Google slammed over Paperless in 2013 campaign

Google has come under pressure from print industry advocacy group Two Sides and the Printing Industries of America (PIA) after the search engine giant signed up to the Go Paperless in 2013 campaign.

12 Jan 2013 | By

In an open letter to Google chief executive Larry Page and chairman Eric Schmidt, PIA president and chief executive Michael Makin wrote: "We all must do our part to respect the environment, but pitting one segment of the communications spectrum against another is not the right way to achieve this goal.

"How would your company feel if the almost one million direct workers in the printing industry encouraged their families and friends to go "Google-Less" in 2013? This is something to consider given that 67% of online searches are actually driven by offline messages."

Two Sides UK director Martyn Eustace and Phil Riebel, president of Two Side US, also penned a letter to Schmidt, noting: "While the products and services delivered by Google are to be admired, this new initiative is clearly another example of a self-interested organisation using an environmentally focused marketing campaign to promote its services while ignoring its own impact upon the environment."

The Two Sides letter - and press release - went on to catalog the negative environmental impact of Google’s business, including that the search giant uses 2.3bn kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power 207,000 US homes for 12 months, or about 41 Empire State Buildings.

Though the letters singled out Google, it is only one member of the Paperless Coalition, which is made up of companies such as Xero, Manilla, Expensify and Fujitsu's ScanSnap line, and sponsors such as email marketing software provider Constant Contact - all of which have stake in moving everything from billing to expense reports away from paper.

"My sense is, the appeal of the campaign is aimed primarily at the small office/home office getting them to not print out their emails," Makin told PrintWeek in an interview. "But when you look at the partners, it’s rather conspiratorial in the way that all of the players have a vested interest in non-paper offices, not because it’s good for the environment, because it’s best for their business."

Makin conceded that the commercial printing and paper industries faces a bit of an uphill fight because people don’t really think about the environmental impact of all the electronic devices they use.

"The environmental lobby has done a very good job with the message that if you chop down a tree and you’re in the printing industry you’re hurting the environment," he explained. "So it’s a huge challenge, but that’s why we have to continue to speak out and use the (PIA) Value of Print campaign to dispel many of these myths that are out there."

Riebel told PrintWeek that much of the Two Sides efforts are spent making sure opponents of the use of paper are factual in their claims. "We often let them know they are not respecting marketing guidelines and that they should remove many of the environmental claims around going paperless because those are not substantiated and are based on perception," he added.

Two Sides US and the PIA did have one highly visible success last year when Toshiba USA backed away from a planned National No Print Day after hearing from both groups. Riebel said Two Sides US has spent much of the latter half of 2012 educating banks, utilities and telecoms on the need to be factual when trying to urge their consumers to switch to paperless billing.

"From my side we’ve had five companies make changes to their messaging and I’ve got a lot of discussions underway with banks that are interested in talking to us," he added. "Many of them are unaware that they are upsetting people in our industry - as well as not respecting marketing guidelines. Overall it’s going well but we also know it’s going to be a slow process because it takes a while to deal with these large corporations."


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