Printing Industries of America CEO Says Costco Promoting Electronic Communications with False Claims

"Switching from paper to electronic products or services doesn't necessarily result in a more sustainable outcome from an environmental, social, and/or economic point of view." – Michael Makin, President and CEO of the Printing Industries of America.

Michael Makin

April 2, 2013 - Printing Industries of America’s President and CEO Michael Makin issued an open letter to Costco Wholesale Corp. CEO Craig Jelinek yesterday, regarding an article in The Costco Connection which conatined several misconceptions about the impact of paper on the environment.

Following, is Mr. Makin's letter sent to Craig Jelink:

April 1, 2013
Mr. Craig Jelinek
President and Chief Executive Officer
Costco Wholesale Corp.
999 Lake Dr.
Issaquah, WA 98027-8990

Dear Mr. Jelinek,
It has been brought to our attention that the April 2013 issue of The Costco Connection has an article titled “Good for the earth and business” by Carrie Madren dedicated to green and sustainability. While Costco is to be commended for bringing attention to such an important topic, the article contains several serious misconceptions about the negative environmental impact of paper and the superior performance of electronic communication.

While this misconception about paper and print is very common, it is not accurate. Switching from paper to electronic products or services doesn’t necessarily result in a more sustainable outcome from an environmental, social, and/or economic point of view. These types of conclusions depend on many factors and product life cycle aspects that many companies are failing to consider when they make environmental claims related to going paperless.

It is important to consider that printing is the only medium with a one-time carbon footprint with all other media requiring energy every time they are viewed and additionally, most of the energy is from non-renewable fuels whereas paper made in North America is made with at least 60% renewable energy. Energy consumption by the use of electronic devices is rapidly increasing, and in addition to the environmental impact of powering these devices, the manufacturing of electronic devices is done in less-than-desirable working conditions and primarily relies upon the use of non-renewable resources.

Electronic devices require the mining and refining of dozens of minerals, including rare earth metals, as well as the use of plastics, hydrocarbon solvents, and other non-renewable resources. They are recycled at rates far below paper-based products, and E-waste is growing at an alarming rate and is an environmental and social problem in many developing countries. In addition, there are many studies that indicate online communications may not be as effective as those printed on paper for “deep reading” and understanding concepts.

Contrary to the claims made in your article, the use of paper and print on paper isn’t depleting our forests, overwhelming our landfills, or causing global warming. In fact, just the opposite is true, and companies calling for less print or a go-paperless campaign don’t take into account that paper, and print on paper, is a renewable, recyclable resource, and is a sustainable way to communicate.

While additional information and resources addressing misconceptions regarding electronic media and print can be found at our Value of Print resource at, here are some facts to consider: Trees and Paper-Replenished: Wood, which comes from trees, is the primary material used to make paper. Trees are continually replenished, unlike plastic and other materials used in electronic devices. A significant and growing percent of forested land is managed under a formal sustainability program such as Sustainable Forestry Initiative or Forest Stewardship Council to ensure that our forests are sustainable.

  • Primarily Made in the USA: About 90% of paper and paperboard consumed in the United States is produced in the United States. [Dan Burden, "Forest Profile, Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, 2009 (revised by Malinda Geisler, 2011)]
  • High Supplier: 91% of the wood harvested in the United States comes from privately owned forests. Most of the remaining harvest comes from State and tribal land (6%) and federal supply (2%). This means that using paper provides an economic stimulus encouraging a continued supply of paper. [American Forest and Paper Association,]
  • More Forests Today: Forest growth in the United States exceeds harvest by 37%. There is now 28% more standing timber volume in the U.S. than in 1952. [Alaska Forest Facts,]
  • A Small User of Forest Resources: Just 11% of the world’s forests are used for paper (53% for fuel; 28% for lumber; and 8% for other uses). [International Paper, Down to Earth, Is It Worth Printing?]
  • Largely Made from “Waste”: Overall, 33% of papermaking material comes from recycled paper; 33 percent comes from wood chips and scrap from sawmills; and 33% comes from virgin trees. [U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste,]
  • Recycling: 66.8% of the paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling in 2011 — by volume, more than glass, plastic, and aluminum combined — and up from 33.5% in 1990 and 46% in 2000. [Paper Recycles,]
  • Landfill: 18.2% of discards into the landfill are paper and paperboard, of which 41% is paperboard containers and packaging and 59% is all other paper — including such items as tissues, paper plates, and paper in games and novelties. Plastics, by comparison, comprise 17.3% of discards. [U.S. EPA, Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States, December 2011,]

It is a common misconception that people and companies think that by foregoing print and paper, they are saving trees and making a sound environmental choice. In reality, the opposite is true. As Dr. Patrick Moore, Co-Founder, Greenpeace/Chair & Chief Scientist, Greenspirit Strategies Inc. said: “To address climate change, we must use more wood, not less. Using wood sends a signal to the marketplace to grow more trees and to produce more wood. That means we can then use less concrete, steel and plastic — heavy carbon emitters through their production. Trees are the only abundant, biodegradable and renewable global resource.” [Greenspirit,]

Given the claims made in the article about paper and electronic communication, it seems to be clearly in conflict with the recently revised Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides” that define appropriate environmental marketing and claims and provide guidance on how to avoid making misleading environmental claims.

The printing industry and the products it produces have been at the forefront of sustainability and led the way by utilizing sustainable manufacturing processes. We encourage Costco to prepare an article for its next issue of The Costco Connection that acknowledges that some of the statements regarding paper were not accurate and to include some of the facts about the positive aspects regarding paper and its use.

The printing industry in this country employs almost one million people, many of whom are Costco customers. Presenting distortions of fact as you have is a disservice to them.

If you would like to discuss this, please feel free to contact me.


Michael Makin, MBA President & CEO

SOURCE: Printing Industries of America