Two Sides sends open letter to DEFRA

Reducing paper use may increase the UK Government’s carbon footprint – and reduce security!

Open Letter to:

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP
Secretary of State, DEFRA
20th December 2016

Dear Mrs Leadsom,

It has come to our attention that Defra has just published its updated “Greening Government Commitments 2016-2020” which, amongst a number of environmental initiatives, includes a commitment to reducing paper consumption by 50%. However, the report does not consider what communications medium will replace this reduced paper use or that alternatives, most likely digital, will themselves have substantial environmental impacts.

Two Sides promotes the attractiveness and sustainability of print and paper as an environmentally friendly communications medium. We work closely with major organisations to ensure that paper reduction initiatives are not made on the basis of spurious environmental claims. Defra’s own code of conduct, (and we attach an extract), states: “A green claim should be truthful, accurate and able to be substantiated”. Therefore, in order to claim that a reduction of paper use by 50% would assist the government to reduce its carbon impact, there needs to be a clear life cycle analysis behind the claim which also must include the impact of the associated increase in electronic communications which would presumably arise.

As you will be aware, electronic communication is not environmentally ‘free of charge’. Businesses and individuals are now dependent on large servers and ‘Cloud’ services. Mega datacentres store almost everything we do online; including our web searches, our social media posts, emails and our online statements. Based on the estimates contained in the SMARTer 2020 analysis, the aggregate electricity demand of ‘the Cloud’, (including data centres and networks, but not devices), in 2011 was 684 billion kWh. If compared with the electricity demand of countries in the same year, ‘the Cloud’ would rank 6th in the world, with demand expected to increase 63% by 2020.(1)

The environmental impact of our ever-increasing digital world cannot be ignored. The ICT industry accounts for approximately 2% of global emissions, on par with the emissions from the global aviation sector.(2) Each year, the electronic industry – one of the world’s largest and fastest growing – generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste from goods such as computers and smart phones.(3)

So, when considering carbon reduction, it is important to consider that paper is a renewable and recyclable product that, if responsibly produced and consumed, is an environmentally sustainable medium. In Europe, where 93% of our paper comes from (4), recycling rates are 72% (5) and the forests have grown by an area the size of Switzerland in the past 10 years. (6) That’s about 1,500 football pitches every day!

Sustainably managed and growing forests are essential to ensure the availability of paper and many other products and are fundamental to global carbon capture.

It must surely also be a consideration that, in a world where data leaks and hacking of digital information is becoming commonplace, the Government should be particularly careful to recognise that paper records and communications can often offer a greater level of security.

Whilst we clearly see the efficiency of electronic communications and encourage the reduction of unnecessary waste, the potential damage to the print and paper industry, by suggesting that print media is environmentally unfriendly, requires our strongest response.

The paper and print industry account for 122,000 jobs and £13.5 billion (7) in value to the UK economy. Making unsubstantiated environmental statements threatens jobs and the economy.

I would welcome the opportunity to have a meeting with you to discuss this matter and assist Defra to make more accurate statements.

Yours sincerely,

Martyn Eustace
Director, Two Sides

c.c. Mr Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Daventry

1.    IEA (International Energy Agency): Electricity Information (2012 Edition)
2.    GeSI SMARTer2020: The Role of ICT in Driving a Sustainable Future (2015 report)
3.    United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2015
4.    CEPI Statistics 2016
5.    European Recovered Paper Council (ERPC), 2016
6.    FAO data, 2005 – 2015
7.    Smithers Pira, data estimates for 2014

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