Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?

    by Don Carli
    March 31, 2010
    A deforested mountaintop-removal coal mine site in West Virginia. Photo courtesy of "Vivian Stockman":http://www.ohvec.org.

    Public opinion polls show that concern about the environment rises and falls based on the state of the economy and other factors, but concern about the negative impacts associated with using paper and printing continues to rise. Nothing captures the essence of these feelings more vividly than the signature line appearing at the foot of more and more emails: “Please consider the environment before printing this email.”

    This seemingly well-intentioned call to action, as well as others like “Sign up for paperless billing, help the environment and save trees” confront consumers with a false dilemma and present a forced choice that may have unintended consequences. The false dilemma is: “By using paper to print your email or by receiving paper bills you are knowingly degrading the environment, destroying forests and/or killing trees.” The forced choice is: “Eliminate your use of paper or feel like a guilty hypocrite.”

    Reader Comment: "While we all "social media" ourselves silly, we forget that our electricity is really dug out of the earth by fellow human beings who work in a seemingly medieval, barbaric industry and face the horrific choice of either putting their lives on the line every day for the rest of us, or having no work at all."

    i-ac43c9daad169d4ffd969d453b736793-paper mill in wash.jpg

    A paper mill in Washington

    What’s implied is that digital media is the environmentally preferable choice and that print media is the environmentally destructive choice. But is it possible that digital media could be more destructive to the environment and a greater threat to trees, bees, rivers and forests in the United States than paper-making or printing?

    A heightened sense of awareness about the environment has developed in recent years. In particular, feelings of guilt and concern are on the rise about the use of paper and its alleged impact on the fate of our trees, forests and the environment. Are these feelings justified?

    The story of sustainable media is a “bad news/good news” story. The bad news is that the public’s concern about our forests and the environment is justified. The good news is that seeing beyond the green rhetoric and rethinking the lifecycle impacts of both print and digital media will play a major role in allowing us to enjoy forests and conserve our environment.


    Digital Deforestation

    There is growing recognition that digital media technology uses significant amounts of energy from coal fired power plants which are making a significant contribution to global warming. Greenpeace estimates that by 2020 data centers will demand more electricity than is currently demanded by France, Brazil, Canada, and Germany combined. What is less widely known is that mountaintop-removal coal mining is also a major cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the pollution of over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in the United States.

    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.

    Digital media doesn’t grow on trees, but increased use of digital media is having a profoundly negative impact on our forests and the health of our rivers. Computers, cellular networks and data centers are connected to the destruction of over 600 square miles of forest in the U.S. One of the more significant direct causes of deforestation in the United States is mountaintop-removal coal mining in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.

    America’s adoption of networked broadband digital media and “cloud-based” alternatives to print are driving record levels of energy consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the electricity consumed by data centers in the United States doubled from 2000 to 2006, reaching more than 60 billion kilowatt hours per year, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 559,608 homes in one year. According to the EPA that number could double again by 2011.

    Chances are that the electricity flowing through your digital media devices and their servers is linked to mountaintop-removal coal from the Appalachian Mountains. The Southern Appalachian forest region of the U.S. is responsible for 23% of all coal production in the United States and 57% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal — including the rapidly growing power consumed by many U.S. data centers, networks and consumer electronic devices.

    How Green is Your Digital Media?

    To find out how much of the energy you use comes from mountaintop coal you can visit What’s My Connection to Mountaintop Removal? an interactive tool built by the non-profit organization Appalachian Voices. By entering your ZIP code it allows you to see if the electricity you are buying came from a coal mine employing mountaintop removal. This map shows how electricity used in San Francisco through PG&E is linked to mountaintop-removal coal in West Virginia:

    i-3d0408dcc241d3d876d583b9543f126a-ilove mountains map.jpg

    If you thought you were saving forests and protecting the environment by going paperless…think again. The real dilemma you face is that you may be doing more to cause environmental degradation and deforestation by going paperless than you think, and making responsible choices requires informed decisions and rational tradeoffs.

    Coal-powered digital media is destructive to the environment in many ways beyond deforestation. Coal fired power plants are responsible for 93% of the sulfur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry. These emissions cause acid rain that is destroying red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia, and killing brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.

    According to a paper published in the journal Science, researchers found that recent scientific studies showed mountaintop coal mining does irreparable environmental harm. The researchers said their analysis of the latest data found that such mining destroys extensive tracts of deciduous forests while also hurting fish and plant life.

    The widespread practice of mountaintop removal has been described as “strip mining on steroids” in which forests are clear-cut and topsoil is scraped away. Next, explosives up to 100 times as strong as ones that tore open the Oklahoma City Federal building blast up to 800 feet off the mountaintops and then dump tons of “overburden” — the former mountaintops — into the narrow adjacent valleys, thereby creating “valley fills.”

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that mountaintop removal’s destruction of West Virginia’s forests buried over 1,500 miles of biologically crucial Appalachian headwaters streams, disrupted key nesting habitat for migrant bird populations and decreased migratory bird populations throughout the northeast United States. The Office of Surface Mining reports that more than 1 million acres of land in northern and central Appalachia were undergoing active mining operations as of 2004. In some areas of West Virginia, more than 25% of the land surface is under permit for current or future mountaintop removal.

    Go Tell It On The Mountain

    It’s somewhat ironic that print media and the paper-making industry are so often targeted for “killing” trees while digital media is so often characterized as the greener “environmentally friendly” alternative. While its record is by no means perfect, the North American forest products industry has made great strides in the adoption of sustainable forestry and environmental performance certification practices. In addition, the majority of the U.S. paper industry’s power and electricity needs are derived from renewable biomass that is sourced from sustainably managed forests. On the other hand, digital information technology’s dependence on coal-powered electricity that is derived from mountaintop removal goes largely unreported.

    If you care about the environment and the health of forests you should become more informed about the energy sources used by both digital and print media. Research recently published by Bell Labs concluded that today’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) networks have the potential to be 10,000 times more efficient than they are today. In fact, they can also be powered by forest bio-refineries that sustainably produce energy, biofuels, polymers, and paper with renewable forest biomass.

    Forest biomass can provide valuable baseload capacity for more intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. When you purchase paper, you should consider if the brands you buy are investing in the development of renewable energy projects that employ sustainable forest biomass and close-loop water recovery processes that protect the quality of water in our rivers. This resource guide from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development can help you in choosing paper products.

