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Greenwash and the Internet

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

I knew Abe Lincoln was smart, but I had no idea he was aware of the perils of the Internet before Al Gore invented it.

I can tolerate almost everything, but hypocrisy gets my goat.  Maybe I am just getting old and cranky, but there is no need for dishonesty and hypocrisy among stationery industry leaders.    When vendors play the “green” card (i.e. the eco-friendly tagline), my ears perk up.    Despite repeated efforts of the organizers of the National Stationery Show to cut down on “greenwash” (i.e. false or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of products), mindless marketers – who haven’t contemplated their navel in quite some time – continue to wax poetic about about the eco-benefits of their product.

Of course, the only people who believe these ridiculous assertions are the people that watch “reality” TV  or think that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is more intelligent than his teleprompter.  What upsets me even more is the arrogant patronizing attitude of “green” evangelists.

Yesterday, I received this email from an unnamed Vendor:

XYZ Vendor “uses e-invoicing not only to give our customers instant knowledge of their orders, but also to save time, money and promote our notion that even a small business can make a large impact on protecting the environment.”

Now I can buy the part where e-invoicing saves XYZ vendor “time” and “money” but please save the paternalistic dribble  for your annual “A sucker is born every minute” party.   There is an overwhelming amount evidence on the disingenuous “green” claims, corrupt eco-rating services and general over-hyped claims of the “green” benefits of one product or another.

I have written many times about these exaggerated claims and the very valuable lessons learned by attending the National Stationery Show seminars on the environment.  If industry  leaders – who should know better – continue to parrot these fradulent taglines, why should we expect a better educated consumer?  Walt Whitman (I was just joking Mark!) sums it up quite well:

Wake up industry leaders and quit spreading greenwash. We need educated consumers, not sheep!

Richard May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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Celebrate Earth Day with Crane

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

The following article was recently posted on the Thérèse Saint Clair website and is reprinted in its entirety to celebrate “Earth Day” with paper.  If you are tired of the collective eco-ignorance that permeates our society, jump on the bandwagon and celebrate 200 years of using 100% cotton paper.   Encourage your eco-friendly clients to get into their gas-guzzling SUVs and hurry down to your store and get something that is truly eco-friendly.  Exxon will thank you and maybe our esteemed educators will keep cursive writing alive for another year on school curriculums.

QUOTE

Earth Day is April 22nd. I have always been sensitive to environmental issues, but have never understood the hysteria and misleading hype that permeates cyberspace regarding paper. Sadly, many people have been programmed to think that every time you use paper a tree is lost. A couple of years ago I wrote an article entitled “Cut down a tree to celebrate Earth Day.”

The purpose was to highlight the hypocrisy of the “green” movement as it pertains to our forests. No less of an authority as David Foster, an ecologist and the director of the Harvard Forest, seems to think that the selective cutting of trees might actually be helpful to create more healthy forests. His 24 page pamphlet entitled Wildlands and Woodlands expands on his theories – backed by scientific evidence.

I realize that Dr. Foster’s theories may run counter to the “feel good” eco chat in today’s society, but I will be doing my best to celebrate Earth Day with tree-free 100% cotton paper from Crane & Co. Mind you, Crane has been making recycled paper from cotton rag and cotton (a renewable crop) for over 200 years.
100% cotton paper from Crane for Earth Day
Why don’t you consider getting on the eco-bandwagon this year and drop into Thérèse Saint Clair and purchase your 100% recycled and 100% cotton paper from Crane. It is certainly better for the environment than the electronic waste accumulating in our refuse centers.

UNQUOTE

Richard W. May
Founding Member Stationers Guild

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Saturn Press: A Lesson in Integrity

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

First of all, a disclaimer:  I love Saturn Press.  It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I love the retro designs, the haiku’s and the simplicity of fine letterpress printing  on “lush card stock of recycled wood pulp that has a texture similar to the papers of 100 years ago.”

While these are certainly characteristics worth promoting, most of all I respect the passion and  integrity of designer Jane Goodrich and  printer James van Pernis who make these beautiful cards on Swan’s Island in Maine near Bar Harbor.

