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To print or not to print: Which is greener?

Are you getting the stink eye every time you head to the printer?

Kai Ryssdal: Raise your hand if you've ever printed out a document you could've just as easily read on your computer, on your phone or your tablet or e-reader.

Let the record show my hand is up. And there was probably a little green guilt, right? But a study out today confirms what history shows pretty much everyone prefers to read pretty much everything on printed paper -- not on a screen.

The interesting part? The study's from a new paper advocacy group called Two Sides. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh explains.


Eve Troeh: That stink eye you get when you head to the printer? That's the mark of successful messaging.

But not from who you might think, says Don Carli at the Institute for Sustainable Communication. He says the "don't print -- save a tree" line comes largely from the billing and payments industry.

Don Carli: They found that lo and behold, if you told consumers that by switching to electronic billing you would be doing something good for the environment, there was a significantly increase in the likelihood that they would switch!

He says electronic billing saves companies a lot in postage and printing fees. But there's no proof it saves trees.

Carli: If a company tells you that by adopting or using their product, it will save a tree, "habeus arborus." Show me the tree.

Paper's image has been pulped by "green" claims about digital media. Now the industry's pushing back. The paper company Domtar, for one, has a campaign called Pixel to Print. Brand manager Lewis Fix says a flow chart helps users decide: paper or screen.

Lewis Fix: It allows us to have an elevated conversation about this. You know how are you going to use this information? Are you going to skim it, read and study it, edit and discuss?

And Kerry Cesareo at the World Wildlife Fund agrees. Printing can be eco-friendly...

Kerry Cesareo: If it's coming from a well-managed forest. If it contains a high amount of recycled content.

She says if the electricity to power your technology comes from fossil fuels like coal, paper stacks up even better.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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