    The Unseen Impacts of Digital Media

    Just because we cannot see something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. While paper mills emit visible plumes of steam and waste paper can pile up visibly in our homes and businesses, the invisible embodied energy or “grey energy” used to manufacture digital technologies and the toxic e-waste associated with electronics are largely out of sight and out of mind, but their impacts can be profound.



    According to MIT researcher Timothy Gutowski (as quoted in Low-Tech Magazine), manufacturing a one kilogram plastic or metal part requires as much electricity as operating a flat screen television for 1 to 10 hours. And the energy requirements of semiconductor manufacturing techniques are much higher than that, up to 6 orders of magnitude (that’s 10 raised to the 6th power) above those of conventional manufacturing processes. In addition to considering the way digital media can create new possibilities for a better world we also need to consider the less obvious impacts of the purchased energy, embodied energy, dark content and e-waste associated with the growing use of digital media.

    Informed Choices Save Trees

    Centuries ago the widespread adoption of paper and printing resulted in a spread of literacy that ended the dark ages, spawned a renaissance and changed our world for the better. Despite these advances, our environment now faces challenges on many fronts that call for a new literacy about the state of the environment and the “hidden” lifecycle impacts of the media choices we make. The widespread adoption of sustainable print and digital media supply chains can change our world again and help us to restore our environment. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to be misled by false dilemmas or deceived into making unsustainable choices, distal concerns about destruction of the environment and the decline our forests will soon become a harsh and uncomfortable reality.

    See also:

    Environmental Impact of Newspapers, Books, E-Waste

    Web Leads, Print Pubs Improve Environmental Impact

    Can Coal be Earth-Friendly?

    Image of e-waste by Jason Schlachet via Flickr; image of paper mill by Vincent Louis via Flickr.

    MediaShift environmental correspondent Don Carli is senior research fellow with the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) where he is director of The Sustainable Advertising Partnership and other corporate responsibility and sustainability programs addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of advertising, marketing, publishing and enterprise communication supply chains. Don is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Program affiliate scholar and is also sustainability editor of Aktuell Grafisk Information Magazine based in Sweden. You can also follow him on Twitter.

    Tagged: carbon footprint coal e-waste embodied energy grey energy mountaintop removal paperless print media sustainable forestry

    71 responses to “Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?”

    1. drystanavery says:

      Great article. Thanks Don!

    2. this is a great article.. i thought moving to digital technology consumes less trees and we are safe ..but there are other possibilities of energy waste and deforestation,
      explanation is very good. but where is the solution for the problem? do you have anything in mind??

    3. Lindsey Lewis says:

      I was not aware of the negative impacts associated with digital media. Eye opener for me. Good article.

    4. Rebecca says:

      Visiting an e-waste facility in the south of Sweden was a real eye-opener! The energy powering it might be renewable(ish), but they receive something in the realm of 400 tonnes of electronic waste a week! Alot of it was brand new end of line products which were nolonger ‘able’ to be sold because there is a new line on the shelves. Scary stuff!

    5. Paul Lindstrom says:

      Good work Don. More Swedish input: a fairly recent research by The Royal Institute of Technology, Centre for Sustainable Communications, show that reading information on screen for more than 20-30 minuters use more energy than reading the same on fx newsprint. In consequence you create more CO2 after 20-30 minutes by sitting reading by the monitor/computer.
      Another consequence – make it brief when online!

    6. Jeremy says:

      What type of power is used to run most printing presses? What is the fossil fuel impact of delivering physical mail? It is true that most people don’t understand the impact of modern computer technology but the real problem is the source of power. A solution is to lobby the government to make Mountaintop removal illegal and mandate renewable energy requirements.

    7. Peter Ollen says:

      A strong research and article.
      Much less energy is spent by using flat screens compared to crt. So the comparison paper/computer get a lot different depending on the computer you use.
      A problem for paper is that recycling demands lots of energy. Also distribution of the paper is a weak spot, since it is often done with non-renewable fuel.
      Since nobody is starving, we really have an excellent opportunity to make everything green.

    8. Prof. Lloyd Carr says:

      Thank you for presenting intelligent insight to a critical aspect of media convergence. Having print and non-print media choices should take the obvious and not so obvious factors into consideration. Thank you, Don Carli, for presenting these important criteria in a factual and motivational document. This is what I expect from the insightful people at PBS. I am hopeful that it also gets the attention of commercial media channels as well.

    9. Timothy Lynch says:

      This article is absurd. Yes, it is true that data centers consume massive amounts of electricity, but the article does not tie this use to the equivalent of paper waste. Also, we are still in a time of transition where relatively few people have switched to fully electronic mail, billing, newspaper, magazines, books, music etc. Once people become more comfortable with this the full benefits of electronic will be realized. My laptop will one day be refuse but I’ve had it for three years and over those three years have made tremendous cuts in paper use and the often forgotten transportation energy tied to it.

    10. Joel mason says:

      Everyone involved in the design and production of print and digital media should read this article. Don Carli’s research on the environmental impact of digital media is a real eye-opener. I hope it receives wide distribution and discussion.

    11. HKGuy says:

      Sorry, but I don’t buy it. You never say exactly HOW MUCH energy is used being on the Internet. I suspect my being on my computer looking at news sites uses about as much energy as running an electric light — in other words, very, very, very little.

      Compare that to — not only the actual trees used in paper hard copy products — but the energy to transport those trees, convert them to paper, print, ink, transport product to your home, etc.

      This is a case of thinking yourself into a corner.

    12. Scott Muc says:

      “According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the electricity consumed by data centers in the United Stats doubled from 2000 to 2006, reaching more than 60 billion kilowatt hours per year, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 559,608 homes in one year.”

      That doesn’t seem like much. The value those data centers provide for the cost of powering a large city for an entire year? Could I then logically conclude that if the USA lost 1 one large city it’s the logical equivalent of the USA without any data centers?

      Otherwise, good article and I like how it reveals that every decision has cascading environmental pros/cons.

    13. Artemisia Gentile says:

      The Internet Begins with Coal” claims that for every 2 Megabytes of data moving on the Internet, the energy from a pound of coal is needed to create the necessary kilowatt-hours. No matter how you look at it, Coal is dirty and should not be a part of our energy solution. This is a great article which brings attention to the ‘hidden cost’ of digital media. The current grid infrastructure in the US will not be able to support the demand for energy consumption go forward. Kudos to Carli for bringing this important topic to our attention.

