Getting the Go Google-less Message

medium_Laurel_2012.jpegThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

We have had an absolute torrent of response to the Go Google-less idea. The request to the industry to switch search engines from Google to something else has been amazing. The idea was to put pressure on Google in the hope of getting them to reconsider the Paperless 2013 campaign. This campaign claims that using paper is bad for the environment and that everyone should use electronic communications instead.

The response has mostly been in favour and many people have switched off Google search and moved to Yahoo! or Bing. It’s interesting that so many care enough to bother, but what’s more interesting and gratifying is the fact that Go Google-less has stimulated response and a glimmer of awareness beyond the graphic arts.

There is no clearcut absolute in whether we should use paper or electronics: both have their place and are indeed complementary. What is clearcut and absolute is that many people, Google included, conflate office and desktop printing with professional printing. It is also clear that too few understand that waste management is about energy as well as media. Paper waste can be managed in an environmentally friendly way, not that this is always the case. We need more awareness of energy emissions and their environmental impact and of efficient waste management. This is particularly true in the US where per capita waste is the highest in the world.

The picture is far worse for electronics than it is for paper. Paper companies and their customers have had to improve their environmental impacts in order to survive in a changing market. Efforts to recycle electronics have not yet achieved much in the way of sustainable results, although initiatives such as the European WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) help. The belief that using digital communications instead of paper is in the interests of the environment needs to be redressed and reconsidered in the light of resource management and sustainability. For example, there is less copper in the ground than there is in infrastructure and devices. Rare earths used in electronics are finite. Unlike paper they are not renewable. Print consultant Sean Smyth has kindly sent this link to images of what can happen to electronic waste. http://www.lightstalkers.org/janehahn

Go Google-less isn’t about dumping Google in toto nor is it an inane crusade against computers, mobile phones, tablets or notebooks, all of which have a profound and positive socio-economic effect. Go Google-less is about encouraging people, especially large corporations who could make a difference, to think about how they use media and resources, to think about alternative print models, and to understand that print is more than a desktop activity. Demonising paper as an unacceptable form of waste ignores its sustainability and forestry’s contribution to global carbon dioxide management. This debate should be about resource use, waste management, emissions reduction and the effectiveness of different media channels for information and knowledge dissemination. A simplistic choice between digital and physical media distracts from the complex conundrum of how we manage our environmental impact and long term sustainability.

– Laurel Brunner

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