Two Sides highlights the “Great Paper Perception Gap” in a groundbreaking new study

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

The difference between people’s perception of the impact of paper on the environment, and the actual facts, has been carefully highlighted in a groundbreaking new study by Two Sides, a global non-profit organization promoting the sustainability of print and paper. “Of all the world’s materials, paper is perhaps the most misunderstood,” said the organization. “While no one doubts the environmental damage that the burning of fossil fuels and the disposal of single-use plastics is having on our 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 their 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 the real facts.

Not only did the study uncover a series of common misconceptions about paper, but it underscored the enduring value paper and print has in a society increasingly dominated by digital media. There’s little doubt that people all over the world are concerned about the environment, the report pointed out. Unusual weather patterns, general rises in temperature and irreversible damage to the natural world are making individuals and businesses alike question their role in climate change, while also understanding more about these alarming trends. 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 44,000 km in the past 10 years! That’s the equivalent of 1,500 soccer pitches every day, said Two Sides. 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.

Jonathan Tame.

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, the study said. However, only a fifth of those surveyed believe the paper-recycling rate in Europe exceeds 60%, while the true figure is over 72% and 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,” said Jonathan Tame, Managing Director of Two Sides. “It’s positive to see that 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, the report pointed out. As many businesses attempt to coerce their customers to “switch to digital” while shifting them away from paper to email and text communications, a significant majority of people are resistant to the move. Overall, 78% of European consumers believe they have the right to choose how they receive communications (printed or electronically) from financial organizations 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, Two Sides added. Given the choice of reading books, magazines and newspapers in print or in digital form, print came out the resounding winner with 69% stating that print is the most enjoyable way to read books. Some 61% preferring print for magazines, and 54% chose 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,” Tame added. “The prevailing environmental myths about paper reaffirm the vital need for the Two Sides campaign to raise awareness and directly tackle these misconceptions.”

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



Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.