Huge Consumer Mistrust of “Greenwashing”

greenwashingPaper or digital? When it comes to consumer bills and statements, 65% of adult Americans prefer paper delivery for at least some of their bills and statements. (Source: EMA/InfoTrends, 2013).

“I am more likely to see it/less likely to miss it or forget to pay it” is a reason often cited, and the vast majority of consumers surveyed believe that paper bills and statements should continue to be provided for those who want them, according to InfoTrends research.

That in itself was not the most surprising fact to come out of’s recent webinar “The Preference for Paper.”

What might be more surprising is the number of American consumers who are skeptical and even downright distrustful of companies that claim they want to move their customers to digital bills and statements to save the environment.

In fact, according to Jim Hamilton of InfoTrends, main speaker at the event, 87% of adult Americans agree that “the main reason companies want to shift customers to electronic delivery formats is to save money, not to be environmentally responsible.”

This issue of “greenwashing” – the use of an exaggerated or misleading environmental theme to justify a business decision – has become such a problem that the FCC has gotten involved, and several big corporations have stepped back from their “go digital, save trees” claims.

Even if we don’t consider consumer preferences, there is a huge subset of the American population that does not have consistent access to the Internet or email. More than one in four households in the U.S. lack connectivity, for reasons that include age, work status, education level, geography and other factors.

Interestingly, while 80% of consumers say it is inappropriate for companies to cite environmentalism when it is not their real motive, more than half of them do agree that by moving customers to electronic delivery they are saving trees and other natural resources.

Not so, according to Two Sides, a group that has been studying the true costs of the paper vs. digital debate. They point to the sustainability of the paper industry as well as digital’s carbon footprint as two points that are often overlooked and misunderstood in the debate.

So back to the consumer preference for a moment: What is really driving the preference for print over digital bills and company communications?

According to Hamilton, it’s all about access, fairness, value and trust, qualities that have long been associated with the paper industry.

The webinar was enlightening, and’s Cary Sherburne and InfoTrends Jim Hamilton should be congratulated on a measured, fact-filled discussion on where consumers fall on this important issue for our industry.