Pulp Magic

DECEMBER 10, 2015

Why Paper Persists

I came across a recent article (“Report: 84% of orgs see ROI from paper-free programs in under 18 months,” by Lisa Hoover McGreevy, 12/02/15) in the tech trade, “Fierce Content Management.” In the context of reporting on “paperless” workplaces it includes comments I gave to the Washington Post on the mission of the Paper and Packaging Board (P+PB).

But readers who only encountered those quotes in McGreevy’s article would be missing critical context on why paper persists and come away with a flawed understanding on what P+PB and the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds™ campaign is all about.

McGreevy’s article centers on two claims: One, that an overwhelming majority of workplaces still rely on paper for important business purposes; and two, that the small minority who have instituted major “paperless” initiatives have seen significant cost savings.

These seem at first to be contradictory. If going paperless saves companies so much money, why are so few of them doing it?

That’s where McGreevy inaccurately claims that our campaign from paper and box manufacturers plays on old technology and nostalgia. She writes:

Well played, paper industry. Nostalgia is big right now, as is the notion that some people like to be surrounded by visual representations of their “important stuff.” Those concepts are easily carried into the office by workers who need to buy into the idea of a paperless office just as much as C-level decision makers.”

Reducing the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds™ campaign to mere “nostalgia” completely misreads the messages behind the campaign. The objective isn’t to conjure memories about how people used to value paper, but rather to remind them of all the ways in which they still do. It’s true that we tend to be nostalgic for things that we value, but it’s the wrong way to describe a campaign that is very much about the present and the future, not the past.

In fact, understanding the ways people continue to value and choose paper provides the real answer to the quandary McGreevy poses. If going digital really is cheaper, then why are so many sticking with paper?

As McGreevy herself notes, the same report that showed cost savings with digital also reveal that people still value paper for business transactions, such as contracts, and want to retain paper copies of important documents. The report also shows that 49 percent of respondents cited staff preference as a reason for not going paperless.

One reason so many want the option of paper is that paper makes us better thinkers.

While McGreevy correctly reports that P+PB funds an annual Back-to-School Report on the comparative educational benefits of paper options, she doesn’t mention the numerous independent studies that show these same benefits. To name just a few:

  • Neuroscience shows that our brains are more active when engaged with print, as opposed to digital material.
  • Korean researchers showed that studying from printed books improved quiz scores.
  • A Norwegian study found that printed materials increase reading comprehension over digital, in both fiction and
  • The Nielson group found that people still read faster from printed materials.
  • Pew research shows that 81 percent of parents think it is very important for their children to read printed books.

The real conclusion of the report referenced in McGreevy’s article isn’t that digital costs less — it’s that offices (and their employees) continue to place real value in print in an increasingly digital world.