Why Going Paperless Won’t Help the Forests

[responsive]savetrees[/responsive]Save trees, save the earth. It’s a rallying cry for good stewardship that has been usurped by the digital billing industry. And it’s doing a huge disservice to the forests they claim to help save through their greenwashing campaigns.

As Phil Riebel reports in Two Sides, “Going paperless will not save North American forests.”

From both an environmental and economic perspective, the current “go green, save trees” movement is choosing to ignore some critical facts, including the truth that forests in the US are actually growing thanks to sustainable forestry practices.

Rather than the devastating deforestation that converts forest land to other uses permanently, this sustainable foresting model actual saves forests, which in turns provides incentives for landowners to stay in the forestry business.

“As paper use declines in mature markets such as North America, there may be temporary decreases in wood harvesting in some regions, until markets recover or new markets develop.  These economic slow-downs are not necessarily good for privately owned forests since forest owners lose income and may sell their forest land,” notes Riebel.

And while paper is made from wood, only a little more than a third of it comes directly from trees harvested specifically for that purpose. Most of the wood for our U.S. paper industry comes from recycled paper products and sawmill scrap.

“Only 36% of the U.S. roundwood harvest (trees) is used each year in manufacturing paper and paperboard,” Riebel cites. “The main product made from trees harvested in the U.S. and Canada is lumber and it is the sawmill chips (by-products of the lumber process) that are a key raw material for pulp manufacture and eventually papermaking.”

According to Riebel, protecting our forests begins with providing economic incentives, through sustainable forestry, for landowners to stay in the forestry industry.

That’s some heavy food for thought, and some good information to know when facing pressure to “go digital.” Factor in the tremendous environmental footprint of the digital movement and the greenwashing debate falls flat. Conservation comes in many guises, from sustainable forestry and paper-making to rethinking our digital consumption. Simply “saving the trees” is not the answer.