Print Out Your Emails!!

medium_Laurel.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

How many times have you seen this silly message: Please consider the environment before printing this email? Even in the printing industry people put this at the bottom of their emails, which is absolutely daft. It effectively confirms an all too common and downright dangerous misconception. The implication of this type of message is that print is bad for the environment, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Print is the only sustainable medium because it is based on a crop that can be harvested and replenished. This crop also provides ancillary benefits for wildlife and humans who want to amble about in it. Print has a one-off environmental impact when it is manufactured and distributed, but otherwise there is nothing. No massive electronic infrastructure is required to support its distribution and use. Those in the printing business who suggest emails shouldn’t be printed in the interests of the environment reinforce a misconception that all of us who work in the industry should be trying to address.

Not that we should be encouraging waste, because that is what has given print such a bad reputation in the first place. Even if we are all angelic recyclers wasting nothing and reusing or recycling everything else, waste should never be encouraged. The problem is more subtle than a simple choice between creating waste or not. The problem many people have is a basic lack of understanding of matching the medium to the message, of appreciating the different between stuff that should be kept because it has value, versus the stuff that shouldn’t.

Emails don’t need to be printed, not because printing them has a negative environmental impact. They shouldn’t be printed unless the content warrants it. For the most part e-mails contain fleeting, often trivial messages. There is no shame at all to printing the stuff that’s important, because once it is on the page, there is no need for digital resources to support it. Digital media are ultimately dependent on materials that are finite and energy that must be deployed in perpetuum. So yes dump the digital rubbish but don’t ever stop printing out the stuff that matters. It’s the only way you can be sure it will last.

– Laurel Brunner

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