    14. Drystan Avery says:

      I would like to respond to the posts that are questioning what Carli is trying to say in this article. According to a report published yesterday by Greenpeace, the energy consumption and carbon emissions of cloud computing are already significantly higher than previously thought. Using data from “The Climate Group’s Smart 2020” report, carbon emission projections from McKinsey, and the energy consumption info for data centers reported by the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenpeace concludes that the energy consumption of cloud computing in 2007 was 622.6 billion kWh, which is 1.3 times larger than reported by the Smart 2020 report. Greenpeace says that cloud computing will consume 1,963.74 billion kWh of energy by 2020. No one is advocating that digital media usage by the consumers and cloud computing companies need to curb their growth. Rather, we collectively need to focus on making energy sourcing, data centers and servers more energy efficient; and look to source more clean power. Greenpeace points to Facebook’s decision to build its first-ever data center in Prineville, Ore., which will primarily be powered by coal as a major missed opportunity. This is a great article by Carli which raises awareness on issues that will be mainstream go forward.

    15. chris says:

      bs. this is a cross between anti-mountain removal propaganda and forest industry greenwash. it states:”The Southern Appalachian forest region of the U.S. is responsible for 23% of all coal production in the United States and 57% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal.” So I’m not doubting that internet use is contributes to mountaintop removal, and i’m not doubting that internet use has negative effects on the environment. But it’s not a very well balanced arguement to focus just on mountain-top removal. And how much of the energy spent by data centers is from people reading news? A small percentage I’d wager.
      So good research, but poorly presented. If you need an excuse to communicate how destructive mountain-top removal is, there are plenty that are far better than this. This is a real stretch.

    16. Spencer says:

      I agree that mountaintop mining is bad, and that we should move to more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives, but I don’t think we should really blame the internet for our current state. While data centers are indeed growing, innovations are allowing the data centers being built today and tomorrow to be increasingly energy conscious.

      Also, I hate to point out the obvious, but Greenpeace has a website chock full of information. Presumably it’s hosted in a data center somewhere. If the web is environmentally evil, it seems they’ve deemed it a necessary one.

    17. mel kydd says:

      This article is so very relevant and well informed. Thank you Don for putting this together a a time when so many of us web denizens consume digital media voraciously and without a second thought. We continue to rake up these liabilities when we add our unyielding obsession with cellphones and other forms of mobile computing. We need to see more articles like this one published on PBS.

    18. It seems to me that we are now moving past the “religious” stage of environmentalism more towards the science and systems approach that really grapples with the problem.

      I noted that yesterday President Obama framed the move to green energy as a security problem. That makes good sense. It moves the conversation to “doing well, by doing good.” Add to that the rise of the Social Entrepreneur as a popular meme and I think there is enough evidence that we are entering a phase of MemeShift.

      No offense meant, but it’s about time. The sooner “Print is Dead” goes into the dust bin of history, the data points from the ground will break through to help us figure out how print and digital media can play nicely together.

      Nice post.

    19. Meg says:

      But the thing is, I’m already going to have a laptop whether I go paperless or not. And the information that is being sent to me via paper is also going to be stored digitally and available online whether I check it or not.

      Yes, using those things does use some electricity. However, I haven’t seen how it takes more energy than cutting down the trees, processing them into paper, making the inks, printing stuff on the paper, transporting the paper around till it gets to me, then transporting it on to a landfill or recycling center. Unless you can show that, I think it’s irresponsible to imply that we shouldn’t be giving up paper statements for environmental reasons.

      So, I think the best solution is still to go as paperless as possible, especially as paper makes up a very large percentage of landfill material (more than plastics) and doesn’t usually biodegrade in landfill conditions. And, of course, we should try to use alternative energy like solar power for data centers and home electricity as much as possible and practical.

    20. Yes technology does use huge amounts of energy and that this usage is growing rapidly. Although whether that energy is dirty or not is within our control – but that’s another story.

      The bigger point is that, as a recent McKinsey report concluded, while IT is definitely part of the problem, it’s a bigger part of the solution.

      IT today accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions/yr (0.86 metric gigatons). Growth will hit 3% by 2020 – 1.54 metric gigatons, about twice what UK produces today as a nation. But total potential savings from IT-related improvements in energy productivity in areas like buildings, power, transport and manufacturing could equal annual savings of 7-8 metric gigatons/year by 2020. And this doesn’t include every area potentially impacted – e.g. things like satellite surveillance to monitor deforestation and herding.

    21. John Otsuki says:

      It seems to me that the real benefit of this, and other articles similar to it, is awareness and understanding.

      As technologies become available, they are often adopted blindly. The longer the time frame between adoption and understanding of negative impacts, the harder it is to correct. Accurate data and thoughtful interpretation provide the framework for decisions. Had we as a society known the impact that coal energy or combustion engines would have on the world, would we have opted for alternatives or driven for better versions in the early stages? As society moves towards the digital media world, we have the opportunity to fine tune as we go, provided we have input from people such as Mr. Carli as well as his critics. I am glad to know now what the future potentially holds and the impact of my actions, rather than take it on blind faith that “new” equals “better”.

    22. Lots to think about, Don. Thanks for pulling it all together this way. Knowing that we live in a society that will always use paper and always get deeper into technology, the bottom line is for each of us to weigh the issues and use digital and print media more mindfully. Figuring out how to better inform the consuming masses of the pros/cons of each purchase decision will forever be the biggest sustainability challenge.

    23. We don’t hear much about the planned obsolescence of computers. How many different laptops are there with specs so similar they aren’t worth talking about but the plastic cases are shaped just a little bit different and parts cannot be swapped?

      Desktops could have been made with plug-in CPU/memory cards so upgrading would have involved just swapping one card. But instead entire computers had to be replaced.

      Stupid things can be done with technology no matter what the technology is, be it paper or electronics. The problem is the people not the technology.

    24. Lindsey Lewis says:

      Most posts that are critical or cynical of this article are missing the point that the forests in this country are not threatened by paper making and printing. Neither print nor digital media is perfect but lets not demonize paper and printing as the killers of trees and the environmental evil. Paperless billing is OK for cost & time savings but it is just not true that paperless billing saves trees. There is no credible proof of that! In fact, all paper in North America comes from successfully managed forestry which provides jobs & environmental restoration. In the US deforestation exists but it has nothing to do with the harvesting of timber for paper making. It is about time we make informed decisions based on facts- full LCA of all media- and decide on sustainable options for our go forward needs.

    25. Thanks for the great article Don!

      Spread the word! Print Grows Trees!


    26. Don Carli says:

      Hi Andy.

