American reams: why a paperless world still hasnt happened
The long read: In a world seduced by screens, the future of paper might seem uncertain. But many in the industry remain optimistic after all, you cant blow your nose on an email
Old Mohawk paper company lore has it that in 1946, a salesman named George Morrison handed his client inBoston a trial grade of paper solush and even, so uniform and pure, that the client could only reply: George, this is one super finesheetof paper. And thus MohawkSuperfine was born.
This premium paper has been a darling of the printing and design world ever since. Superfine is to paper what Tiffanys is to diamonds, Jessica Helfand, co-founder of Design Observer magazine once said. If that sounds elitist, then so be it. It is perfect in every way.
Mohawk tells the Superfine origin story every chance it gets: on their website, in press releases, in promotional videos and in their own lush magazine, Mohawk Maker Quarterly. And now Ted OConnor, Mohawks senior vice president andgeneral manager of envelope and converting, is telling it again. He sits on an ottoman in a hotel suite on the 24th floor of what a plaque outside declares is The Tallest Building in the World withan All-Concrete Structure. Its day one, hour zero of Paper2017 inChicago, the annual three-day event at which the industry, its suppliers and its clients come together to network and engage in timely sessions on emerging issues. Attendees arerolling inand registering, and theMohawk team is killingtime before wall-to-wall meetings.
The Superfine story is personal for Ted. George Morrison was his great uncle. His grandfather, George OConnor, started the company when he acquired an old paper mill at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers in upstate New York. Teds father, Tom Sr, took over in 1972. Now, his brother, Tom Jr, runs the fourth-going-on-fifth-generation paper company.
Once Ted finishes the story, we talk about the paper industry where its been and where its going. Years ago, when I used to go to these types of meetings with my father, there were probably 16 mills Strathmore, Hopper, Rising, Simpson, Mohawk, Beckett Wed talk about trends in the industry anddistributors and things like that, and, um Hestops toreflect. Theyre all gone.
He lets that sink in for himself.
Because they sat there and made just what they made for30 years, and it kind of gets obsolete.
Paper is Good. So reads the packaging on a ream of 8.5in by11in, 20lb, white (92 on Tappis T-452 brightness scale), acid-free, curl-controlled, ColorLok Technology, elemental chlorine-free, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Forest Stewardship Council certified, Sustainable Forestry Initiative Certified, Made in USA Domtar EarthChoice Office Paper. Great ideas are started on paper, the packaging reads. The world is educated on paper. Businesses are founded on paper. Love is professed on paper. Important news is spread on paper.
Domtar is right: paper has played an essential role in the development of mankind. And yet, for decades, civilisation has been trying to develop beyond paper, promoting a paper-free world that will run seamlessly, immaterially on pixels andscreens alone. How did paper get here? Where does it gonext? For that matter, why is paper which does its job perfectly well compelled to keep innovating?
On 26 March, I step into The Tallest Building in the World with an All-Concrete Structure, ready to find out. Billed as THE annual networking event for the paper industry, Paper2017 consists of just three panels and presentations across its three-day agenda. The rest of the time is dedicated to what are called suites well-appointed hotel rooms that serve as basecamp, conference room and informal networking space all in one. Alas, because I am a journalist with zero interest in selling or being sold anything, Iscore only a few suite dates in my time at Paper2017. Instead, I spend a good amount of my time in a communal catch basin of sorts called the connections lounge (CL).