Do you realize that every ear of corn you eat will no longer be around for other people? It will cease to exist. That ear of corn, slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt, surely tasted good, but now, no one else can enjoy it. Don’t you feel guilty at having been involved in the cutting down of that stalk of corn just to serve your own personal needs?
Do you think what I’m saying is silly? Who cares about an ear of corn? There are millions, if not billions, of them and every season a new crop replaces the previous one. In fact, our government stores millions of bushels of corn that we can’t sell. So, why worry about an ear of corn.
Surprisingly, much the same can be said about a tree. In a responsibly managed forest, trees are simply another crop. Trees that are cut down for construction, pharmaceuticals, and yes, paper manufacture are replaced with seedlings that in ten or twenty years will be ready for harvesting. So, while tree harvest times are measured in decades rather than seasons, the concept is the same. Harvest the “ripe” trees and plant new ones.
The key to the success of this concept was mentioned earlier, “responsibly managed forests.” These forests are often certified by either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). These organizations work with forest managers to balance the need for maintaining the ecosystem and providing us with the forest products that make our lives better. It is not a zero-sum game. Part of their success relies on purchasers of printing buying from printers who are FSC and/or SFI certified.
Forests provide natural habitats for wildlife, clean water, fresh air, combat global warming and more. Responsibly managed, they can continue to do all these things while providing lumber for houses, furniture and pulp for paper.
OK, so now you understand that harvesting trees is not such a terrible thing, and in fact, the production of paper causes more trees to be planted than were harvested. Feeling better about paper? Let’s move on to the energy argument. Making paper uses a lot of energy. That might be true in the macro sense, but let’s look at that one sheet at a time. It takes lots less energy to make and mail a sheet of paper than it does to send an email of the equivalent length.
Huh? Well, think about it. Sure, a paper mill uses lots of energy, but it’s producing millions and millions of sheets of paper a day. So how much energy was used to produce a single sheet of paper? Not much. And, yes, it needs to be shipped. But, again, a truckload of paper has about 5 million sheets of paper. That’s about a drop of diesel for each sheet. I think you’re seeing the point. On a micro level, a sheet of paper doesn’t consume much energy.
Now, take your computer. In the 10 minutes it took you to write, and hopefully proofread, an email your computer and all its peripherals have been consuming energy. When you hit “send” a little more energy is used by the systems that deliver the message. The person reading your email also has an electricity-consuming computer. You get the idea—either way, paper or electronic, you’re using energy. But with paper, you have something you can save and re-read without having to use any additional electricity. Of course, you could always print out that email…oh, right, that would kind of defeat the intended purpose of not using paper in the first place.
When you’re done with your printed piece, it can be recycled. When you’re finished with your computer, you can recycle it, too. That often involves little children with tiny hands working with heavy metals and living in poverty.
What this article was meant to get across is that printing on paper is not evil, and that using only digital methods is not totally benign and their proponents beneficent. Each method has its place and when properly used serves its purpose. Your job and mine is to make the right choice at the right time.