Before you ask – and I get asked frequently – Saturn Press does not have a website and no email.  The best way to contact them is to mail them a letter to the following address:

Saturn Press
Post Office Box 368
Swan’s Island, Maine 04685

Jane explained that they support “snail mail” and the best way to get their undivided attention is to take the time to write them a personal note.   If you have a catalog and order form, you may fax it to 207-526-4001.  I don’t recommend a phone call, but if you insist the phone number is 207-526-4000.

Saturn Press will be closed from mid-February to early April.   The weather in Maine is not particularly hospitable at that time of year and many water pipes freeze so the water is cut off.  In any event, their new 2013 catalog will begin shipping in April so request your copy now.  A personal handwritten note is the most effective form of communication.

Here are several reasons (in no particular order) why Saturn Press should be on everyone’s wish list this year:

  • Saturn Press walks-the-walk in terms of environmental integrity.  All of their papers are sourced from the George A. Whiting Paper Company in Menasha, Wisconsin.  Saturn Press writes, “We know that Whiting paper may cost us a bit more than that made by larger corporations, but we also know the mill is sustainable.  We know the water that exits the mill is cleaner than the water that came in.  The family sails on Lake Winnebago, just around the corner!  We know the faces of the people who make our paper, and that a company of 53 employees results in a real team effort for quality.    Note:  George Whiting has been making papers since 1882 and the printing mill is now run by his great-great grandson.
  • Their designs and print quality are comforting and reassuring without the trite expressions that characterize most greeting cards and holiday card lines.  Less is more and this is certainly the case with Saturn Press.
  • The papers, designs and printing are 100% “Made in the USA”.  Gosh, that’s novel.
  • Jane and James have been making their cards the same way since 1986.  No compromise on artistic or printing integrity that characterizes much of what has taken place in the industry.  How refreshing.

To quote Rainer Maria Rilke from one of Saturn Press’ best designs (“Juncos #0565):  ”And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

Richard May
Founding Member of the Stationers Guild

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E-Vites for a Wedding? Wake up Martha!

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

A recent Blog article called my attention to some advice given by Talley Sue Hohlfeld, Etiquette Expert for Martha Stewart, on whether bridal couples should send E-Vites for a Wedding.   Ms. Hohlfeld, blindly jumping on the “save-a-tree” bandwagon, acknowledged that she was “firmly against using e-mail for something as momentous as a wedding invitation.”  Nevertheless, she added that “putting a website URL on the lower left corner of your invitation would . . . save paper on your end.”  As an etiquette adviser to Martha Stewart, Ms. Hohlfeld should know that putting a website URL on an invitation is not only improper etiquette but is also quite TACKY.

Look, I have no issue with people sending out email invitations to save money.  Nevertheless, to justify sending an e-Vite on ecological grounds is either stupid, deceptive or simply dishonest.   First and foremost, many quality wedding invitations are printed on paper made from cotton and not wood fiber.    In fact, Crane & Co. has been printing paper from cotton (a renewable crop) and cotton rag from textile mills (recycled cotton) for over 200 years.  Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Ms. Stewart decided to partner with Crane & Co. to launch her new line of Martha Stewart wedding invitations.  Perhaps, Ms. Hohlfeld should consult Ms. Stewart and ask her whether she would like to see a URL at the bottom of her invitation.

Secondly, the “save-the-tree” war cry of environmental righteousness is simply a banal sound-bite probably concocted by online email advocates like AOL and eVite to justify their services as “green.”  I think we all know the expression that if you repeat the same sales pitch or lie and nobody questions it, overtime people will believe it to be true.  Wake up wantabe environmentalists, it’s a hoax!  Most serious paper companies like William Arthur and many others source and produce papers made from wood fibers using the highest “green” standards.  In fact, harvesting wood may be beneficial rather than detrimental to the environment, according to  David Foster director of the Harvard Forest Project.

