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False and cheap advertising


Week of 15 June 2009

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Palm has just introduced the "Pre"--a new phone designed to take on Apple's iPhone. It is being exclusively sold by Sprint. If you stumble around on the Sprint website long enough, you will come upon this link: http://now.sprint.com/widget (click on "More" below to go directly to it). This is a strange page with all sorts of little boxes and rectangles with "data" in them. Two of them, near the middle of the page, caught my attention. One is titled "Forests Cut Now" and includes a fairly rapidly moving counter denominated in square miles. Just below this box is one titled "Houses built now" with another counter, moving fairly fast (note, even on a high speed connection, it will take a little time for these to show up). There is a graphical link between the two--trees being chewed up in the top box result in a house being built in the bottom one. If one tries to link the "data" between these two boxes by watching the rotation of their counters, one will conclude it takes one square mile of trees to make 0.2 houses. Some fool (besides me) will make this same connection and it will show up in an ecological Ph.D. dissertation. Count on it. After that, it will be gospel.

By the way, at this purported rate, if the whole United States were covered with suitable forests for building houses, stripping it bare would result in the construction of only 723,752 houses, 100,000 short of the number of houses in New Mexico, according to the 2000 US Census.

A credit card I have is constantly trying to persuade me to go to electronic statements in order to "save trees." Which is ironic, since much of their material (admittedly not all) says "printed on 100% recycled paper."

Only one type of entity has the right to say they are doing anything to "save trees": basic paper and paperboard manufacturers. No one else has the foggiest clue as to what they are really doing in this area.

So why do they say these things? It is false and cheap advertising and public relations. You would have to have been living in a cave for the last two decades in order to not know that cutting down a tree is the equivalent in the general public's mind to waterboarding the forest. So businesses' advertising and public relations departments play fast and loose with the data in order to make a point. They don't care if it is right or wrong--it merely is convenient, eye catching and serves their purpose.

What is Sprint really trying to do? Just provide eye catching data, they have no concern whatsoever if it is right or wrong. What is the credit card company trying to do? Save money, plain and simple.

How bad is the situation? My wife, Laura, who is now in another industry, recently tried to exchange business cards with a senior colleague from Europe (estimated age: 65). He absolutely refused to do so, for he thinks we make business cards from trees from old growth forests. Laura tried to explain otherwise, but he would hear nothing of it--no business card, no way.

We must admit the public relations' efforts of our industry over the last twenty years have been simply terrible. We can give people and entities credit for sincerely trying to do a good job, but the results tell us we have miserably failed.

We have made feeble attempts to keep milk in paperboard cartons and groceries in paper bags, but these have been weak and foolish campaigns. We have concentrated on battles while we are losing the war.

It is time that each of us, individually, takes up the cause, with legitimate, direct information to the entities involved. We have a good industry and we should hold our heads high. We need to face the reality that no one else, even our own organizations which are supposed to get out the good news about the forest products industry are not doing the job. Only grass roots employees, the ones that really care, can make a difference and make our voices heard. This does work. For example, a few years ago, here in the United States, companies advertising what are essentially electric wheel chairs were telling television viewers that they could get them one "for free." I, and obviously lots of other viewers, wrote to these companies and told them those chairs came through our Medicare tax dollars and they were not free. Enough of us wrote that they change their ads--it was not a coordinated campaign, it was merely a number of people wanting the record set straight. We can do this here, too. Here are a few suggestions as to what we can do:

1. I already suggested you send some virgin toilet paper to Dr. Allen Hershkowitz at the Natural Resources Defense Council (Nip Impressions, 9 March 09). Some of you have enthusiastically written to tell me you have done this. Good for you.
2. The United Steel Workers (the USW) represent many workers in the US pulp and paper industry. Unions have the ear of the current administration. The USW should be encouraged (through legal means, of course, and I hasten to add I do not know what those are) to make the case for their members' livelihood with the administration.
3. What is true in number 2 is probably true around the world, and the appropriate worker organizations should be encouraged to step up the volume of their concern.
4. When you see something that is cheap and false public relations, write to the company producing the data. Public relations departments listen better than any other departments in companies.
5. If you are involved in local civic clubs (Rotary, Lions, Optimists, and so forth) anywhere, make sure your members know about the vital importance of our industry.
6. If you are responsible for hiring engineering consultants, contractors or you are responsible for purchasing equipment, ask these entities in bid qualifying meetings what they are doing to support our industry and putting out the good word about us throughout their communities and areas of influence. After all, if they are going to earn money from us, they should spend a little spreading the good news about the pulp and paper industry to the general public.
7. If you or a subsidiary manufactures and prints packaging, see if there is some space available on that packaging to say a good word about our industry. Often, there is not, but sometimes there is a little space, on the bottom, inside a glue flap, or somewhere that something can be said.
8. If you operate your own truck fleet (lorries), have your own public relations department put educational messages on your trucks, particularly the back doors, that educates the public about the pulp and paper industry.
9. If you make plywood, framing lumber, or other such materials, you do have plenty of space to make a statement about our industry and the sources of your materials on your finished products. I am not talking about matters such as SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) logos, I am talking about real, substantial and pithy data anyone can understand.
10. If you make gypsum wallboard or shingles, you have places to put the message, too. Gypsum wallboard manufacturers have the whole "backside" of each sheet to make into a positive billboard. Organic shingle manufacturers can put a pithy message on their packaging.
11. Now this one is not for amateurs, it must be done with grace and aplomb or you will just sound like a whining teenager. The next time somebody gives you a hard time about paper, say, "Oh, and do you have granite countertops in your kitchen?" If they say yes, followup with, "Granite does not seem to be a renewable resource. And have you seen the moonscape-like holes they have to dig in the ground to get it? I hear that sometimes they fill up with rainwater and poisonous chemicals leached out of the remains. Nothing can live in these pools."
12. Like granite, you can say the same thing about concrete. Cement, the active ingredient in concrete, is made by mining limestone and processed using tremendous amounts of energy (but you already knew this). Limestone is so plentiful that it is virtually inconceivable we could ever run out of it, but old limestone quarries are scars on the earth and have all the problems of any abandoned mine. Seems that concrete is essential for sidewalks, foundations, bridges and runways.

Dear readers, we have to do it ourselves. It is very clear no one else is going to do it for us.

For safety this week, consider recovery time from accidents. I am still whining and moaning about my dislocated shoulder, which occurred way back on May 8th. And I am lucky; I had a fairly serious situation which has had a very good result. Accidents are senseless in so many ways.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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