Google is Greenwashing, Paper Industry Claims

by | Jan 9, 2013

A paper industry-led campaign has accused Google of greenwashing and federal trade violations, and urged it to reconsider a campaign urging businesses to “go paperless.”

Two Sides sent an open letter to Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt warning that by promoting its Go Paperless in 2013 campaign, Google is trying to promote its services as environmentally preferable to print.

Google launched the Go Paperless campaign at the start of the year in coordination with Fujitsu, which makes the ScanSnap scanner, and the companies behind online services HelloFax, HelloSign, Manilla, Expensify and Xero.

But Two Sides – whose member companies hail from forestry, pulp, paper, printing and related industries in over 12 countries – said Google is making “spurious and unattributed” environmental claims, and said there is significant evidence that Google’s own activities create a significant and increasing environmental risk.

According to the letter, “such Greenwash marketing is not only damaging to corporate reputations but also increasingly, we consider, in flagrant disregard of advertising standards such as those of the U.S Federal Trade Commission and DEFRA (UK).”

Two Sides pointed out that Google uses 2.3 million MWh of electricity a year, and that e-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream. The group also said studies have found that documents can be more environmental friendly on paper than on screen, if they are read more than once or by several people – although its citation links to a four-page report prepared for an undergraduate physics course, not a paper in a peer-reviewed journal.

Two Sides also says that in the US more trees are grown than harvested, and the volume of trees on US forestland has increased 49 percent over the past 50 years. Biomass accounts for 65 percent of energy used to make pulp and paper in the US, and 54 percent in Europe, the group says.

The letter does not, however, address whether the paper industry poses a threat to rainforests and the endangered animals that live there. Environmental groups have been targeting paper companies and customers – such as HarperCollins – that the non-profits see as linked to rainforest destruction.

This is not the first time that Two Sides has taken arms against an anti-paper campaign. Last July the group said it convinced UK companies British Telecom, Barclaycard, Vodafone and EON Energy, among others, to withdraw their environmental claims about print and paper. Two Sides said that more than 80 percent of the companies approached agreed to change or kill their messaging about the environmental costs of printing and paper.

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