Submitted by: The Two Sides Team February 26, 2019
An investigation by Two Sides has found over 40% of local councils to be using unsubstantiated and misleading environmental claims about printed communication.
Following an increasing number of individual “Greenwash” cases involving local councils being reported to Two Sides, an investigation was undertaken to identify the scale of misleading claims made by local government.
An analysis of a random sample of 100 local councils found 42 to be making unsubstantiated claims about printed communication being bad for the environment.
Misleading statements are being used by many of the UK’s largest councils:
- “The paperless billing system… is better for the environment and saves money on postage and paper.”
Birmingham City Council (1,137,100 residents)
- “E-Billing is the fast, efficient, environmentally friendly way to receive your bills.”
Liverpool City Council (491,500 residents)
- “E-bills are more environmentally friendly as there is no paper or printing.
Cardiff Council (362,756 residents)
Paper vs. Electronic Environmental Claims
As is worryingly common with many organisations within the finance, telecommunications and utility industries, local councils, in their never-ending pursuit to cut costs, have opted for the tactic of using fictitious ‘green’ claims, rather than highlighting the genuine benefit of electronic communication: cost-saving.
Ironically, these statements clearly conflict with the government’s own DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) principles for making environmental claims. The guidelines state that environmental claims should not be misleading, be clear and accurate and the data used to make the comparison should be objective and transparent.1
These misleading messages ignore the unique environmental attributes of paper and further reinforce the misconception amongst many consumers that paper is bad for the environment.
The European paper industry is a world-leader on sustainably-sourced raw materials, renewable energy and extremely high recycling rates.
85% of the wood used by the European paper industry comes from European forests, and these forests grew by an area the size of Switzerland between 2005 – 2015. The industry is the biggest single user and producer of renewable energy in Europe. Paper is also the most recycled material in Europe.2
Electronic communication has, of course, drastically changed the way we live and work. But digital technology is not environmentally free of charge.
The ICT industry accounts for around 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and this is predicted to rise to 14% by 2040.3 9 million tonnes of e-waste are generated every year from goods such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets.4 Annually, the global Cloud network, which powers much of the infrastructure to deliver electronic billing and many other digital services, demands twice as much electricity as the entire United Kingdom.5
Considering these facts, it is difficult to imagine how e-billing can be deemed “environmentally-friendly”.
Consumer Preferences and Attitudes
Consumers are becoming wise to misleading green claims made by their service providers. In a 2017 survey of UK consumers, 64% agreed that these types of claims are really because the sender wants to save money.6
64% of UK consumers say they have to regularly print out documents at home if they want a hard copy. It is therefore inaccurate for service providers to claim they offer “paperless” billing, when really, they are just passing on the responsibility to the consumer.6
58% of UK consumers also prefer to receive their council tax statements in printed format.6
According to the Keep Me Posted campaign, 7 million people in the UK can’t use the Internet, even if they wanted to, because of poverty, disability and rurality. There are over 10.5 million people who lack the confidence to use the Internet transactionally. Together that is nearly 1-in-5 of the British population.
Most importantly, these false statements endanger tens of thousands of jobs within an industry which is a significant contributor to the UK economy.
With a turnover of £13.8 billion, gross value added of £6.1 billion and employing around 116,000 people in 8,400 companies, the UK printing sector is an important economic contributor and employer in all UK regions.7
Due to the significant risk of damage to the print and paper industry and wider economy, the revelation of the scale of local government’s misleading claims has attracted the support of considerable number of industry stakeholders.
Two Sides has collected signatures from organisations representing over 16,000 employees, demonstrating the widespread opposition to these damaging statements.
Two Sides, has requested a meeting with the following Central and Local Government representatives to seek to resolve this issue:
1. James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
2. Rishi Sunak MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)
3. Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, Local Government Association
4. Sarah Pickup, Deputy Chief Executive, Local Government Association
Common inaccuracies about print and paper are still a major concern for the industry. These misconceptions are further reinforced by organisations as they increasingly encourage their customers to switch to electronic bills and statements. But instead of focusing on the potential cost savings of digital, often the incentive to switch is based on unfounded environmental claims such as “Go Green – Go Paperless” and “Choose e-billing and help save a tree”.
Jonathan Tame, Managing Director of Two Sides, says:
Two Sides, on behalf of the print and paper industry, has been successfully challenging misleading, anti-paper claims for over 10 years. Working with some of the UK’s biggest brands, we are proud to have changed or removed over 70% of the claims that we have encountered.
We are looking forward to having an open and honest discussion with government representatives in our efforts to remove these claims from all council websites.
Paper still has an important place in today’s digital world. Not just for bills and statements, but in schools, universities, offices, the media and almost every environment where the unique tangible nature of paper improves learning, understanding and productivity.”
About Two Sides
Two Sides is a not for profit, global initiative promoting the unique sustainable and attractive attributes of print, paper and paper packaging. Two Sides’ members span the entire print, paper and packaging value chain including: forestry, pulp, paper, packaging, inks and chemicals, finishing, publishing, printing, envelopes and postal operators.
For more information, please contact;
Please demonstrate your support by signing the petition:
1. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/make-a-green-claim/make-an-environmental-claim-for-your-product-service-or-organisation
2. FAO data, 2005 – 2015
3. Belkhir L & Elmeligi A, Journal of Cleaner Production: Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, 2018.
4. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2015
5. GeSI SMARTer2020: The Role of ICT in Driving a Sustainable Future (2015 report)
6. Two Sides, Print and Paper in a Digital World, 2017
7. British Printing Industries Federation, 2017
Research of council website and recording of misleading statements took place in December 2018 and January 2019.