Go Paperless, Save Trees — NOT SO FAST
We've been hearing about a paperless world for a couple of decades now. Actually, the first predictions for a paperless office were made in 1975. When the personal computer was invented in the 80’s, we began to hear a lot more of this, the idea being that computers would make paper documents unnecessary. People believed that “going paperless” would save money, boost productivity, save space, make documentation and information sharing easier, keep personal information more secure, and help the environment. But things didn't quite unfold that way. The explosion of computers actually led to an increase in the use of paper. That is finally beginning to change but it’s taken a long time.
There’s no denying the efficiencies of electronic storage and distribution of information — after all, this newsletter has never been printed and mailed in its ten years of existence, despite the fact that APTCO is a printing company. But the common environmental claims don’t necessarily hold water. A new study has been released this year outlining key facts on why many paperless initiatives do not save trees. Findings point to mounting evidence that loss of markets for paper and other wood products, a large portion of which are produced from wood harvested on privately-owned land, increases the risk of forest loss. The study reveals that over the past 60 years, the number of trees on managed U.S. forest lands has been increasing considerably due to responsible forestry practices. As a valuable renewable resource, wood is very well taken care of.
- Key facts from the study show that, even in a declining market for printing and writing paper:
- Using less paper does not mean that wood harvesting will be reduced.
- Similar or rising volumes of wood are being harvested in key forest regions of North America for other uses including lumber, fuel pellets and pulp for use in production of packaging, tissues and textiles.
- The market focus is likely to shift to other opportunities besides paper given the broad utility of wood, global needs for raw materials and incentives of many forest owners to derive income from their lands.
The concept of avoiding use of paper in order to save trees may seem logical and has been adopted by many. The reality, however, is that avoiding use of paper may well result in significant loss of forest land. Forests are a global resource, providing critical, renewable raw materials for a variety of societal needs. Large areas of these forests, including those in the southern region of the U.S., are managed by millions of individual landowners, many of whom rely on their forests for periodic income. Absent a market for wood from pulp and paper manufacturers, significant numbers of landowners will turn to different markets or perhaps reduce investments in tree planting. Should markets for wood simply dry up, then there is a very real likelihood of land conversion to other uses such as urban development or agriculture. The risk of forest loss in the absence of wood markets is reflected in trends for the world as a whole, which show that regions with the highest levels of industrial timber harvest and forest products output also tend to be the regions with the lowest rates of deforestation. The reality is that the greatest incentive for continued investment and retention of forests is a stable market for paper and other wood products.
It is important to understand that forest resources are used for many different products in addition to paper. For example, in the Southern United States, forest landowners have embraced the emergence of a growing bioenergy industry that produces fuel pellets from wood. The new bioenergy industry currently is consuming a quantity of wood equivalent to about 16 percent of that going into pulp and paper production, up from 0 percent in 2008. In New Brunswick, Canada there has been a major decline in paper production and use of pulpwood for papermaking due to mill closures over the past decade. However, harvesting rates on Crown Land have remained the same or increased due to the acceptance by sawmills of smaller diameter logs which would have typically gone into pulp, and the emergence of new markets for sulfite pulp used in making textiles and for pulpwood-sized logs used to manufacture energy pellets.