      I’m all for using satellites to help make informed decisions about land use change and the management of wildlife corridors, but the environmental supply chain impacts of digital media information technology are too significant to give it a gold star and a free pass just because of some potential for greater good that it could have by applying it to another domain.

      You draw attention to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with IT energy use, but the real issues of concern are its continued rate of growth and the sources of its energy. According to the EPA Data Center energy consumption in 2006 was 61 billion kilowatt hours … double what it was in 2000 and due to be double that again this year!

      Using IT to reduce energy consumption in other sectors does not change the fact that current and projected datacenter and server energy demand is unsustainable.

      I believe that business, government and society need the many benefits that digital media and information technology can provide, but I also believe we need to make efforts to understand the unintended consequences of our decisions.

    27. Don Carli says:

      Tim, you seem to have missed the point of the article. I’m not opposed to email, electronic bill presentment, or the shift to digital media. My objective was to highlight the need for better information about how our use of print AND digital media are linked to flows of energy, materials and waste.

    28. Andy says:

      According to this article, I shouldn’t ride a bike rather than drive a car, because that bike consumes metal and rubber, and probably requires fossil fuels to create it. And, the paint is carcinogenic.

      I can fit every bill I’ve ever received onto a device the size of my thumb.

      Further, how are paper documents created and printed?

    29. Consider This:

      * It takes 12 trees to produce a ton of printing paper—24 trees for higher grade writing paper.*
      * A mature tree can produce as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.
      * Only 5% of the paper used in the book industry is recycled.
      * Up to 35% of books printed for consumers (down from nearly 60% several years ago) are never read. They are returned to the publisher and end up in landfills.
      * 71% of the world’s paper supply comes from natural forests, rather than tree farms**
      * Paper mills dump gallons of chemical bleaches and solvents into local watersheds every hour of every day.

      * Conservatree—Trees Into Paper
      ** World Business Council for Sustainable Development

      You want to beat up on coal, go ahead. We need desperately to switch to less polluting power sources. But suggesting that paper is more environmentally friendly than digital media is laughable.

    30. Excellent thought-provoking article. For me the take-home message was: “Question authority, even when it’s green.” Thanks for raising this issue, Don!

    31. As a graphic designer working to find sustainable ways of communication, I had suspected this might be true. As much as I know about the printing industry and its impact on the environment I did not think digital media could be so clean. Thank you for putting together a concise and well documented article. This further extends the need to delve deeper in our understanding of all ways of communicating and their effects. Ultimately it is a matter of weighing the purpose for the communication (print or digital) valued against the gain and use of resources. This article provides one more variable to consider.

    32. Alani says:

      This article brings up a number of valid points. I appreciate the emphasis on the notion that these are not clear “good vs. bad” issues. However, I do agree with other comments that the question of digital vs. paper is more one of energy sources and efficiency. People are not going to stop using computers any time soon. So the priority should be shifting the power running those electronics to sustainable sources and making those products more fuel-thrifty.
      The article does raise the point about the increase in electronic waste. We abolustely need to figure out how we can recycle or reuse those discarded products, as well as realize we do not need a new Blackberry every year.

    33. Brilliant insights. Drawing attention to unintended consequences of well-intended policies is an essential activity that Don Carli does so well here.

    34. Don Carli says:


      Thanks for your comment.

      The article is not making a case for print being environmentally preferable to digital media. Rather it challenges readers to look beyond purely rhetorical or anecdotal arguments and to learn about the hidden environmental aspects and impacts of BOTH print and digital media so they can make informed decisions.

      I know the people behind Conservatree very well and am extremely familiar with the statistics you cite about trees and paper. Together with the Green Press Initiative , Susan Kinsella and her colleagues at Conservatree are to be credited with helping to increase the amount of legal, sustainably harvested tree fiber and recycled content paper purchased by book publishers.

      I agree with you that there is opportunity to dramatically reduce the amount of energy and material waste associated with current print media supply chain practices. As I stated in the article, the papermaking industry is not perfect, but it has made significant advances in reducing the toxic emissions associated with papermaking and in the adoption of biomass, wind and hydropower. However the fact remains that there is significant potential for toxic waste reduction and increased energy efficiency in digital media supply chains as has been identified by the GreenTouch initiaitive and other groups. As you may have learned if you read my article the manufacture of current electronic technologies require prodigious amounts of energy and non-renewable resources (many of them are also conflict minerals).

      Interestingly (and ironically) some of the most promising technologies for the production of “greener” e-books employ inkjet, gravure and screen printing processes using functional inks based on biopolymers derived from trees and other renewable sources of biomass.

      Despite my hope that advances in organic polymer printed electronics will dramatically reduce the lifecycle environmental footprint of e-books over then next 10 years, there are billions of people on earth for whom printed books will continue to have value for the forseeable future. There are also fantastic opportunities for “hybrid” media that combine the strengths of print and digital media through the use of QR codes, RFID and various digital printing and printed electronics technologies. These products will blur the distinctions between printed media and digital media.

      As for suggesting that it is laugable to argue that responsibly sourced paper could be environmentally preferable to electronic media devices… One could argue that trees are a renewable resource and forests can be managed sustainably to provide environmental services like clean water and clean air as well as timber for the production of power, fuel, pulp and renewable chemical feedstocks… and that print media products are therefore greener than digital devices made of toxic and non-renewable resources. However, as my article suggests, consumers should not base their decisions on purely rhetorical arguments or unsubstantiated green marketing claims, nor should they have to guess about whether one industry or product is environmentally preferable to another.

      I suggest that you ask the next companies you buy paper, printed media, hosting services or electronic devices from to provide you with an environmental product declaration that is based a standards-based lifecycle analysis. (If the Walmart Sustainability Consortium is successful they will be requiring such information for every product that they sell within the next 5 years.) You may see things differently when you are able to make an informed decision.

    35. Oya Demirli says:

      Great article and terrific comments Don.

    36. Robin says:

      Thanks Don!

    37. Don Carli says:

      Hi Meg:

      Thank you for your comment. Perhaps you just didn’t know where to look or what to look for.

      Not only does using digital electronics require significant amounts of energy (which in many cases can be traced to the deforestation and other environmental impacts associated withy Mountain Top removal Coal Mining), making digital media devices and IT infrastructure requires a significant amount of energy as well. In addition, making electronic devices employs a large number of petrochemicals and persistent, bioaccumulative toxins that can create environmental and health risks when computers are incinerated, landfilled or melted down. The EPA reports that electronic devices are the largest and fastest growing category of toxic waste in our landfills. According to the US EPA, about 70% of the toxic heavy metals found in landfills come from e-waste.

