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Study: Consumers Aren’t Fooled by “Go Paperless! Go Green” Claims

When you see “Go Green – Go Paperless” claims on the backs of your bills or the bottoms of your emails, do you believe them? If you said no, you aren’t alone. A new study shows that “Go Paperless – Go Green” claims fall flat among consumers. In fact, such claims have little impact on the choice to switch from paper to online options.

The study was based on a “nudge” campaign conducted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The goal was to encourage Canadian consumers to go paperless and to test the effectiveness of environmental messaging at the same time. The campaign used a variety of messages to nudge postal customers into switching to paperless options. The CRA used a mix of soft messaging, strong environmental messaging, and no messaging at all. Then it tracked the results to see which was most effective.

Overall, the CRA found that the environmental messaging, whether the soft push or the stronger messaging, was no more effective than the generic messaging. Ultimately, the “Go Paperless” campaign had only a 1% increase in online filing.

Increasingly, we know that consumers are more educated and care more about issues related to the environment. More than half (54%) of Millennials, for example, take environmental factors into consideration in the purchase process, and 45% of GenXers do. But regardless of generation, consumers care more about the environment than ever before.


So why didn’t the environmental messaging resonate?

The study didn’t test the reasoning, but Two Sides, an organization with a mission to bring truthfulness and facts to the debate about paper vs. digital communications, believes that it’s greenwashing fatigue. Greenwashing is the use of false environmental claims for marketing purposes.

For years, companies have used “Go paperless! Go green!” as a way to save money.  It costs less to send an email than a printed document, so from a bottom-line standpoint, getting customers to go paperless reduces a company’s costs. The problem with this approach is that the “Go green!” part isn’t true. Digital communications have their own environmental footprints, and increasingly, customers know it.

  • Digital communications require large server farms, which draw energy off the grid.
  • Most of the energy to run server farms comes from fossil fuels. (This is one reason that our own data centers have implemented new, high-efficiency servers.)
  • It is more challenging to recycle digital products, including cellphones and tablets. Most of the waste from these products ends up in landfills.
  • Much of this waste contains harmful components, such as mercury, which does additional damage to the environment.

Compare that to paper communications, which are heavily recycled (67%), whose manufacturing process uses high percentages of renewable energy, and support the growth of healthy forests. In fact, because 60% of U.S. forests are commercially owned, using paper products doesn’t destroy forests. By enabling landowners to derive revenue from them, this actually protects forests from development.

This isn’t saying that marketers shouldn’t use digital communications. Only that they aren’t inherently more “green” because they don’t use paper. The more consumers become educated about the environmental impacts of different channels, they become more aware of greenwashing.


According to Two Sides . . .

  • 85% of U.S. consumers believe that “Go Paperless” claims are just a way for companies to save money.
  • 80% don’t think it’s appropriate cite environmental benefits as their real motive.
  • More than 50% feel misled or question those claims.


If you’ve been successful with direct mail, this is great news. The more consumers learn, the more they see direct mail as a green communication option. Many also appreciate that you are using a channel that they feel is safer, more secure, and more trustworthy.

Want to be a “green” company? Keep sending that direct mail. Your customers will love you for it.


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