Market survey: consumers and paper

Paper between being and appearance


Communicating the true values of paper and its supply chain: this is the goal of the international project  called Two Sides which, at the beginning of 2019 , carried out a survey in eight European countries about consumers’ perception with regard to paper. It shows that Europeans like paper, but there are still many preconceptions about it. The supply chain’s objective over the next few years will thus be to dispel these false myths, learning to communicate better.

Being or appearing: a dichotomy which still applies to paper, an environment-friendly, biocompatible and recyclable material, which however it still accompanied by myths and misconceptions. Such an erroneous perception ends up affecting the market, and not just the existing structure, but the one which you could potentially build. This is why understanding how to communicate the real values of this material and of the supply chain which produces it becomes indispensable.

The objective of disseminating these cultural aspects, as well as communicating the sustainability, compatibility and environmental values of paper and printing, underpins the international project Two Sides, which is supported by Federazione Carta e Grafica and many companies in the industry, and which this year started the campaign “Of course I love paper”.

As part of its initiatives, in February 2019, a market survey was conducted entitled “Paper and environment: let’s get rid of myths”, dedicated to the perception and attitudes of consumers in respect of paper. It was carried out through the online platform Toluna, in eight European countries: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, United Kingdom and Sweden.The results were presented for the first time in Milan (Italy), at the end of June, during the annual Meeting of the Federation.

 Paper and communication: reading

The survey, explains Fabrizio Savorani of Two Sides Italia covered two areas: «the assessment of paper as a tool for communication in the modern-day multichannel environment, and the perception of the environmental impact of producing and using paper, therefore all the relations established with the environment and recycling issues».

The first topic we covered was paper and communication. «The survey» explains Savorani «shows that consumers still prefer paper when they read books, magazines and newspapers». Not only do 70% of respondents prefer reading on paper to digital media, but there is also a widespread perception that the intensive use of digital devices could have a harmful impact on health – according to 54% of the sample – and that it is important to “switch off” and read printed materials – according to 77% of the population, «almost three people out of four».

This is a first positive sign, therefore, which still includes some differences. «Italy seems to be keen on paper as an environment-friendly material when reading a book, more than any other country, followed closely by France. They both appear to be strongly anchored to the values of paper also as regards reading magazines, while the gap becomes much larger in Nordic countries – Sweden, Finland, Norway – as well as Austria and Germany. Having regard to reading newspapers, the share of the public which considers paper environment-friendly is smaller» and the gap with Nordic countries becomes larger; in Italy, for example, the shares are reversed, with the majority of people opting for digital devices. This is interesting information, concludes Savorani, because newspaper publishers are actually focusing on the dual – hard copy and online – approach.

News and correspondence

Interesting data were also presented on information. Fake news is a cause for concern among most respondents, as many as 70%; however, «only 32% of Italians believe that the news they read in the papers is believable; on the other hand 15% – half as many – consider social media and digital platforms reliable». Paper here ranks first in all the countries under consideration; the difference between geographical areas, however, is noticeable: «in the case of France, or Finland, Sweden and Germany the gap between digital media and paper – in favour of the latter – is huge, sometimes even by five or six times. In these countries the credibility which is not enjoyed by digital media is assigned to newspapers, which is not true in Italy».

As regards correspondence, on the other hand, «generally speaking Europeans apparently prefer to have a right to choose when to receive correspondence as hard copy or online, rather than being the passive subjects of a choice made by operators or financial players with the sole aim of saving money».

The sustainability of paper

The second macro-topic covered during the survey was paper and its sustainabilitywhich is actually the area in which the greatest communicationdifficulties are encountered. The idea that woodland can be used profitably in a rational way and respecting its balances seems still to be very distant from general perception, especially in our country. This conviction is further strengthened by figures showing that the majority of people are convinced that the woodland surface – both in Italy and in Europe as a whole – is gradually becoming smaller. And the figures are indeed remarkable: «according to 80% of Italian respondents, between the year 200 and the present day, the forest surface in Europe overall has gone down; compared to average data from all the countries where the survey was conducted at the same time, the figure is 58%, showing a considerable gap in perception. The share of Italian respondents who, on the other hand, believe that the forest surface has increased – which is indeed a true statement – is a mere 4%; in Europe as a whole it is still low, although twice that amount, that is to say more than 9%».

The sustainability of paper has then been compared, once again with digital media. The question whether digital information should be considered more environment-friendly that on paper was answered with “yes” by respondents in all countries, with the highest percentages in Finland (63%) and Italy (62%). On the other hand, the countries which least agree with this statement are first of all France (just 43%), Germany, Austria (47%), and Norway (49%).

As for industries, «we have asked people which business they see as having the greatest impact on forests, between paper and cellulose, construction and wood, urban development, energy and biomasses», continues Savorani. «Paper is certainly not very popular: it is seen as one of the industries with the highest impact»: more than 60% of respondents giving it the highest scores – between 4 and 5, on a scale of 1 to 5 –. «The industry considered as having the highest impact is urban development, followed by the wood sector and construction where intensive use of wood is made, but only slightly higher than paper».

If you then break down the results by country, it appears that «the negative feeling in respect of paper is higher in Italy than in other countries (63%), followed by France (52%); in Nordic countries, on the other hand, the values are around half those in Italy, specifically Norway (31%) and Sweden (36%)».

The only industry where Italy does not rank first in terms of negative feeling with regard to environmental impact, is energy production and biomass; this result, according to Savorani, leads to an interesting conclusion: «the term “biomass” is used by this industry to define itself as compatible, or at least sustainable, and this of course produces a positive perception among consumers». Something like this is unheard of in the paper supply chain, which – once again – opens up communication-related issues.

Generally speaking the survey shows that in countries where there is a culture of forestry as an economic resource – Nordic countries and Austria – the approach towards companies making use of wood resources is less negative.

The perception of recycling

The final topic covered was recycling, and it appeared that the work done by the supply chain to convey the message of paper recyclability is yielding excellent results. Between glass, metal, plastic, electronic devices and paper, the latter is considered the most environment-friendly material, alongside wood and glass, especially in Italy. Nevertheless, this specific characteristic «is not associated with the work done by the industry to make sure it remains compatible and sustainable, and to be itself sustainable».

In particular, data show that much more needs to be done on this subject, because «the share of the population which is aware of the real scale of the recycling rate for paper is still very low. More than 70% of paper is recycled, but just 17% of the population assigned the correct value». «on the other hand, the materials which are considered less recycled are electronic devices, followed by metal, while plastic – on the whole – does not seem to be perceived so negatively, at least with regard to its recycling rate».

If we then consider the specificities of each country, it appears that Sweden, Finland, Norway and Austria are still much more aware of high recycling rates compared to the other nations interviewed.

In conclusion, the results of the survey show that there is still a huge gap between consumers’ perception and the work done by the industry in this sector, especially as regards understanding the values of recycling and reforestation. Hence the importance of stressing the concepts underlying the Two Sides campaign, namely «that paper is the most recyclable and recycled material, that its use is sustainable, and that forests not only are not damaged by its use, but rather – on the contrary – their surface increases thanks to the paper industry», adds Savorani.

It is, therefore, a material which is extremely popular, although we need to get rid of myths and preconceptions. The whole supply chain is aware that there is still a lot of work to do in this regard.