Martha Stewart Weddings

Martha Stewart Weddings

Thirdly, if Ms. Hohlfeld honesty believed what she was saying, she would most certainly recommend to Ms. Stewart that she immediately cease the publication of Martha Stewart Weddings in the interests of saving a forest, not simply a tree.  Or how about the fact that the average PC user consumes 28 pieces of paper a day.  Should we simply abolish PCs to save a tree?   Ms. Hohlfeld and others who promote themselves as experts should take the time to seriously research issues before simply repeating self-serving slogans that have little basis in fact.  Civility and good taste would be far better served by “Etiquette Editors” who understood the difference between etiquette and a sales pitch.

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Stationery and Global Livestock Production

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Last Christmas one of my daughters gave me Mark Bittman’s book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.  Clearly more concerned about my growing waistline than my malnourished intellect, my daughter’s inspired gift got me to thinking about calories and food production from an entirely different perspective:  the environment.  In Mr. Bittman’s eye-opening introduction he asserts that, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultual Organization (FAO), “global livestock production is responsible for one-fifth of all greenhouse gases – more than transportation.”

Mark Bittman, the noted food critic for the New York Times, and straight-man to hilarious chef Mario Batali in Spain… On The Road Again, makes an utterly convincing case for reducing our meat consumption and  ”save ourselves and our planet (and some money) by doing so.”  While I have not yet swapped cow for tofu, my daughters will be delighted that I have decided to moderate my diet and eat more responsibly.  In addition to practical reasons for modifying our eating habits, Food Matters has 75 great recipes to help facilitate that change.

You may be asking, what does stationery have to do with global livestock production?   A cynical answer might be that if everyone were to skip the double cheeseburger and instead send out a hand-written note the world be a better place.  Surely, a nice piece of social correspondence doesn’t  use  any more paper than the wrapping paper and bag that accompanies your 700 calorie burger.

While it is fashionable to be “green” I am always a bit skeptical of “green” claims when it comes to paper.   Scot Case of TerraChoice discusses the seven sins of greenwash which are routinely violated in most ”green” stationery promotions.   I am not sure if these questionable claims are deliberate, but stretching the truth seems to be a common and growing trend within the stationery industry.  It is indeed unfortunate as there are so many passionate and talented designers and craftspeople like Julie Holcomb, Oblation Papers and Elum Designs where “green” is a way of life rather than misleading promotional hype.

Mr. Bittman’s book on eating habits and global livestock production brings home a sad truth:  We seem to spend far too much time focusing micro-issues while  the “big green picture” gradually slips out of control.  Certainly, global livestock production and packaging, which represents more than 40% of all paper production, are far more serious environmental concerns than the simple yet elegant act of sending a personal note.

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Cut down a tree to celebrate Earth Day

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Today we celebrate Earth Day.  While cutting down a tree to celebrate Earth Day may seem like a crazy idea, David Foster, an ecologist and the director of the Harvard Forest, seems to think it might actually be helpful.  In a fascinating article by Robert Sullivan in the April 19th New York Times Magazine, Mr. Foster argues that “land stewardship” and managing forest public properties in an “ecologically sustainable manner,” may actually increase the intake of carbon and contribute to a healthier climate.

While Mr. Foster’s ideas may seem like heresy to the Green movement (he is called “Dr. Death” in some circles), his 24 page phamplet called Wildlands and Woodlands proposes “leaving  areas designated as wildlands untouched” and connect state and federal forests and wilderness areas through “aggregated chunks of private land.”  Trees would be harvested from these private properties under sustainable farming programs.

I have no way knowing whether Mr. Foster’s proposal is a ”good” environmental program, but he is a scientist and  experiments in the 3,500 acre Harvard Forest certainly add credibility to his arguments.  I was flabbergasted to learn that the peak de-forestation of Massachusetts occured around the time of Henry David Thoreau and that this third most densely populated state is now on the top 10 list of most forested states in the United States.

“Going green” has hit the stationery industry in a big way.  Unfortunately, most of the “eco-chic” claims are misleading or simply irrelevant in the greater scheme of the environmental movement.  Programs and experiments developed by Mr. Foster and others suggest that man and nature can live in harmony.  On Earth Day let’s toast an environmental movement based on substance, experimentation and facts rather than the “feel-good” marketing hype which dominates much of today’s media.

