Consumers still value print & paper, but environmental misunderstandings persist

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Consumers still value print & paper, but environmental misunderstandings persist

Release date: Thursday 21st July 2016


Citing environmental concerns, corporations and governments are increasingly driving communications online and making paper more difficult, and costly, to access. A new survey provides valuable insights into how consumers view this trend, and how they perceive and use paper in their daily lives.

Carried out by international research company Toluna in June 2016, the survey questioned more than 7000 consumers worldwide (528 of them in the UK). Among its findings, the survey reveals that many consumers want to retain the choice of using print and paper, at no additional cost, and that many question or feel misled by “go paperless – go green” and similar “greenwash” claims – believing cost savings to be the primary driver for organisations looking to phase out paper-based communications.

Despite some concern over environmental impacts, many respondents preferred paper-based communications to digital alternatives, with ease of reading and a lack of internet access among the many reasons given. A large majority recognised that paper-based communications can be sustainable when produced and used responsibly.

A lack of awareness of the industry’s positive environmental activities (especially sustainable forest management and recycling) persists. Despite European forests having grown by 44,000 square kilometres – an area bigger than Switzerland – in the past 10 years, 65% of UK respondents believed that European forests were in fact shrinking. The majority of respondents were also unaware that paper is one of the most recycled products with recovery rates of 72% in Europe.

There is a notable preference for print on paper in all age groups, indicating the more fundamental, and more human way that we react to the physicality of print on paper.

Compared with a similar 2011 survey, the following positive trends are apparent – showing that important messages from the industry are beginning to gain traction:

  • 79% agreed that print on paper is more pleasant to handle and touch when compared to other media (up from 70% in 2011)
  • 73% agreed that paper is based on a renewable resource (65% in 2011)
  • 16% believe that our forests have either stayed the same or increased in size (10% in 2011)
  • 31% believe that the paper industry has a higher than average recycling rate (25% in 2011)
  • 14% have seen adverts related to the effectiveness and sustainability of print and paper (8% in 2011), and a large majority rated the ads as credible and useful.

Key Findings:

“Go Paperless-Go Green” claims are questioned by many

  • 83% of respondents receiving environmental claims like; “Go Paperless – Go Green”, or “Go Paperless – Save trees”, or “Get your bills online - it’s better for the environment” believe such companies are seeking to save costs.
  • 40% feel misled by these claims
  • 50% question the validity of these claims

Many consumers print and file bills and statements sent electronically

  • 41% print some or all of their financial services bills and statements at home
  • 38% print some or all of their utility bills and statements at home
  • Even at the lower end of home printing, 30% print out some or all of their mobile phone bills

Many people need a paper option and don’t want to be forced into “digital only”

  • 77% would be unhappy if they were asked to pay a premium for paper bills and statements
  • 74% of respondents want the option to continue receiving printed information as it provides a permanent record for important documents
  • 56% are unhappy that the responsibility to print valuable documents is being passed to consumers
  • 46% would consider changing provider if they are being asked to move to paperless communication
  • 42% of all respondents still don’t have a reliable internet connection and want paper records

Consumers see print and paper as sustainable – but concerns about forestry persist

  • 94% feel recyclability is an important charateristic for environmentally responsible products
  • 91% of respondents believe new forests are neccesary to counteract global warming
  • 89% agreed that, when responsibly produced, used and recycled, print and paper can be a sustainable way to communicate
  • 86% believe that when forests are responsibly managed it is environmmetally acceptable to use trees to produce products such as wood for construction and paper for printing
  • 80% still prefer reading print on paper than from a screen
  • 79% of consumers enjoy the tactile experience of paper and print
  • 47% believe paper records are more environmentally sustainable than electronic storage of information
  • 78% are concerned about the effect on forests by the production of print and paper
  • 73% consider that paper is based on a renewable resource

Forest growth in Europe is still misunderstood

  • Only 5% of consumers believe European forests have grown in size over the past 50 years
  • 76% believe that they had stayed the same or reduced in size

The great recycling story of print and paper is not well known

  • 66% believe that less than 50% of waste paper is recovered for recycling
  • Only 8% of consumers believe that the industry recycling rate is more than 60%
  • Only 31% believe the industry recycling rate is higher than average, whereas (at 72%) the paper industry has one of the highest recycling rates of all

More people are seeing ads promoting print and paper

14% saw ads related to the effectiveness and sustainability of print and paper (vs. 8% in 2011) and the large majority rated the ads as credible and useful. Whilst this is an improvement, there is clearly more to be done to educate the UK general public.

For a full version of the survey, please view here: www.twosides.info/UK/Global-Research-Survey

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