5 Lessons from the Fiasco of Toshiba’s No-Print Day Campaign

Toshiba had good intentions. Its America Business Solutions unit announced earlier this month at the Sustainable Brands conference that the first annual National No-Print Day (NNPD) to be held on Oct. 23, 2012.

It was supposed to be, the company said, “a nationwide campaign to encourage, educate and challenge individuals and companies to commit to one day of no printing to raise awareness of the impact printing has on our planet.” Yet, sometimes good intentions are not enough, and after the campaign generated furious response from the printing industry, Toshiba canceled the campaign, committing to going back to the drawing board and deleting every sign of the campaign from the Internet.

While some would blame the printing industry for bulling Toshiba and sabotaging a worthy campaign, others claimed Toshiba can only blame itself for creating a simplistic presentation of printing as bad for the environment and ignoring the practical impacts of shifting to a paperless office. In any event there some interesting lessons to be learned from this failed attempt to give trees “a well-deserved day off.”

Here are five of them:

1. The fight over perception – I was wondering why the printing industry chose to fight Toshiba. After all, in almost every CSR report you can find bragging about paper reductions. You also won’t find the printing industry going after banks and utilities for encouraging their customers to shift to paperless bills and communication, or after Microsoft for explaining why it makes sense for small and medium-sized businesses to move towards a paperless office. So why picking on Toshiba,then?

My guess is that the printing industry felt that Toshiba’s campaign generated a much greater threat to their business because it attempted to shape the perception of printing. After all it was Bill Melo of Toshiba America Business Solutions who said “our goal with NNPD is nothing short of changing behavior and the very way we print at the office and home. To achieve this, we’ve committed to a comprehensive awareness and social media campaign.” I guess for the printing industry this was as close to declaration of war on printing as it gets, and given the potential magnitude of the campaign, they saw no choice but to attack back this time.

2. This war ain’t over – The fight of the printing industry in the U.S. over the reputation of paper is far from being over, so don’t be surprised to see similar attacks in the future. The reason is that the industry is facing a continuing decline of paper consumption in the U.S. As the Environmental Paper Network reports on The State of the Paper Industry 2011, consumption of paper and paperboard products has experienced significant decline in North America since 2007: “This is attributable primarily to the aftermath of the financial crisis in the United States at the end of the decade. The poor economy motivated many companies to perform a close analysis of their paper use and inspired the adoption of innovative and more efficient systems.”

The future also doesn’t seem too promising according to the report: “These new systems will remain in place into the economic recovery and likely have a lasting impact on printing and writing paper consumption.”

3. Green yourself first – It’s very difficult to promote green behavior when you don’t walk the walk. In Toshiba’s case, although the company is no stranger to CSR, it receives very poor grades in Greenpeace Guides to Greener Electronics. In the last report it scored 2.8 out of 10 points and took the 13th place out of 15 companies. Moreover, this report mentions that Toshiba  “fails to score on paper sourcing as it does not have a paper procurement policy which excludes suppliers that are involved in deforestation and illegal logging.“

So can you really preach to others to make environmental changes when you haven’t done it yourself properly?

4. Present the full picture – One of Toshiba’s problems seemed to be its inability to provide a balanced picture that acknowledges that electronic formats have their own carbon footprint and impacts. If Toshiba would have provided a better understanding of the alternative it is offering and why it is still better than printing, it would be much more difficult to accuse the company of providing partial or misleading information. In an environment where there’s a growing discussion of the footprint of data centers and the cloud, no one can and should ignore these issues anymore, especially in a campaign to reduce printing.

5. Wrong message –  Toshiba decided to put the environment first in this campaign. Melo said “We know that approximately 336,000,000 sheets of paper are wasted daily – that’s more than 40,000 trees discarded every day in America. We as individuals and companies are failing to make the link between printing waste and its negative impacts on our landfills, natural resources and the environment.” This is a great message for an Earth Day campaign, not for a campaign around behavior change. Corporate America prints less these days not because it cares so much about the environment, but because it saves companies money, increases their efficiency and saves time.

So in a way the printing industry might have done Toshiba a favor by sending it back to the drawing table. Maybe this time Toshiba will come up with a campaign that can actually makes a difference and talk to business in a language it can relate to.

[Image credit: spelio, Flickr Creative Commons]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Design and Management at Parsons The New School for Design. His research interests include the convergence of innovation, sustainability, business and design strategies, as well as the sharing economy, sustainable business models and design thinking. Currently he is involved in projects focusing on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, resilience and the sharing economy, future of design thinking, and whether Millennials can integrate sustainability into their lifestyles.Raz is the co-founder of two green startups (Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris) and a contributor writer to Triple Pundit.