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Green Wedding Invitations: Urban Legend?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

In a recent article that was picked up by Planet Green, Cara Smusiak cites the advantages of setting up an online RSVP for your wedding invitations.  With little real evidence to support her claim, Ms. Smusiak argues that “Wedding invitations add up to a giant carbon footprint. Between invitation delivery and RSVP responses, there’s a lot of transportation and mechanical sorting involved—all of which requires energy, which is probably supplied by an unclean energy source.”

At the risk of being ostracized by the green community, I do think Ms. Smusiak’s claim is exaggerated and her advice may, in fact, cause more harm to the environment than sending out wedding invitations.  For instance, the Gartner Group and HP report that the average web user uses 28 pages of paper daily.   In fact, 115 billion sheets of paper are used annually for personal computers:  more than 3 times the volume of first class letters (non-sorted) in the United States.   I guess the question is:  Are we really any better off collectively if  the emailed recipient is simply printing the invitation and direction card at his or her work station?  I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that it is probably a wash.

While I am all for helping the environment, I would like to do so responsibly.  There are many talented invitation designers such as Oblation and Julie Holcomb who have been promoting green papers and eco-friendly printing solutions long before “eco-chic” and green weddings became fashionable.  While we may feel better touting questionable green claims, the movement would be far better served by addressing more serious problems than pretending that wedding invitations are destroying the environment.  ”Green wedding invitations“ sounds cool, but I suspect that it is just simply an ill-considered urban legend that continues to gather momentum without the benefit of much thought, let alone serious debate.

Environmentalists like Scot Case of Terrachoice, regularly point out the sins of “greenwash” and how exaggerated and deceptive claims undermine the environmental cause.    Beating the drum for this particular “cause” is guilty of the sins of irrelevance and lack of proof.

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National Stationery Show to be digital by April 1, 2012

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

In a surprise development that has taken the stationery industry by storm, National Stationery Show spokesperson, Shirley Greenhouse, announced that the National Stationery Show would be “entirely digital” by 2012.  Ms. Greenhouse stated that “today’s consumer is embracing a new medium to express themselves and, quite frankly, paper is no longer considered Eco-chic, timely or relevant.”

While this will come as a shock to traditionalists and the many artisans who produce fine paper, it is a huge cost-saving boon to online resellers and printers who can now substitute paper invitations and stationery with online images.   Said one delighted CEO, who preferred to remain anonymous, “we can finally compete with the Chinese now that we don’t have to deliver the goods.”   For another anonymous executive,  it is a dream come true:  “Brides can now have digital stationery and invitations to match their wedding website.  To be quite honest, producing ‘real paper’ was just a distraction and got in the way of cross-selling other products and services to bridal couples.”

While Ms. Greenhouse, dismissed accusations that the NSS digital plan was a sell-out to online resellers who produce little of tangible value other than advertising revenue, many brick-and-mortar retailers were disappointed with the announcement.   Store-owner Elizabeth Long from Stillwater, OK remarked that she looked forward to visiting NY and catching up with the latest industry trends.  Says Elizabeth, “despite the over-priced food and beverages at the Jacob K. Javits Center, I will really miss rubbing elbows with talented designers and the beautiful papers they produce.  Quite frankly, I’ve never understood the ’save a tree’ mantra of online marketers since we only sell stationery made from cotton rag.  I guess it’s a generational thing.  If the new generation can’t spell stationary correctly, I suppose there is no reason for them to buy it.”

Charles Avery, a long-time distributor for many fine paper lines watched a lifetime of ”pushing paper” disappear in a cloud of low-resolution pixels.  While obviously distraught, Mr. Avery summed up the situation quite philosophically, “this adds new meaning to the expression that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”   Even the “Twits” on Twitter were taken aback by this stunning announcement and were furiously text messaging the organizers for further clarification.  Fortunately for Ms. Greenhouse, the NSS email Server was down again, a regular occurrence that the GLM management company laughingly refers to as “turning a deaf ear to the situation.”

