Sustainable Marketing: Why Choosing Print Media Isn’t as Carbon-Heavy as You Think

A smoke stack lets off a puff of white smoke.

One definition of a ‘carbon footprint’ is “the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community”. 1 For paper products like print media, this includes everything from harvesting trees, through the manufacturing process, to use and disposal or recycling.

Paper’s Carbon Footprint Divided into 3 Elements

A look across paper’s entire life cycle shows that its carbon footprint can be divided into three basic elements:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

  • Gases that cause heat to remain in the atmosphere. For paper this is largely carbon dioxide.

Carbon Sequestration:

Carbon sequestration graphic shows the process with CO2 injected into soil and water then captured by facility and trees.

  • The process of capturing carbon dioxide that’s in the atmosphere and containing it, reducing global climate change.

Avoided Emissions:

  • Reduction to emissions by preventing them from entering the product’s life cycle.

How Print Media and Paper Products Address Crucial Areas

Old weathered brown paper shows cracks and tears.

All three areas of carbon footprint are important to address for a product or service to reduce or maintain a small carbon footprint. Here is how the manufacturing and use of paper meets all three:

  • It’s Made From a Renewable Resource That Stores Carbon
  • It’s Manufactured Using Mostly Renewable Energy
  • It’s Recyclable and Recycled at a Rate of 72%

Disproving Myths

There are a lot of mistruths and downright lies about print marketing as aims to get companies to pay for digital ad agencies, social media platforms and other “Carbon conscious” mediums. We rounded up some topic areas from leading publications to show how paper is addressing sustainability.

• The forest products industry is a leader in the production of renewable energy, with more than 58% of the on-site energy needed to produce paper products derived from carbon neutral biomass. The specific CO2 emissions decreased since 1990 by 44% per tonne of product. Our sector is the largest industrial producer of bioenergy, generating 20% of the biomass based energy in Europe. 2

• There is a vital difference between energy production from fossil fuels and from biomass. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide that has been locked up for millions of years [introducing “new” carbon to the atmosphere]. By contrast, burning biomass simply returns to the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that was absorbed as the trees grew and there is no net release of carbon dioxide if the cycle of growth and harvest is sustained. 3

• It is the new carbon from fossil fuels that is primarily responsible for the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide that have occurred in the last 100 years. 4

Metal globe sculpture sits illuminated in the night.

• The global print and paper industry accounts for only 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions. 5

• Energy consumption of our mills has decreased by 5.2% in the last two years (2013 over 2011). 6

• Today, 96.4% of electricity is produced on-site in paper mills using the energy-efficient combined heat and power method 7 [which recycles exhaust steam for use as manufacturing process heat or space heating]. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems are highly efficient (up to 80% efficiency compared to about 50% for traditional fossil-fuel power plants 8) and, because they require less fuel to produce the same amount of energy, have lower emissions than separate heat and power generation.

• Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by trees and stored for a period before being returned to the atmosphere. The sequestered carbon is stored not only in trees. It is also stored in forest products [including paper] for periods ranging from days to centuries. 9

• In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained [climate change] mitigation benefit. 10

A wide angle lens looks up at the sky with trees surrounding the frame.

• Trees use energy from sunlight to convert CO2 from the air into sugars. This is the process of photosynthesis. These sugars fuel tree growth and wood production. When trees die most of the stored carbon is returned to the atmosphere, although some of it may be locked up in the soil. Young forests grow rapidly and soak up carbon more quickly than mature forests. In mature forests the carbon balance may reach a steady state as carbon storage is matched by decomposition. At this point the forest becomes a vast carbon reservoir. When mature trees die the carbon stored is released back into the atmosphere. By harvesting trees before they die we can ensure that the carbon is locked up for longer in recyclable wood products. We can ensure that the system will continue to provide environmental benefits for future generations by replacing the felled trees with new ones. 11

• The purpose of sustainable forest management is to ensure stable or increasing stock of wood as well as carbon sequestered in it. European forests sequester increasing amounts of carbon in tree biomass. Each year about 430 million tonnes of CO2 (MCPFE, 2011), or around 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions, are removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and tree biomass growth in EU countries. 12

Launch A Sustainable Campaign with Print Marketing

Velocity Print Solutions works to make sure print materials are customized  and can be printed on demand to minimize waste and maximize the effectiveness and lifespan of print marketing materials. Our amazing direct mail services make sure print is delivered quickly to avoid deprecating relevance and further reduce environmental impact. We also carry a the best eco-friendly promotional products so you have everything you need for your next trade show without leaving an impact.

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1. Oxford University Press, 2015

2. CEPI, 2014

3. Biomass Energy Centre, 2011

4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, 2007

5. World Resources Institute (WRI), 2005

6. CEPI, 2014
7. CEPI, 2014

8. Association for Decentralized Energy, 2015

9. NCASI, 2007

10. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, 2007

11. Forestry Commission, 2014

12. European Commission, 2012