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Going paperless does not save trees

Published by
Simon Matthis - 10 Feb 2016

Recently, Two Sides North America released a new study outlining key facts on why paperless initiatives do not save trees. Findings point to mounting evidence that loss of markets for paper and other wood products, a large portion of which are produced from wood harvested on privately-owned land, increases the risk of forest loss. The study was conducted by Dovetail Partners, an environmental think-tank specializing in forestry research and analysis.

"This study is another example of why slogans such as 'go paperless - save trees' or 'go green - go paperless' are not only misleading, but false. Over the past 60 years, the number of trees on managed U.S. forest lands has been increasing considerably due to responsible forestry practices. Wood is a valuable renewable resource that we are taking care of," explains Phil Riebel, President of Two Sides North America. Key facts from the study show that, even in a declining market for printing and writing paper:

Using less paper does not mean that wood harvesting will be reduced. Similar or rising volumes of wood are being harvested in key forest regions of North America for other uses including lumber, fuel pellets, and pulp for use in production of packaging, tissues, and textiles.

The market focus is likely to shift to other opportunities besides paper given the broad utility of wood, global needs for raw materials, and incentives of many forest owners to derive income from their lands.

Private forest ownership and stable paper markets create a synergy that has long yielded tens of thousands of jobs, rural income, and strong incentives for continued investment in forests for the near and long term. However, if efforts to reduce wood markets succeed over an extended period, the result would likely be loss of forest lands rather than the reverse.

Summarizing the research results, Dr. Jim Bowyer, lead author of the Dovetail study, states, "A common and simplistic, yet erroneous view, is that using less paper will lead to more trees across the landscape. Just as eating fewer apples will result in fewer rather than more apple trees, decreased consumption of wood products will not yield more trees and forests.

"Similarly, claims that using 'tree-free' paper made from other fibers (ex: recycled fiber, wheat, sugarcane) will 'save trees' are equally misleading. The development of markets for wood is essential to maintain forest lands as forest for the long term. Meanwhile, the time has come for serious reconsideration of the erroneous 'save paper-save trees' movement," concluded Dr. Bowyer.