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Time to Reconsider How You “Save a Tree”

by Allyson Robison 11 July 2012 10:23

“Dear Yellow Pages…Please stop killing trees…”

“Probably a million or more trees were killed just
to clutter the porches of everyone in this country.”

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times. People think the Yellow Pages, and paper production in general, kills trees and that by not using paper they can help “Save a Tree.”

Well, it’s time to reconsider that concept and see how the use of paper and wood-based products really affects our ability to “save a tree,” not to mention that it’s also good for the economy, the environment, and society in general.

Why are trees harvested?

log-lumber chart

First, it’s important to understand why trees are harvested to begin with. Most trees used for paper come from tree farms or sustainably managed forests that have been planted just for this purpose.

These trees are harvested—just like an agricultural crop (Can you imagine not eating salad just to “save” vegetables?)—for the lumber that can be made using the core of the tree. Lumber can be sold for the greatest profit, so that’s the main reason for cutting down a tree. The remaining waste, wood chips, is what is used to make most paper products.

How do tree farms and the logging industry impact our economy?

Fifty-six percent of U.S. timberland is privately owned, which means it’s a commercial endeavor, and, like any business, it’s driven by supply and demand. When the demand for paper goes down, the need to harvest trees will also decline.

Private-Public forest ownership

Landowners who cannotsupport their businesses through tree farming will “cut and run”—they’ll harvest for quick income and then sell the land for development (housing, strip malls, parking lots) or agriculture. In fact, according to a survey by the USDA, private landowners expect to sell or transfer approximately 25% of their forested land in the near future.

Both public and private forests combined, create jobs for nearly six million Americans. In today’s economy, those are six million jobs that are desperately needed.

If there is no demand, there will be no economic benefit to supplying forest products and millions of Americans stand to lose their jobs.

What is the ecological impact of managed forests and tree farms?

According to Lawrence Selzer, President and CEO of The Conservation Fund, “It is time we focused on keeping working forests as forests because of the role they play in preserving the green infrastructure of the nation.”

planting a tree seedling with hands

What is that role exactly?

Wood is a renewable resource. Even if trees were cut down just for paper use, more can be planted. In fact, the forest products industry plants four million trees in the U.S. every day! As a result, there are now 12 million more acres of forests in the U.S. than in 1987.

Plus, forests, whether natural or man-made, provide natural wildlife habitats, clean water and air filtration. In fact, younger trees—those usually found in tree farms and managed forests—are more effective in the battle against greenhouse gases. The older trees get, the harder it is for them to capture carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen.

Tree farming/forest management is believed by many climate experts to be one of the least expensive and most effective ways to fight climate change.

“Save a Tree” by Using Paper

If you really want to help the environment and “save a tree,” perhaps it’s best if you follow the advice of Edward L. Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard University:

“When people use more paper, suppliers plant more trees. If we want bigger commercial forests, then we should use more paper not less. Our policies should directly protect important wildlife habitats, not try to reduce our demand for paper.”



International Paper Company. “Go paper. Grow trees.” 2010.

International Paper Company. “How Does Using Paper Lead to More Trees?” Down to Earth: A Practical Look at Environmental Issues and Trends. 2009.

King, Troy. “Another phone book? Ugh!” Lancaster Online. 15 May 2012.

Leavell, Chuck and Carlton Owen. “Save a Forest: Print Your Emails.” The Wall Street Journal. 31 March 2011.

Liberty Press. “Greener Than You Think.” 2011.

Local Search Association. “Thrive in Perpetuity: 2012 Sustainability Report.”

“The myth that using less paper saves trees.” Amorian: Jeffersonian Deism. 10 September 2009.

Printing and Graphics Association MidAtlantic. “The Facts.” Print Grows Trees. 2010.

“Save the forest…Use more paper!” Mail Print’s Blog. 10 November 2009.

Comments (1) -

Angie United States
9/29/2012 4:01:59 PM #

This brings to light a lot about trees and how we need to preserve them in the nation. It's becoming more of a problem when people don't push their leaders to curb this issue.

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