iWorld by Sharad Agarwal

Which is more ‘Green’, paper or digital?

Have you ever considered what the carbon footprint of a magazine or an iPhone is?

The most obvious answer is that print kills trees and computers don't, so digital media must be greener. Some may say that print is greener because trees are a renewable resource and computers emit toxic energy and don't grow on trees. The life cycles of both print and digital media have positive and negative impacts on the environment. Both need to become more sustainable.

Sustainability is a broad aspirational concept that seeks to integrate and balance the economic, environmental and social outcomes of human activity through the use of qualitative action. It seeks to meet the needs of present generations without crossing thresholds that prevent future generations from doing the same.

While environmental issues have typically taken a back seat to financial issues and investment during difficult economic times, this time it's different. The marketing initiatives for the greening of IT and digital media are growing and outstripping any comparable efforts for print. Failure to materially address the greening of print supply chains may ultimately seal the fate of print as well as the fate of the billions whose media related needs will not be served by other alternatives.

The amounts of energy, materials and waste associated with the lifecycles of print and digital media are all too often overlooked, misunderstood or underestimated. There are billions of kilowatt hours of electricity embodied in the paper, ink and digital technologies we use each day and among our greatest challenges is the need to identify, measure and reduce the amount of energy, waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with each page or megabyte of information we take for granted.

Both print and digital media use enormous amounts of electricity. Research indicates that datacenter energy consumption is expected to double by 2010, and its growth is unsustainable. This is one of the factors spurring investment in Green IT.

According to information recently released by Apple, the lifecycle carbon footprint of an iPhone is responsible for the emission of 121 pounds of CO2 equivalent green house gas emissions over the course of a three year expected lifetime of use, the same amount produced by 12, 100 watt light bulbs glowing for 691 hours, or a car engine burning 603 gallons of gasoline. Though it is not a direct comparison, it is interesting to note that Discover magazine estimates the lifecycle carbon footprint of each copy of its publication is responsible for 2.1 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the same amount produced by 12, 100 watt light bulbs glowing for an hour, or a car engine burning 14 ounces of gasoline.

Research has shown that all things being equal, consumers prefer product with smaller carbon footprints. If that's true for other products, why not for print and digital media?

We have an opportunity and an obligation to reinvent both print and digital media. It's time for consumers and producers of media to recognize that we share a common fate that can only be sustainable if we work together to make both print and digital sustainable.

Visit www.go-green.ae to see how you as an individual can make a difference.

Email your thoughts to Sharad at gogreen@cyber-gear.com. If you prefer to use print media, don’t bother!

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