In an effort to speak to the green consumer, many companies are offering paperless billing, or suggesting that the digital version of that 50-page report leaves a lighter footprint than a printed copy would.
The many claims that digital is “greener” than print media simply do not ring true, especially when you look at the real costs of building and maintaining the massive data storage centers required to keep all those digital files at the ready.
“If your goal is to save trees or do something good for the environment, the choice to go paperless may not be as green or simple as some would like you to think,” says Don Carli on PBS.org.
Carli does a credible job of outlining the real issues behind digital media creation and consumption and poses some interesting facts, including these tidbits:
- Greenpeace estimates that by 2020 data centers will demand more electricity than is currently demanded by France, Brazil, Canada, and Germany combined.
- There is growing recognition that digital media technology uses significant amounts of energy from coal fired power plants that are making a significant contribution to global warming.
- Mountaintop-removal coal mining is a major cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the pollution of over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in the United States.
This doesn’t take into account the enormous expenditures of energy and resources required to build the hardware required to consume the digital media. As Time Magazine reported, your iPhone probably requires more energy to operate that your kitchen refrigerator.
Digital as a green alternative? Not even.
Fortunately, Carli points out the good news on both sides of the issue.
“The widespread adoption of sustainable print and digital media supply chains can change our world again and help us to restore our environment.”
We applaud growing environmental awareness, and support the paper industry’s ongoing efforts to create more sustainable paper mills and paper products. We salute digital companies that are working to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint too. But let’s be sure we are looking at the facts instead of looking for easy, feel-good answers.