Universities and politicians don’t save trees when seeking money or votes

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Opinion section
Valley News - Opinion

The idea of saving trees or otherwise not using paper turns out not to be such a great idea when those promoting a paperless world are seeking something they want.

As much as universities claim to be environmentally friendly, they’ll never eliminate paper mailings since alumni are more likely to give in response to a U.S. mail request for donations than an online request. I receive the alumni magazine for Northwestern University and the magazine for Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. The magazines tend to be pretty politically liberal with such topics as climate change and social justice, which is why my donations to Northwestern go to athletics or the library rather than to the general fund where the money could be used for political correctness in the classroom. I will at least browse through those issues, reading mostly the sports and 1980s alumni news items in the schoolwide Northwestern magazine and the history articles in the College of Arts and Sciences periodical. I don’t look at the Northwestern website, and while I gave them an email address in the 1990s that address is now obsolete. The only way I can read what Northwestern would like me to read is when they send me a hard copy. It includes envelopes with donation requests.

From time to time, I will copy an article or brief from one of the Northwestern alumni magazines. I did so recently with the College of Arts and Science magazine. The irony is that I had to reduce the article since the magazine was bigger than 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches – so Northwestern sent out more paper than necessary.

Going paperless sounds nice for universities in many aspects, but when the universities are trying to reach alumni the paperless sphere isn’t the best way to build a connection with alumni. It is doubtful that universities will eliminate hard copies of their alumni publications, and it is even more doubtful that universities will eliminate sending paper solicitations by U.S. mail.

During the primary election earlier this year, I received numerous mailings about how certain ballot measures were environmentally friendly or environmentally unfriendly. All of those mailings utilized paper. Internet political advocacy relies on a user specifically seeking a website. Paper political advocacy provides an outreach to those who would not take the initiative to use the internet. Even if voters use the internet for information, the proper keywords are required to find the specific website of a ballot issue, and the voter may find multiple sites with information and not necessarily look at only the one desired by the advocate.

The primary election also included candidates for office, and I received plenty of mailings from them. The general election will be no different. The mailings might not tell me what I need to know about how the candidates stand on key issues, but they tell me which issues the candidate emphasizes. If I use the internet to determine my vote, I will go to the website of an interest group and find how the candidates stand on that group’s issues. As is the case with a ballot measure, the candidate must reach out to me. They cannot expect me to search for them. Despite candidates talking about how environmentally friendly they are, they will never eliminate paper campaign mailings.

Saving trees doesn’t seem to be as important as obtaining donations or votes. The trend toward more online interaction stops when somebody is asking for something from someone who hasn’t made the decision to provide it.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.