No-Print Day angers struggling industry

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Establishing a National No-Print Day probably seemed like a good idea, a way to draw attention to wasteful paper usage and to position Toshiba America Business Solutions Inc. as a company on the right side of the copier.

But then the company's campaign jammed up against a Sewickley-based printing organization that represents an industry shrunken by an increasingly digital society and looking to shed its reputation as the bad guy on environmental issues.

Now, as Toshiba tries to turn over a new page with the printing industry, it looks as if "National No-Print Day" may instead become a reduce-office-waste day.

"We've had hundreds of hundreds of calls from members from our organization who said they will boycott Toshiba on Oct. 23 and will never buy Toshiba again," said Michael Makin, president and CEO of Printing Industries of America, the graphic arts trade association that rang the alarm on Toshiba's proposal last week.

The whole thing started earlier this month when Toshiba announced its plan to encourage Americans to pledge not to print on one day in October. Toshiba launched the campaign at the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego, where more than 150 companies gathered to promote sustainable practices.

Toshiba America Business Solutions, an Irvine, Calif.-based independent branch of Toshiba Corp., provides document management services. The company thought a No-Print Day would help illustrate its commitment to sustainable document management processes and to Toshiba Corp.'s larger goal of planting 1.5 million trees by its 150th anniversary in 2025.

Printing Industries of America was not impressed.

Asking Americans not to print, the group argued, is unrealistic and offensive to the 800,000 employees in the printing industry.

"That's like saying, 'Let's have a No-Eat Day,' " Mr. Makin said. "It's a completely ridiculous statement on their part."

He said the association isn't officially calling for a boycott, although many of the group's constituents are voicing and acting on their opposition.

They have been heard. Given the passionate response, Toshiba initiated talks with the trade organization Tuesday to adjust the campaign.

Mr. Makin said Toshiba is "aborting" National No-Print Day in favor of a new campaign that will emphasize office waste reduction, although the company did not confirm that. He said Toshiba will remove references to the event on its website and is expected to distribute a press release today.

"This is a huge victory for print in America," Mr. Makin said.

And print hasn't had a lot of victories of late. Due to labor shifts, changes in global markets, increased environmental regulations and the proliferation of digital and online technology, the industry has been battered in recent years.

From 2004 to 2006, the number of printing plants shrank from more than 42,000 to fewer than 39,000, according to the Printing Industry Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The center reported the U.S. printing industry employed 1.2 million people in 2000. Mr. Makin said that number is now 800,000.

Mr. Makin commended Toshiba for moving swiftly to adjust its efforts, but noted "any replacement campaign that would make any irresponsible claims about paper would be subject to the same scrutiny from the industry."

For their part, the management at Toshiba believes Printing Industries of America misinterpreted the purpose of National No-Print Day.

"The primary thing was to raise awareness of the unnecessary or wasted print in the office place, and simple ways that individuals and companies can have significant impact in reducing that waste," said Bill Melo, vice president of marketing, services and solutions at Toshiba America Business Solutions.

The campaign, he said, was not meant to criticize the printing industry, but rather to get consumers to be more thoughtful about wasting paper in the office.

"We were frankly caught by surprise that they would have such a negative reaction," he said. "I think you have a lot of passionate people in that business who maybe unfortunately interpreted the initiative as an attack on their livelihood."

In reaching out to the printing group, Toshiba hopes to mend fences while still achieving some good. "Our goal is that everyone benefits from this, especially consumers, in learning to print smarter," Mr, Melo said.

In Toshiba's press release, Mr. Melo made the case that 336 million sheets of paper -- or 40,000 trees -- are wasted daily.

"Waste is always a drain on business and on our municipalities' budgets and on our environment. So any time we can reduce redundancy or reduce waste is always good," said Joshua Martin, director of the Environmental Paper Network, an environmental organization in Asheville, N.C., that provided information to Toshiba as the company developed the campaign but is not an official partner.

Mr. Martin noted that the percentage of paper recycled is higher than other products. Due to the large volume of paper usage, however, paper is "one of the largest contributors to our landfills across the country," he said.

The symbol of Toshiba's campaign is a mascot named Tree, described as a "good-natured Toshiba employee and spokescharacter" in the company's initial press release introducing the No-Print push. The release said that by refraining from printing, those participating in the event could give Tree "a well-deserved day off."

Mr. Makin wants to debunk "the myths that have been propagated" about his industry's impact on the environment and on Tree's arboreal brethren in particular.

"There are more trees today than there were 40 years ago," he said. "Trees are crops. They're just like corn ... and we need to treat them like crops and not like they're some protected animal that's going to become extinct."

businessnews - neigh_north

Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969 First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 AM


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