      Research conducted by United Nations University found that the ratio of fossil fuel use to product weight for computer manufacturing energy is 11:1 — an order of magnitude larger than the 1-2:1 ratio for many other manufactured goods or print media. ( For most materials, the embodied energy per unit weight is greater than or equal to 10 kWh per kg. )

      A study of semiconductors published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology estimated that the manufacture of a 2-gram memory chip requires at least 630 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals due to the extensive industrial processing needed to attain highly organized, low entropy microchips. The researchers found that global average value of energy use per square centimeter of microprocessor wafers is 2.7 MJ/cm2 of directly consumed fossil fuels and 1.54 kWh/cm2 of electricity. This high energy intensity of manufacturing, combined with rapid turnover in computers, results in an annual life cycle energy burden that is significantly higher than paper.

      Paper and digital media are not always interchangeable, but where they are, paper-based media does not require electrical power to operate and requires less energy per pound to be made. If the paper is sourced responsibly, and the printing and logistics used renewable energy, print can be and environmentally preferable media choice over a digital alternative.

      What is essential is the use of standards-based lifecycle comparisons.

    38. Important messages for anyone concerned about impact but confused about choice. Thanks for writing, Don. As you say so well, it’s truly “informed *choices* that save trees.”

    39. Talk about talking yourself into a corner. All those digital devices do not arrive “carbon-free” at your doorstep. They too must be transported often significant distances (think China) and at considerable environmental expense. The average person browsing the Internet for 12 hours a week will burn 300 pounds of coal generating the necessary electricity to fuel their activity. As you can tell when you do the math, it isn’t “very, very, little” after all.

    40. Don Carli says:

      Hi Jeremy:

      Thanks for your questions and comments.

      What type of power is used to run most printing presses?

      There are many types of presses and print engines, with the exception of some antiques and fine art printing presses that are hand powered, as a rule they are all powered by electrical power. Interestingly a growing number of printing companies are powering their presses with wind power or offsetting their fossil fuel energy use with Renewable Energy Credits.

      The EPA lists the 20 printing partners who are the largest purchasers among members of the Green Power Partnership.


      The combined green power purchases of these organizations amounts to more than 152 million kilowatt-hours of green power annually, which is the equivalent amount of electricity needed to power more than 14,000 average American homes each year.

      As for your question about the fossil fuel impact of delivering physical mail, a number of studies have been conducted to estimate the energy and emissions associated with the deliver of physical mail. You might like to take a look at the baseline analysis of the environmental impact of mail recently published by Pitney Bowes. Here is a link to the report (PDF).


      While government regulation can help to limit the negative environmental impacts associated with Mountaintop Removal, as the Green Power partnership demonstrates, business can also take voluntary action to reduce their dependence of non-renewable energy.

      I agree with you that there is much that can be done to raise awareness.

      Thank you again for sharing your questions and opinions. These are important issues that can and should be addressed through a fact-based dialogue about where consumers can find credible information that will enable them to make informed decisions about their media choices.


    41. SPF says:

      Don – it’s high time people got their head out of their plastic bags and started comparing apples to apples. It’s tough to realize/admit you’ve been fed a load of bunk by people and organizations that you hold dear. But even using the “3 R” standards of those particular folks, electronic devices fall far shorter than paper. Paper products can be renewed, reused and recycled. The very “nature” of electronic devices is “Plastics and toxic metal (who grows those?): Becomes obsolete quickly: and at best, Put it in a “recycling” center somewhere and feel good about yourself. And p.s. paper and wood recycling is a profitable Business that makes retailers and end users a significant income. Plastic and toxic metal recycling is expensive and the dirty little secret of the electronics industry. (SEE: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/06/60minutes/main4579229_page2.shtml)

      As for your statement “consider the less obvious impacts …. associated with the growing use of digital media.” — I want to add another calculation to the mix and that is “does it work?” In the last year I’ve bought a microwave, a flat screen TV, a small freezer and a telephone – all from a local Walmart (the largest retailer in the world) and all with the same result of having to return the item at least once because it didn’t work or was damaged in shipping. So I actually bought 3 microwaves, 4 TVs, 2 freezers and 2 telephones before I got one that worked. It also took two iPods to get one that worked. So you can safely figure that there’s a built-in 25% throw-away factor in products made in China from non-renewable resources that are not reusable nor easily recycled. I can’t remember the last time I had to buy two magazines, books or newspapers to get one that “worked!” So add that calculation into the total picture and your “environmental cost to use” gets even higher.

      The sad truth is that people are going to “believe” what is most convenient for them to believe. Nobody wants to be accountable for his/her actions. E-world is here, it’s convenient and it’s what people WANT. So good luck trying to convince them that it’s not so great for the environment, because this generation is no different from all that came before it apart from a small percentage of baby-boomer hippie types – It’s all about ME, right here, right now.

      Meet a tree farmer and get the facts on deforestation in the U.S. at http://www.printgrowstrees.org. (Couldn’t find a site where you can meet an e-reader farmer!!)

    42. Larry says:

      In order to get the information in this article to all the people that are reading it online exactly how much paper and ink must be manufactured and transported and then disposed of?

      In other words, the availability of information on the internet to the public could not be done on paper without a huge impact on the environment.

    43. It seems all the comments have covered the issue from all angles. It’s less about either-or choices, more about having a multitude of alternatives and then having enough understanding to make informed and environmentally least impactful choices.

      Thanks, Don, for bringing up this issue and stirring such a productive conversation!

    44. michael says:

      It is an opportunity to fix things, become entrepreneurial, and resolve the dilemma with technological and economic solutions.


    45. Jane says:

      There are a number of sources examining the difference between print and electronic media. While some amounts are hard to measure, it’s at least worth nothing that there is no “pure” good or evil.

      • 62 trillion spam emails are sent every year, contributing to greenhouse gases equivalent to 2 billion gallons of gasoline. That’s just spam!

      • 186 million websites, 1.3 billion email users, 24 hours a day adds up to a lot of energy usage.

      • Burning a CD produces 4 times a much CO2 as printing a single annual report.

      • Some lifecycle stats of various forms of communication: email=5 seconds, book in the library=23 years, magazines=6 months, love letters=64 years

      • Many printing companies are going zero waste and FSC certified. Most recycled papers these days are made using carbon offsets or green energy.

      None of this means print is better or worse than e-communications. Just that the 2 are finally being measured in ways they hadn’t been before.

