Counterintuitive

December 12, 2010

Always have liked that word.  Something that is counterintuitive is unexpected, surprising. Counterintuitive results may even seem illogical at first.  A counterintuitive conclusion calls out for examination.

Where exactly is this leading? To something relevant, of course. International Paper Company has sponsored a new website based upon a seemingly counterintuitive argument.  The website is GoPaperGrowTrees.com and the argument goes something like this: choosing and using paper actually benefits forests and the environment.

Poor Richard can hear what may of you are thinking . . . “sheer propaganda from wealthy timber barons bent on despoiling America’s valuable natural resources.”

Admittedly, the source of the argument lends a certain tinge to it’s credibility. Poor Richard, having earned his livelihood (for better and lately for worse) in and around the timber and paper industry, may also be considered a suspicious source.  Yet the argument stands on its own, despite the advocates involved.  It’s born of simple economics and goes something like this:

  1. Forestry is an agricultural business.  This is certainly true in the US and the website supplies the data to prove it.
  2. The amount of a product supplied is directly related to the demand for that product. This is basic economics. Remember the S&D graph in Econ 101?  The price of the product is determined by the intersection of the supply and demand curves.
  3. There is competition for the resources needed for production.  In this case, the competing interest is development.  Most of the timberland lost in the US during the last 20 years was forestland that was eliminated for development. The value of the land resource was greater when developed for commercial or residential use than when employed in agricultural production of timber.
  4. If the demand for forest related products (specifically paper) remains low, prices will not provide an incentive for continued forest management, additional forest lands will be lost, and fewer remaining forests will be managed either for environmental or agricultural benefit.
  5. Finally (and conversely), an increase in the demand for (and price of) print and paper will preserve forest lands and help to insure the best economic and environmental outcomes.

Multiple factors have driven the decrease in the demand for paper and print during the last 3 years.  Foremost among these are the availability of competing technologies (like blogs on the internet), the perception that the cost of print outweighs any benefit it has over competing forms of communication, and the propensity to simply cut the larger identifiable costs when under economic stress.

It would be interesting to be able to measure the actual effect that environmental objections have had on demand.  While Poor Richard suspects that this would be difficult to quantify, there is no doubt that the green objection has made a great excuse for the denigration of print and the diminution of demand for print on paper.  (I still don’t believe that people are really freaking out about printing their emails).

Go Paper Grow Trees LogoWill this signal a return to the good old days of print on paper? Probably not, but it’s still a very effective (if counterintuitive) argument for valuable products that really shouldn’t be as outmoded as popular environmental mantras would make them.   Click on the logo, visit the site, watch the video and let me know what you think. Or better yet, order something printed on paper from the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street.


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