The Great Paper Perception Gap

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Industry News

The difference between people’s perception of the impact of paper on the environment and fact has been highlighted in a groundbreaking study by Two Sides

Of all the world’s materials, paper is perhaps the most misunderstood. While no one doubts the environmental damage the burning of fossil fuels and disposal of single-use plastics is doing to the planet, there’s still a lot of confusion around paper and how its use affects the climate.

To counter the many misconceptions about print and paper, and its impact on the environment, Two Sides commissioned a wide-ranging European study to assess people’s perceptions of paper and the often large differences between these perceptions and fact.

Not only did the study uncover a series of common misconceptions about paper, but it underlined the enduring value paper and print has in a society increasingly dominated by digital media.

Perception vs fact

There’s little doubt that people all over the world are concerned about the environment. Unusual weather patterns, general rises in temperature and irreversible damage to the natural world are making individuals and businesses question their role in climate change and understand more about these alarming trends.

“60% of consumers believe that European forest are shrinking, when in fact, European forests have grown by 44,000km2 in the past 10 years”

But when it comes to paper, there’s a significant gap between assumption and fact. One key finding from the research was that 60% of consumers believe that European forest are shrinking, when in fact, European forests have grown by 44,000km2 in the past 10 years – that’s the equivalent of 1,500 football pitches every day.1 Indeed, just 10% of the French, Austrian, British, Scandinavians, Germans and Italians interviewed believe that European forests have actually been growing in size, demonstrating the skepticism people have about the positive environmental impact of the paper industry.

High recycling rate, low perception

Of course, one of the major reasons paper is a sound environmental choice for media, communications and packaging is its ability to be recycled a number of times, and it’s heartening to note that Europeans perceive paper to have the highest recycling rate of all major materials. However, only a fifth of those surveyed believe the paper recycling rate in Europe exceeds 60%, while the true figure is over 72%, close to the practical maximum recycling rate of 78%.

“The report reveals an interesting insight into how print and paper is viewed by the public,” says Jonathan Tame, Managing Director of Two Sides. “It’s positive to see both wood and paper are viewed as low environmental impact materials, but the misconceptions around forestry and recycling rates have highlighted the necessity to raise awareness in these areas.”

A matter of choice

The perception gap around paper and the environment isn’t just confined to individuals. Whether deliberate or not, companies and brands appear to be miscalculating their customers’ preference for digital communications. As many businesses attempt to coerce their customers to ‘switch to digital’, shifting them away from paper to email and text communications, a significant majority of people are resistant to the move, especially if it involves having to pay for paper statements.

Overall, 78% of European consumers believe they have the right to choose how they receive communications (printed or electronically) from financial organisations and service providers. A further 62% believe they shouldn’t be charged more for choosing paper bills and statements.

People prefer print

There’s clearly a groundswell of positive opinion about print, a fact demonstrated by the response to the question of which format people prefer to read. Given the choice of reading books, magazines and newspapers in print or digital form, print came out the resounding winner, with 69% stating that print is the most enjoyable way to read books, 61% preferring print for magazines, and 54% choosing print for newspapers.

“It’s positive and not too surprising to see that print as a medium for reading and communications still comes out on top, with a clear majority agreeing it to be the most enjoyable way to read,” says Jonathan Tame. “The prevailing environmental myths about paper reaffirm the vital need for the Two Sides campaign to raise awareness and directly tackle these misconceptions.”

1Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2015. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.

• To download a copy of the Two Sides research report, click here

Source: Two Sides

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