The potential consequences of misleading marketing claims – from negative public relations and customer dissatisfaction to legal action and financial penalties – make rigorous factual and legal scrutiny of product and service claims a fundamental step in today’s corporate marketing process. So why do so many otherwise diligent companies skip this step and shoot from the hip when it comes to making environmental claims about the use of print and paper? In part, the answer lies in the fact that the “go paperless, save trees” mantra has been repeated so often over the years that it is accepted as gospel by many corporate gatekeepers. If paper comes from trees and we use less paper, we save trees and protect our forests, the reasoning goes. And since using less paper is good for the environment, the electronic bills, statements and other customer communications that replace it must be a better environmental choice, right? Wrong. But lots of big-name North American companies are making this unsubstantiated leap as they encourage their customers to switch from paper to electronic communications, ironically sidestepping best practices for environmental marketing under the banner of going green.
You have to give Two Sides North America a lot of credit. The global graphic communications industry collective—which includes members of the forestry, pulp, paper and printing sectors—is constantly working to dispel common environmental misconceptions while providing the under-informed with third-party verifiable information as to the truth regarding print and paper, along with its impact on the environment.
In simpler terms, Two Sides spends a lot of time batting down the baloney that often gets passed around under the guise of environmental sustainability. The latest major company to incur Two Sides’ wrath is Verizon, which may have run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides for environmental marketing.
In a customer communication, Verizon told customers to “Go Green with Paperless Billing and Auto Bill Pay.” Among the bulleted points in favor of paperless billing, Verizon lists “Green—Help save the environment, one paperless bill at a time.” That drew the ire of Two Sides.
“The FTC requires that environmental marketing claims be specific and backed by competent and reliable scientific evidence,” Two Sides explained in a release. “But claims like Verizon’s are vague, overly broad, and unscientifically imply that electronic communication is always better for the environment than printed materials.” Further, it points out that the FTC sees such generalized claims as “difficult or impossible to prove, and often mislead customers.”
Aside from Verizon not substantiating the environmental impact of going paperless, Two Sides underscored the notion that the communications giant is ignoring the fact that many of its customers depend on printing and paper to support their families; for example, the U.S. mailing industry supports 7.5 million jobs, including production, distribution and handling of mail, paper production and printing.
Two Sides is asking Verizon to keeps its e-billing messages simple, emphasizing the choice and convenience aspects and to drop the misleading perception of trees and the notion that paperless is the “greener choice.”