Friday, November 20, 2009

Which is Greener: Paper or Digital?

The answer may surprise you. From an interview posted on ZDNet.com:
“Other than pushing the ‘cool’ factor, one of the main selling points being made by marketers of eReaders is that they are greener than print. It is little surprise that the common view held by consumers who don’t know the backstory is that going digital means going green and saving trees. Many are in for a rude awakening. When subjected to ‘cradle-to-cradle’ life cycle analysis, eReading is not nearly as green as many naively assume it is.”

“There is no question that print media could do a better job of managing the sustainability of its supply chains and waste streams, but it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener. Computers, eReaders, and cell phones don’t grow on trees and their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable.”

“Making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals including gold, silver, and palladium as well as extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. To function, digital devices require a constant flow of electrons that predominately come from the combustion of coal, and at the end of their all-too-short useful lives electronics have become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man. Until recently, there was little, if any, voluntary disclosure of the lifecycle ‘backstory’ of digital media.”

“Sadly, print has come to be seen as a wasteful, inefficient and environmentally destructive medium, despite the fact that much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials. In addition, print has incredible potential to be a far more sustainable medium than it is today…

1 comment:

sam said...

I've long advocated looking at the total environmental impacts of actions. Example: "recycling" advocates often don't consider all of the costs of recycling. It is seldom appreciated that recycling is the last, not the first, preference in "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle".

A similar analysis should be looked at for "high efficiency" transportation, lighting, heating, etc. Example: what are all of the impacts of producing, packaging and disposing of those compact fluorescent bulbs.

For me, the only real good option is reduce/reuse...i.e. produce less and use less (things). drive less... I wish I did a better job of practicing what I preach.