    46. Patty Calkins, VP of Environment at Xerox says:

      Your article “Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?” addresses a challenge facing many consumers and businesses. As I read through it, one sentiment really resonated: the need to look beyond the green rhetoric and rethink the lifecycle impact of both print and digital media. I could not agree with you more. At Xerox, we believe an inclusive approach to this issue (versus a “pixels vs. paper” fight) will play a major role in conserving the environment. Both print and digital media must become fundamentally cleaner, greener and more socially responsible.

      What we’ve found at Xerox – after decades of work in this area – is that the key to any meaningful sustainability effort is a “value chain focus.” At Xerox we assess the entire product life cycle, from selecting raw materials to integrating product features that help people work wisely in small offices, large enterprises and commercial print operations worldwide. Our approach includes sourcing paper from environmentally sound suppliers and providing customers a broad portfolio of sustainable papers; reducing energy use by implementing energy saving features like faster fusing and smart sleep modes that learn “printing patterns” to re-inventing toner that doesn’t use as much energy to make or use; reducing waste in our facilities, in our customer work places and reducing waste in or products and technology by designing equipment with parts and subsystems that can be reused; lastly we work to eliminate hazardous substances in all our processes and products.

      I offer up these examples to demonstrate the power of a value chain focus. It not only begets sound environmental practices, it also results in profits. Let me offer one more example of how the “lifecycle impact” of an industry – print or digital – can be transformed with this approach. Xerox recently announced that it will commit another $1 million to work with The Nature Conservancy and the paper supply chain to advance forestry stewardship practice and bring paper suppliers together. This partnership exemplifies how business can look beyond its four walls, and set off a ripple effect across an industry. By working together, we’re developing tools and best practices that will enable environmental scientists, forest managers and paper suppliers to work cooperatively toward sustainable forest management and preserving biodiversity around the globe.

      Your article points out: “if you care about the environment and the health of forests you should become more informed about the energy sources used by both digital and print media.” I could not agree with you more. At Xerox we see our sustainability effort as a journey, and I invite anyone interested to learn more about where we’ve been and where we’re headed: http://www.xerox.com/environment

    47. Nick Patrissi says:

      Thanks Don for giving us the most important aspect of this discussion… FACTS and INTELIGENT ANALYSIS. Making decisions Pro or Con based only on facts that are easy to get, seem logical without much thought or pushed onto every email salutation because the author thinks it is the right thing to do…is irresponsible. This issue is too important and effects too many jobs to be taken casually. Sustainable responsibility is much broader then just blaming print and paper. As you point out in your article, paper is actually one of the better managed components of a communications process. The key is responsible consumption and continued forest management.

    48. time ghost says:

      good article, but it misses another key element of why digital media is a green-scam.

      manufacturing. a single tiny microchip takes hundreds of pounds of resources to produce.

      mining for minerals. a dirty business to begin with.

      resource wars (the war in the congo, if I’m not mistaken, is being fought largely over access to the minerals necessary for wireless digital communications. it is the single bloodiest conflict since world war 2).

      the author ends with a common liberal panacea – that we as ‘consumers’ can make a lasting difference merely by changing our consumption habits. I’m all for reduction of personal waste but let’s be clear – municipal waste accounts for only 30% of this country’s pollution. the other 70% is produced by industry and the military.
      as one swedish commenter noted, a large quantity of e-waste comes just from brand new products being chucked because they have already become outdated. what difference does my personal decision not to buy that product make on the fact that its already been made and is already in the landfill?

      we need to rethink our relationships to the industrial economy, technology, capitalism, and the earth. the author makes a broad statement at the end of the article – print technology “ended the dark ages, spawned a renaissance and changed our world for the better.” In some senses, of course, this is true. In another sense, every technological advance also advances the destruction of the earth. (This is almost universally true. I defy anyone to cite an example of a ‘green technology’ that has reversed environmental degradation. Solar panels may be less destructive than mountain top removal mining, but they still create a net loss for the environment because of manufacturing, mineral mining, etc…)

      The connection may not be immediately apparent, but the transition from the ‘dark’ ages (a time by the way, in which nearly a third of the year was set aside for holidays, feasts, and celebrations, and during which vast swathes of Europe were covered in old growth forests), to the so-called ‘renaissance’ (a time in which great works of art were financed by ruthless proto-capitalists like Medici) was accompanied by a greater concentration of power in fewer hands. The feudal system, admittedly, was totally unjust, but was decentralized and afforded peasants a measure of autonomy. As the modern state began to take form during the renaissance, fueled by the new print media, power became more centralized. With the Industrial revolution, and the succeeding technological and communications revolutions, we have seen that advances in technology always accompany advances in concentration of state power. Look what the internet has done both for global trade (ie. global destruction of the environment and local communities) and the global surveillance state (predator drone anyone? sure glad I voted for Obama) (not).

      How does this relate to the environment? Intrinsically. The modern state is set up to protect the rich, industry, corporations – that is, the 70% share of environmental pollution. The 70% that well meaning liberals can do nothing about by composting, reading a kindle (or not), buying fair trade organic cage free, etc etc…

      ‘Responsible consumption’, ‘sustainable development’, ‘green economy’, blablabla. It all represents a total poverty of imagination and an inability to think outside the box of industrial capitalism. The fact that we even identify ourselves unashamedly as ‘consumers’, rather than citizens, or better yet, human beings, or better still, mammalian members of a vast community of life that deserves to be defended from profit hungry industrial vampires at all costs – is truly pathetic.

      wake up everybody.

    49. Nick says:

      Nice article; it begs bigger questions. If we shut down the Internet tomorrow, will mountaintop removal and e-waste come to an end? Of course not. An old rule of thumb: correlation does not mean cause and effect. This strikes me as a tough and complex issue that is not well served by extreme examples. It’s not paper or digital; it’s how to get the most value from each with the least impact. As things seem to be unfolding, the answer will be paper in some cases and digital in others.

    50. Marie Labo says:

      Very lively debate all. Many informed vs. extremely uniformed opinions. My input difffers from 3 perspectives: 1). I’ve been selling print communications for 25 years 2). I’m a world-traveler. 3). Lastly, I’m a consumer.

      1). Those who actually work in paper/print industries know unequivacably, print consumes less energy than electronic media and manufacturing. Frankly, it’s a no-brainer to those truly informed. Furthermore, printing is the 6th, I repeat 6th, largest contributor to our national GDP. And you want to eliminate it? But of course, simply add a few more million Americans to the unemployment percentile.