It is hard to believe that the National Stationery Show organizers would take such a radical step and turn the lights off on a 500 year-old industry spawned by the Johannes Gutenberg.  “Certainly, it is better than moving the Stationery Show to Las Vegas, but this is still rather extreme,” summed up one grizzled paper veteran.  Ms. Greenhouse offered no apologies for the decision, and deftly fielded many cynical questions with the curious sound bite “if we can rebuild Detroit without gas-guzzling cars, we can certainly build a better world without paper.  Long live the Spotted Owl!”   We are hopeful that the organizers will certainly reconsider their pronouncement on April Fools Day.

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Letterpress invitation promotion by Smock Paper

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Smock Paper is offering free letterpress invitation envelope printing through December 31, 2009.  In a recent email message to their dealers, Smock felt that this would be a great opportunity for dealers to connect with their clients in today’s challenging economy.

Smock’s generous offer could save a customer up to $240 dollars for 100 invitation envelopes.  If you are looking for wedding invitations, Bar or Bat Mitzvah invitations or a baby announcement, we strongly suggest that you contact a Guild member store in your neighborhood to view Smock’s exceptional line of letterpress invitations printed on bamboo paper.

First seen at the National Stationery Show last May, Smock Paper is rapidly carving out a reputation for superior letterpress design on arguably one of the most interesting sustainable products for paper:  bamboo.  With this generous offer, Smock Paper may be impossible to resist.

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National Stationery Show Gets Married: Why?

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I was somewhat taken aback but hardly surprised that the National Stationery Show will partner with Get Married to produce a series of bridal theme displays.  The National Stationery Show is scheduled for May 17 through May 20 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

I must admit that I am not familiar with Get Married’s pedigree, but a cursory review of their website suggests that it offers little more than the myriad of online wedding sites that populate cyberspace.  What does Get Married have to offer that The Knot or the Wedding Channel or indeed a boatload of other wedding portals don’t have?  These hyped-up wedding portals are designed to sell, not inform.  Their value is largely determined by the all-powerful advertising dollar, not relevance to the consumer or the craftspeople and designers who make fine stationery products.

While I applaud The National Stationery Show planners for enlisting the help of a “wedding planner” to help showcase bridal theme displays, why did they select an online wedding website?  I view this as a sell-out to online resellers and online printers who are rapidly undermining the craftsmanship of fine stationery and custom invitations.  The National Stationery Show organizers should be chastised for promoting distribution channels rather than the artisans who make fine stationery and invitations and the experienced stationers who sell them.

Online wedding websites should be judged by their advertising sponsors, the products they promote and the distribution channels found on their website.  Specifically, I judge the integrity of wedding portals by the number of “true” local businesses that are listed under local resources.  For instance, Get Married, today listed six sources for local invitations and calligraphy in Connecticut on their website.  Four and probably five of these “stationers” are national resellers or printers.   Get Married is no different than The Knot or Martha Stewart Weddings who promote national resellers and printers as local resources.  How sad it is that these website owners have so little regard for the online buyer who may be looking for an experienced stationer in their neighborhood and invitation designers and fine paper lines who would never consider selling invitations online.

In an era when our public leaders quibble over the definition of  “is”, how can we expect website owners and search engines to agree that “local” refers to a business at a fixed location.  An 800 or 888 prefix is not a local business.  It is most unfortunate that online buyers searching for genuine local resources now have to sort through irrelevant, yes dishonest, search results that have been compromised by advertising fees paid to these wedding portals.

As a long-time visitor the National Stationery Show, I can’t wait to see the Eco-Chic wedding theme table promised by the organizers.  I suspect that the “Eco-chic wedding”  is just another questionable marketing ploy by the organizers to make us feel good about buying invitations that are produced from recycled paper and post-consumer waste.  Like the marketing spin on local resources, I suspect that this is simply   Greenwash spin that only serves to discourage leading craftspeople where concern for the environment is simply an integral part of their everyday life.

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