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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Envelopes, Paper and “Green Washing”

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 26, 2016 11:36:17 AM

At the end of my e mail signature is the line “Feel free to print this e mail. Paper is a renewable resource”.  More than a few people have commented on that and every comment has been in the “atta-boy” category.  Now admittedly, the audience for my business e mails, comprised overwhelmingly of people in the business of making and buying printed products on paper, is not exactly a representative sample of the general population.  But those of us in the envelope converting, direct mail printing, and paper and printing industries in general have been unfairly maligned over the past twenty years or so for doing something that is supposedly bad for the environment so it’s time for a little push-back.


The notion that not using paper somehow “saves a tree” has become a persistent canard.  The argument goes something like this:  paper pulp is made from wood which comes from trees. So, the less paper used, the fewer trees cut down. Now this is obviously true but like many simplistic and tendentious arguments, it omits many salient points. The most obvious omission is that trees are not a finite resource. When one is cut down, another seed can be planted.  If you own a paper company and your business relies on a regular supply of trees for wood pulp it’s in your interest to ensure that for every tree used, another one or more is growing to take its place.  And while trees can be beautiful and decorative and necessary for the ecosystem, they are also susceptible to disease and blight and will eventually rot and die on their own.  The financial incentive to grow and maintain healthy new tree stock for paper companies is a strong one.  It’s not a coincidence that forests owned by these companies are among the most productive and best managed on earth. You rarely if ever hear of wildfires affecting them.

The demand for paper in the marketplace ensures that these forests continue to flourish and are maintained for the purpose of growing trees.  If less paper is used, many of these wooded areas will be leveled for development of some other sort. So it’s not at all certain that by not using paper, you are “saving a tree”. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Have you ever heard anyone making an argument that not eating fruits and vegetables “saves” an apple or a tomato?  Neither have I. Doesn’t the same logic apply there?  We grow crops season after season in order to supply food to nourish our bodies. Some of this farmland was probably forest land before it was cleared to grow crops.  And yes, I understand that unlike food, paper use is somewhat discretionary. But paper plays an important role in our lives in education and commerce in general. 

And speaking of forest land, it’s a fact that there are more trees in the US today than there were a hundred years or so.  And a recent study estimated that there are over three trillion trees on earth which was a 750 per cent increase over previous best estimates.  Oops!

There is a certain positive social cachet associated with being seen as environmentally conscious.  Corporations eager to be seen in this light by customers have rushed to embrace green issues often as a justification for doing what’s in their financial interest.  Examples of this abound.  For years banks have been suggesting that their customers “go green” by getting their account statements sent on line.  Saying, “get your statements on line and help us reduce our costs and improve our bottom line” just doesn’t have the same impact.

The ubiquitous message below so many e mail signatures imploring us to not print the e mail is part of this desire to be with the spirit of the times.  I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment.  We shouldn’t print things for no reason. These days there are fewer reasons to print documents and printing something unnecessarily is a form of waste which should be avoided.  However, the premise underlying this message, as I’ve suggested, is not correct and perpetuating false information should also be avoided. 

One organization that’s taking it upon itself to correct these false impressions is Two Sides based out of Chicago.  Their website provides a trove of information on the topic of paper and the environment and is very useful in putting these matters in their proper context.  The President of Two Sides Phil Riebel will contact individuals and companies who use these messages in their PR and provide them with information that, in some cases, has changed minds.  As their name implies, Two Sides takes a light and logical approach to the debate which I believe is more effective in the long term.  No point in countering one heavy-handed message with another as emotionally satisfying as that might be.

Two sides brings to the argument balance which in all things, including nature, is essential.


Topics: direct mail, envelopes, going green, save a tree, paper and trees

Valuing Trees and Paper for Printing and Envelopes

Posted by Jerry Velona on Apr 1, 2013 11:23:00 AM

think before printing

One of the more regrettable messages we see frequently on e-mails is something along the lines of: “Think of the trees – please don’t print this e mail unless you have to”.  

My grandmother and mother, both of whom lived during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and 1940’s taught me not to waste... well, ANYTHING.  Once I got out of school and hit the playgrounds, backyards and streets of my suburban neighborhood, I don’t think I ever wore a pair of pants that didn’t have sewn-on patches till I was well into my teens (and then, I wore them by choice as it was cool to dress down but that’s a tale for another day).

One of Nanny’s favorite expressions was, “Use it up – wear it out – make it do – do without”.  This was a popular saying of the time as depicted in this World War II era poster. It was also adapted by a band called Odyssey in the 90’s for a title of one of their dance club hits (thanks Google!) .  

I think most of us would agree that conserving, reusing and, in general, consuming based on need and modest desire rather than unthinking whim are sound principles upon which to live one’s life.  So what are we to make of the whole “save a tree” thing?  Is it a legitimate expression of the sensible “waste not – want not” prudence I’ve described?  Or is it perhaps a knee-jerk appeal to the sentimental attachment that most of us feel toward trees for the ultimate purpose of promoting a dubious ideological agenda?

Chuck Leavell is one of the great pianists of the classic rock era. He was playing with the Allman Brothers at age twenty and went on to play with the Rolling Stones where he remains today.  According to his website Leavell is also a “respected authority on forestry and conservation”.  He owns a forest and has written several books on forestry and green issues.    

Aside from being a great musician (check out the rippin' piano solo on the Allman’s track “Southbound”) Leavell speaks in common sense terms about environmental issues. The fact that he uses the term “conservationist” rather than “environmentalist” to describe himself is telling. The former speaks to a prudent use and management of our resources. The latter too often reflects a hostility to man’s place in natural world not to mention a blithe rejection of the need for economic growth and prosperity to improve the lives of the many who still live in abject poverty and misery.

In an excellent short piece from a couple of years ago in the Wall Street Journal, (read it here ), Leavell and co-writer Carlton Owen make the point that unless there is a demand for wood products and paper, forests will in many cases die of insect infestation or simply be paved over for malls and other commercial developments.  Using paper, including printing e mails when required, helps create this demand which prompts paper companies to plant more trees and maintain healthy forests in order to protect their investments.

Leavell signs his e mails with the following:  “It's OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago."  That's not a bad message to repeat to our customers and prospects who may be seduced by the "save a tree" siren song.

So when you invite all your friends to your Arbor Day party (April 26th I’m told), feel free to print a bunch of cards and put them in envelopes and mail them to everyone you know. You’re doing something positive for trees on both accounts.

Topics: printing and envelopes, going green, save a tree, don't print this e mail

Yet Another Blog Post

From Jerry Velona - co-owner,

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Jerry offers pertinent, often useful information on envelope converting and printing, web printing, direct mail, the post office, songs that have to do with mail and letters, digital overload and much more!

(Non-spam) Comments always appreciated.  Spread it around!


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