      2). It’s amazing how American’s are dead-set on putting fellow Americans out of work. The “me only” attitude is truly unique to the USA. Get off your computer and actually go live. Other countries world-wide protect their fellow country men. The USA doesn’t manufacuture electronic devices. Put down your magazine and pick up your iPad. China blesses you! I’m not anti-Asia. Americans are the ONLY short-term thinkers world-wide. Lifecyles aren’t defined by quarterly profit/loss indicators on stock exchanges.

      3). Lastly, the notion that print is “bad” has decimated paper and print industries. 73,000 middle-class print jobs eliminated in 2009. I’m a commission sales rep who’s income fell 70% last year.

      Thank you very much for purporting that print is dirty, and not “green.” Printing and paper industries were “green” long before the public even new what renewable resources meant. Pah-leese!

      You can deliver all the electronic content to my laptop you desire. However, unemployed people have no dispoable income, thus no purchasing power, and will certainly delete any delivered content. I sure have.

    51. As Sen. Moynihan claimed, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Don has done a great job of pointing out some facts.

      If you believe financial services firms are urging you to go paperless to save the environment I know a ponzi scheme you may want to invest in.

      Pulp comes from trees. Trees come from farms, most of which are well managed (e.g. sustainable) or they would no longer be tree farmers.

      Going paperless may make you feel better but if you are really concerned about the environment, stop using bottled water.

    52. SPF says:

      It pains me deeply to feel partially responsible for the loss that the coal mining community is now dealing with. While we all “social media” ourselves silly, we forget that our electricity is really dug out of the earth by fellow human beings who work in a seemingly medieval, barbaric industry and face the horrific choice of either putting their lives on the line every day for the rest of us, or having no work at all.

      I agree with another commenter that Americans are singularly self-centered and unconcerned about their brothers and sisters. Why are we not up in arms about the lack of employment choices in Appalachia? I care about the environment that’s being destroyed, but what about the people’s lives? What kind of future exists for a kid who is watching the “advanced” world of technology on TV every day and faced with either moving away from his home or being lowered deep into a methane-filled cavern to make it possible for that digital world to keep on whirring??

      We have a “lights out” day for the Earth. Shouldn’t we have a “lights out” day for those lost coal miners???? Shame on all of us. If you can’t turn off your electronic junk at night, run only one TV at once in your house, turn down the heat and air a few degrees for the planet, I urge you to think of the families of those lost men every time you waste one kilowatt of power.

      When we start connecting our daily choices and behaviors with people — human beings with beating hearts and humor and arms that hold grandchildren tightly — maybe, just maybe, we’ll have the right criteria upon which to operate.

    53. Joe Czyszczewski says:

      It may not be fast enough, but both paper and digital supply chains are working to become more sustainable. As Don points out, we are not making much progress in being able to make meaningful choices. I can make painful choices with food in deciding how much fat or fiber make sense for me. I can choose to stay in a room at a hotel that is LEED Platinum certified rather than one that is at the Silver level and expect there is an environmental benefit. Likewise, I can choose between an EPEAT Gold certified notebook computer or one that is at the Bronze level based on what makes sense for me. We need to catch up and standardize simple certified metrics that allow real comparisons between digital and paper media where possible.

    54. Steve says:

      Wow, working for a dot com company it really makes you think of how much damage your data center may be causing to the environment, but we are trying to have our company do more for the environment its hard when everything is looked from ROI view. But slowly we are doing steps to help the environment but long way to go. Thanks Don for an excellent article never thought about digital media this way thanks.

    55. Steve R. says:

      Great debate. Both sides make a good claim. As Iunderstand it everytime a tree is harvested one or more are planted in its place. The deforestation argument from the digital folks does not hold water but a responsibly managed forest does. Our forests are doing just fine except where we have taken the tops off of mountains to get to the coal. I don’t think a tree would grow very good there. A quick question; If you plant a lapop will it grow to produce anything useful? A tree will do that for us and suck in the harmful effects that are emitted from your computer, cell phone, Ipad, etc. In the end we will see that both types of media have their place in the market. Experts believe that a well managed forest is one of the least expensive ways to fight against climate change. By the way 60% of the energy used to make paper comes from carbon-neutral renewable resources.

    56. Kevin M. says:

      This is a brilliant and long overdue article. The paper and print industries have come quite a long way in becoming much more sustainable and environmentally responsible, especially when compared against the electronics industry. Many North American paper manufacturers power their facilities with varying forms of renewable energy sources while printing companies do so through the REC system endorsed by EPA’s Green Power Partnership.

      Trees are reforested at better than 2 to 1 harvested, and in a way in which promotes healthier forests. While growing, trees capture carbon and continue to store carbon throughout their life cycle. Certification programs maintained by the American Tree Farm System, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification guarantee that material bought with a claim that the paper or wood product is produced sustainably is in fact tracked through one of the four chain of custody programs. Each consumer product carrying one of the four labels can be traced back to the forest(s) from which the trees used in the product were harvested. All this is verified annually by a mandatory third party audit of each certified company taking possession of the wood, pulp, fiber, paper or printed material within the chain of custody for the purpose of further manufacturing or distribution.

      End of life cycle for paper and many wood products is often recycling.

      A quick contrast of how wood and pulp products flow against that of electronic forms of media shows a stark difference between the two.

      Electronic gadgets contain many toxic metals (arsenic, cadmium, barium, beryllium, mercury) all housed in a petroleum based plastic shell, likely derived from a country with unfriendly feelings towards Americans. Most computers and gadgets get replaced every two or so years with faster, more convenient upgrades. And where does all this e-waste go? Recycled, I guess if that’s what you call children in third world countries stripping the parts for the precious metals that are also housed alongside of the heavy metals. Little hands are exposed the the toxic materials all the same. Of course, the real environmental hazard comes when the e-waste is left to decay into the water table or worse, incinerated illegally.

      The bottom line is that electronic media will continue to be used and electronic marketing is of value. But just don’t tell people you’re going green by no longer printing. That is Green Washing 101. Print communications also offers value through a consistently strong ROI, and often rivals that of electronic forms marketing. Besides conducting a misinformed green washing campaign, effective marketing and sales opportunities are missed when print is left out of the mix. One size does not fit all.

      Trees are solar powered, computers are not. Tree products can be recycled, computers, not so easily. Trees are grown here in the USA, computers, try again. Paper and print industries put North Americans to work, computers put other people to work from countries with poor human rights records and whose government subsidizes their currency for unfair trade advantages. All this while America is in this painful recession.

