The Idiocy of the Paperless 2013 Campaign

medium_Laurel_2012.jpegThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Greenwashing is bad enough but deliberately attempting to hijack sustainability awareness is downright poisonous. A group of corporations with Google at their head has set up a really stupid campaign. Using an environmental agenda the group is cloaking its need to up revenues through digital process management. They are campaigning to get office workers to rely exclusively on digital processes and electronic devices. According to their website “Paperless 2013 is a campaign to remove the need for paper from paperwork.” What they really mean is that it is a campaign to increase companies’ dependence on cloud storage, online bill management, accounting and the use of e-signatures.

Rocky share prices of late, particularly for Google, Fujitsu and Xero, is a hint to what this is really about. Of the other participants in this silly and irresponsible scheme, most are companies working with Google, probably in the hope that they will be acquired. None of them seem to understand the implications of a paperless world. It could be niaivety, but it is more likely to be greedy opportunism, exploiting desires of businesses to improve their environmental impacts and making them unwitting tools to drive revenues to the group’s participants.

Encouraging people to go digital is to be expected of companies with a substantial vested interest in the digital world. However to use sustainability to justify themselves is irresponsible and an egregious abuse of trust and the green agenda. They claim that going paperless is in the interests of the environment because it saves trees. Except that it doesn’t. They omit to point out that the forestry industry plants three trees for everyone harvested. They ignore the fact that commercial forests and paper are carbon sinks, renewable and sustainable unlike electronic devices. The do not address their own emissions responsibilities, for instance the billions of kilowatts Google needs to fuel its servers, or the energy required to feed content to users’ desktops. This is a fundamental responsibility that should not be ignored.

Electronic devices, including mobile phones which is where these people are trying to direct business transactions, are not recyclable. They are one of the most serious sources of waste and pollution on the planet and they use finite resources such as oil for the plastics and rare earths for the electronics. Electronic devices are also the foundation of the Paperless group’s businesses: they want customers to replace their devices frequently because this drives upgrade revenues. This throwaway mentality is totally at odds with environmental responsibility.

If these numpties want to cut environmental waste, far better to look closer to home. On average a single laundry drying cycle requires around 4kWh of energy, producing nearly two kilos of CO2. With over one million households in the USA that is two million kilos every time a householder runs their tumble dryer. It adds up to 104 million kilos or 104 metric tonnes of carbon per year if households only run the dryer once a week! Why don’t Google et al set up a scheme to encourage Americans to hang their washing out to dry instead? Because it doesn’t add revenues or help their share price that’s why.

We are still a long way away from companies and individuals truly appreciating their role and responsibilities for reducing emissions and environmental impact. Encouraging people to increase their emissions instead of working with sustainable media and tools, is only the latest example of the idiocy that plagues sustainability progress. Ignore the Paperless 2013 campaign and switch to another search engine! Look for the little arrow next to the logo of the engine you use in your browser’s search window. Click on it to default to something other than Google!

– Laurel Brunner

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