Two Sides Study Reveals Why ‘Go Paperless—Save Trees’ Slogans Are Misleading
Two Sides North America has released a new study outlining key facts on why 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 was conducted by Dovetail Partners, an environmental think-tank specializing in forestry research and analysis.
“This study is another example of why slogans such as ‘go paperless—save trees’ or ‘go green—go paperless’ are not only misleading, but false. Over the past 60 years, the number of trees on managed U.S. forest lands has been increasing considerably due to responsible forestry practices. Wood is a valuable renewable resource that we are taking care of,” explained Phil Riebel, president of Two Sides North America.
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.
Private forest ownership and stable paper markets create a synergy that has long yielded tens of thousands of jobs, rural income and strong incentives for continued investment in forests for the near and long term. However, if efforts to reduce wood markets succeed over an extended period, the result would likely be loss of forest lands rather than the reverse.
Summarizing the research results, Dr. Jim Bowyer, lead author of the Dovetail study, stated:
A common and simplistic, yet erroneous view, is that using less paper will lead to more trees across the landscape. Just as eating fewer apples will result in fewer rather than more apple trees, decreased consumption of wood products will not yield more trees and forests. Similarly, claims that using ‘tree-free’ paper made from other fibers (ex: recycled fiber, wheat, sugarcane) will ‘save trees’ are equally misleading. The development of markets for wood is essential to maintain forest lands as forest for the long term. Meanwhile, the time has come for serious reconsideration of the erroneous ‘save paper-save trees’ movement.
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 in North America.
North American 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, 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 our nation’s 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.
Even in the face of generally declining paper consumption, harvesting of trees for forest products is stable or increasing in key paper producing regions.
Some key facts from the study, include:
- The reality is that the greatest incentive for continued investment and retention of our nation’s forests is a stable market for paper and other wood products.
- 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. Avoiding use of paper may well result in significant loss of forest land.
- Annual removals of wood in the U.S. as a whole are less than half of annual net growth. In other words, each year forests of the United States grow more than twice as much wood as is harvested or otherwise removed.
- [In the Southern United States,] forest landowners have embraced the emergence of a growing bioenergy industry that produces fuel pellets from wood. The new industry is producing fuel pellets largely to serve an export market that is seeking lower carbon production of energy supplies. The new bioenergy industry is currently consuming a quantity of wood equivalent to about 16 percent of that going into pulp and paper production, up from 0 percent in 2008.
- The experience in the Southern U.S. is not unique. For instance, in Northern New Brunswick, Canada there has been a major decline in paper production and use of pulpwood for papermaking due to the closure of three large mills over the past decade. However, harvesting rates on Crown Land have remained the same or increased due to several factors: sawmills are accepting lower diameter logs which would have typically gone into pulp; trees are now going into other markets such as sulfite pulp for textiles. Most of this pulp is shipped to India. Two of the mills in Northern NB are now under partial or full ownership by Indian companies; pulpwood sized logs are being used to manufacture oriented strandboard (OSB) and pellets for energy, with an increase in volumes forecasted for the pellet market.
- In Minnesota, the closure of several paper and oriented strandboard mills has led to divestiture of large blocks of forest land long held by the Potlatch Corp. Several thousand acres of that land were recently cleared of trees and converted to intensive agriculture, including potato production.
About Two Sides
Two Sides is a global initiative by companies from the Graphic Communications Industry including forestry, pulp, paper, inks and chemicals, prepress, press, finishing, publishing, printing, envelopes and postal operators. Its common goal is to promote the sustainability and attractiveness of the graphic communications Industry and dispel common environmental misconceptions by providing users with verifiable information on why print and paper is an attractive, practical and sustainable communications medium.
About Dovetail Partners
Dovetail is a highly skilled team that fosters sustainability and responsible behaviors by providing authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use and policy alternatives, and collaborating to develop unique concepts, systems, models and programs. Dovetail also works to help responsible firms become more successful and to help regions define programs that increase the job creation and the job quality of resource-based industries.