      Gotta go folks, time to read my two year old a book. She loves to turn the pages. Print, the ultimate Portable Document Format.

    57. Sam says:

      Our problem does not seem to be one of which technology to use and which to give up, because whatever we do we are drawing from natural resources. We are very good at calculating the so-called “benefits” or “credits” we derive from our inventions but usually the negative impacts or “debits” are not given much thought. Consumers are actively solicited to “buy” but never to stop and think before you buy. We have to develop the mindset to think twice before we buy (or consume) so we can do more with less rather than do less with more and more and more.

    58. Nick says:

      My concern is that the use of computers [often left on and unattended in offices overnight] is becoming an increasingly large scale contributor to the drain of electricity supply. Hence my assertion that the greatest threat to the internet is from the [limited] power supply side.

    59. Ravi Kumar says:

      Surely this article is needed to look at the aspects which are not so obvious.
      Interesting fact remains that paper is still made out of renewable source- Wood. and while the tree grows to full potential to be cut, it helps in emitting oxygen, before it goes down after 5 -6 years.
      a 1000000 sq hectare of tropical land can sustain a pulp and paper mill which produces 10000 tons of pulp everuday, which is sufficient to meet the yearly requirement of paper for approximately 10 million people in US. And while in the same land nobody questions palm oil plantation which has less benefits on enviornment.
      What is needed is to locate the land for the paper industry and make them self sufficient and that means they will ensure that ground stays greener for them to survive.

    60. Bryan Long says:

      This article causes us to think, and that’s a good thing. But paper vs. paperless is a false comparison. The impact of electronic information exchange goes way beyond replacing typewriters, printing presses and paper. Paper is now just an accessory for a diminishing number of final presentation applications. It happened fast, but there is no going back. The econosystem is now utterly dependent on electronic information. I don’t worry much about printing things out. I rarely need to print more than a page or two to present something I want people to read during a meeting. If I want them to have it as a reference, I’ll send them the file. I am very aware, and concerned, about the energy consumption of electronic information. We won’t change that by going back to paper, however. That solution lies in a highly prioritized energy policy that stresses efficiency, promotes renewables, and begins a aggressive next-gen nuclear buildout to replace coal.

    61. Hello Mr. Celi,

      I recently saw your article in Media Shift and would like to distribute it to about 5500 senior members of the pulp and paper industry, as part of a weekly newsletter that we send out.

      We will give you and Media Shift full credit.

      Is it possible?


      Glenn Oslte
      Editorial Director/Associate Publisher
      Paper360 magazine

    62. The main point is great, BUT “they can also be powered by forest bio-refineries that sustainably produce energy, biofuels, polymers, and paper with renewable forest biomass.”? Forest biomass is not sustainable — it encourages cutting down forests to feed energy; it takes 80 years to sequester the carbon in a tree (we don’t have that kind of time to seriously sequester carbon); and it can take more energy to burn the biomass than the energy it produces. For a good debate on the issue, listen to this interview I did with a proponent and opponent on Sea Change Radio: http://www.cchange.net/2009/07/29/biomass-or-biomess-a-debate/

    63. Bob Berwyn says:

      So, if I get it, the main impact from digital media is energy use. OK, buy wind or solar power to run the operation. That’s what I did for my one-man community news web site. Beyond that, I ride my bike around my community to cover meetings and do interviews, and I advocate for renewable energy and environmental awareness. Getting computer manufacturers to take back old equipment would be a great step. Any ideas on real, down-to-Earth solutions, rather than just pointing out the problem?

    64. Pascal Lesage says:

      It is great to consider the hidden costs of any activity or product, and this article does a great job at showing the link between activities we consider benign and other harmful activities in the background.
      However, any valid comparison must be done on the an equivalent basis. One needs to compare the impacts attributable to sending a paper bill to that of sending an electronic bill, or the impact of a newspaper to that of a e-paper, etc. One can’t just use numbers out of context, no matter how big and shocking they seem. For example, the impacts of digital media technologies need to be allocated to all activities they support, email, social networking, shopping, reading, etc. The burden “per bill” can be (according to calculations I have done in the past) very small compared to the burdens associated with cutting trees, producing paper (which, btw, also uses fossil energy), mailing letters, and disposing of them at end of life. My calculations have also shown that factors such as time spent reading the communication, size of the file, time spent on a server, weight and grade of paper and distance mailed all need to be carefully considered when making a comparison.

    65. Excellent piece. Readers may also want to check out this one about World of Warcraft’s battle for energy efficiency. http://bit.ly/a64jZ6

    66. Ying says:

      Indeed, most people think e-books as more environmental friendly choice; but the fact is we consumed tons of energy beyond printing books could reach!

    67. Tom says:

      Stop and think about this. 8% unemployment and the POTUS has asked the American people and business to go paperless to help the environment. Does anyone realize how much this proposal and his commit is destroying the Printing Industry and hundreds of other related jobs in America. This article is all truth, but the misled, uninformed and the narrowed mined leaders of business and government don’t want to hear it. How long will it be before the U.S. Federal Trade Commission takes notice of the vague, unsubstantiated environmental claims their using to disguise business cost-saving efforts?

    68. Brian L. says:

      If we hit an energy crisis (or even an environmental crisis) that’s bad enough, we could very well return to paper, to a good extent again. Not a full return, but a far-humbler dependence on digital tech. Paper is more renewable and can be crafted cheaper than tech.

      Might just surprise you where the world is headed. Esp. as we all race at full speed towards various crises over finite resources ahead. Even digital tech takes its toil on the Earth, when overused as an option. It’s hard to create moderation when overusing one lone option in life.

      I say all this, because generally, we’re simply not considering the circumstances of a tech-heavy world. We race to its resort, but rarely weigh the consequences, because we humans are short-sighted creatures. We often just learn the hard way–by adapting to our mistakes, fixing them as we go along.

    69. I think we’re doing pretty good. As demand for energy increases, fossil fuels will grow more and more scarce. I’d bet solar energy and renewable energy starts looking pretty darn good financially speaking in the next 10 years.

      Really, CO2 is not that bad. It would take a thousand years at current CO2 buildup levels for it to be dangerous for us and the environment based on studies of historical CO2 levels. That isn’t counting the increase in biomass and biodiversity associated with higher CO2 levels and the benefits of that and the increasing difficulty of increasing CO2 levels as biomass increases.

      The best thing we can do is let technology advance so that we can learn more energy production methods, get pass the fossil fuel age long before it kills us, and solve problems such as how we’ll provide food for a growing and more prosperous population of humans.

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