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REWE challenged to justify decision to remove paper flyers from marketing

Print Solutions Green Solutions

Two Sides has written to German retail group REWE about making misleading statements concerning the environmental impact of print communications.

Two Sides, the global organisation dedicated to promotion of the sustainability of print, paper and paper packaging, has written to REWE following the retail group’s published decision to cease production of its weekly promotional paper flyers from 1 July 2023.

In a press release published in July 2022, REWE stated that: ‘This will have a huge impact on the environment, climate, and the sustainable use of resources, saving more than 73,000 tonnes of paper, 70,000 tonnes of CO2, 1.1 million tonnes of water, and 380 million kWh of energy per year.’

Two Sides believes that these statements are sensational and misleading in terms of their environmental claims and the statistics used. Its communication with REWE also points out that the retail company’s press release includes no acknowledgement that digital media has a measurable impact on the environment. Two Sides asks that REWE desists from making these misleading statements and provide detailed substantiation of the environmental benefits claimed.

The Two Sides communication to REWE points out that for a company to make these claims, a detailed and specific lifecycle analysis of the impacts of digital versus paper must have been conducted. It is too often perceived that a digital equivalent of paper communication has zero environmental impacts. However, the impact of the personal computer, phone or other device receiving and downloading information, along with the infrastructure required to provide this information cannot just simply be ignored. Furthermore, many recipients of REWE digital communications will go on to print information, particularly in-store discount vouchers, which may be far more impactful on a home printer. Any impact statement on the environmental benefits of removing print and paper, must consider and have an assessment of the digital impact and the net benefit. Too often environmental impacts are simply displaced, not to mention pushing the cost and inconvenience, to their customers.

The energy consumption required for digital technologies is increasing by 9% each year, and the share of digital technologies in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased by half between 2013 and 2019, from 2.5% to 3.7% of global emissions. If left unchecked, the ICT footprint could increase to 14% of global emissions by 20402. In comparison, paper and print products are among the lowest greenhouse gas emitters at 0.8%.

Two Sides also refutes the claim that ‘1.1 million tonnes of water’ are used in the production of the flyers. Process water is used within manufacturing, but this water does not disappear. In Europe, 87.3% of intake utilised is surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and it is important to recognise that intake does not equal consumption. Around 90% of the water used in the European paper industry is returned to source after treatment.

When brands are deciding on their marketing strategy, they should not just consider effectiveness and cost, but how their customers (consumers) want to read and receive information. A recent survey and interviews by WELT, response from other retailers specifically; Aldi Sud, Edeka, and Lidl were clear that consumers want to receive paper communications. It is also important to remember that not all people in our community can access or interact with digital communications, either due to not owning digital devices or personal impairment. This is often the most vulnerable and most in need members society.

Consumers understand that companies making misleading statements about the environmental benefits of switching to digital communications, are actually trying to save cost. A 2023 survey by Two Sides of more than 10,000 consumers, conducted by independent research organisation Toluna, showed how consumers value print:

  • 75% of German consumers believe they should have the right to choose how they receive communications, digital or print (Europe 76%).

  • 57% of German consumers believe when a service provider wants me to switch from a paper to digital, and say it is better for the environment, know they are really trying to save cost. (Europe 55%).

Two Sides asks REWE to provide fact based information, including a detailed and specific lifecycle analysis of the impacts of the digital communications versus the paper leaflets they replace. In addition, if REWE is unable to provide proper substantiation to support sensational environmental claims, Two Sides asks that it desists from making any further statements that a move to digital communications is better for the environment.

Jonathan Tame, managing director of Two Sides, said: ‘REWE’s actions and its justifications on environmental grounds are really disappointing. We accept that companies are looking to save money, but these statements are not just misleading but hugely damaging to an industry that employs more than 640,000 people in 7400 businesses in Europe.’


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