The announcement of the impending closure of the local Quad/Graphics printing plant marks the end of an era in Western New York. This plant, under several owners, provided great jobs for thousands of Western New Yorkers through the years and was one of the major reasons why our area was known as a major U.S. printing hub for most of the 20th century.
Over the past few weeks, there has been significant speculation about the reasons behind the demise of the Depew operation. Was it New York's poor business climate, foreign competition, militant unionism or industry over-capacity? One could argue, for or against, any of these factors and make good points.
One major factor is the move into "electronic communications" by a number of organizations, corporations and individuals. This concept is generally introduced under the guise of "going green." While environmental responsibility is something we should all be concerned about, the current "anti-print" culture being promoted needs a far closer look to examine a broad range of issues. Corporations and other entities promoting electronically delivered magazines, newspapers, books and mail are generally doing so because it is in their own economic self-interest. Organizations promoting causes -- such as "save a tree, go green!" or "do not mail" -- often do so without examining the full set of facts regarding this complex issue. Here are a few:
Reducing the volume of paper being used does not "save trees." Trees are a crop. There are tree farms across the world where wood is grown for furniture and paper. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the forest area of our country has grown by 15 million acres from 1977 to 2007. This increase in acreage would not have occurred without the demand for wood generated by paper and furniture manufacturing.
Paper is a renewable and sustainable material. Your computer, smart phone, etc., are not. Far more environmental damage is done by the manufacture and disposal of electronics than by paper production and recycling. The Environmental Protection Agency calculated that 2.25 million tons of electronics were thrown away in 2007, most to landfills. Where is the public outcry about these toxic chemicals and heavy metals leaching into our water supply?
Reducing utilization of paper and print means the loss of Western New York jobs. These jobs are held by your neighbors and include printers, bookbinders, paper suppliers, postal workers and more. These well-paying jobs put children through college, pay mortgages and buy cars. Reducing paper and print reduces mail volume and negatively impacts the U.S. Postal Service. This means increased postal costs for all of us.
Waste paper for the recycling stream is valuable, currently bringing between $200 and $300 per ton. Concerns about landfill volume should be linked to effective recycling programs to reduce paper volume going to landfills and generate revenue for municipalities.
Just 11 percent of the world's forests are used for paper, as opposed to 28 percent for lumber and 53 percent for fuel. Where is the public outcry to limit the harvesting of wood for these uses?
Thirty-three percent of the material utilized to make paper comes from wood chips and sawmill scraps; another 33 percent comes from recycled paper.
The average data center serving our electronic devices consumes the equivalent energy demand of 25,000 households. The paper we use to print in the United States is made from more than 60 percent biofuels. Paper mills use what is left over from the manufacturing process to generate bioenergy on site.
Small businesses, many of which are owned by or employ our neighbors, use printed direct mail to get and keep customers. Research has shown that direct mail is still the most effective way of targeting the right customer with the right message.
Print serves those who don't have constant access to computers. It is estimated that only 84 percent of U.S. households own computers and many more are pushing back from the constant bombardment of electronic communications.
Print is the most unobtrusive advertising around. It doesn't pop up unannounced on your computer or call you during dinner. It shows up quietly in your mailbox waiting for your decision to use it or recycle it.
Dr. Patrick Arnone, co-founder of Greenpeace, stated, "To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends signals to the marketplace to grow trees and produce more wood."
It is clear that there are significant social and economic benefits to continuing to use paper and print. Certainly the world has changed and there are additional players in the communications market. However, the next time you are offered the opportunity to "go green" or "save a tree" think about the tree farmer who is reforesting the country because of the demand for wood, think about your children who are facing a life of never enjoying the experience of opening a new book, think about your mailman whose livelihood is tied to the delivery of printed products to your home and think about the press operator or bookbinder who is supporting a family because of his ability to skillfully produce the printed word on a sheet of paper.
Timothy Freeman, of Amherst, is president of Printing Industries Alliance, a trade association representing graphic communications firms in New York State, Northern New Jersey and Northwestern Pennsylvania.