuss how much CO2 spam email causes – it’s not like I send it, ask for it or can do anything about it. The omissions in this video – particularly the advantages of electronic alternatives that I mentioned at the beginning of this post – are as obvious to me as what this video includes. For instance, the video noticeably avoids any calculation of CO2 released by the creation and delivery of junk mail – which I still get plenty of – that goes straight into recycling.

The paper industry isn’t as backwards as some would make it out to be. I know that. They sustain forests because those forests are the sources of their future revenues. And every wood product in existence (including paper) traps carbon for as long as it survives. These are just two facts that justify the existence of industries related to forestry. I just wish some of the stuff the industry publishes didn’t read like “reverse greenwashing.”

If I had to draw distinctions (and these are generalizations), I’d say:

  • paper-based processes are inefficient when used in business.
  • paper helps people take necessary breaks from computer screens.
  • paper-based advertising remains the most effective form of advertising.

A print company sales representative I play hockey with assures me of the third statement. Full disclosure: he sent me the links in this post, among others. (I sometimes wonder whether print advertising continues to succeed in part because nobody has created the equivalent of ad blocking software in the analog world – another point in favour of print.)

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to use paper in moderation. Journal. Print draft copies of your work. Send greeting cards. Read “dead-tree” books. Whatever else you do, don’t be the guy who condescendingly says “Emma” to people who like paper.