Monday, July 20, 2009
Are Pixels Greener than Paper?
"More and more people are communicating with electronic media. But are electronic devices the most effective environmental choice for getting information?
Ever decision to communicate has some impact on the environment. For example, whether we email or send a letter, we consumer energy and resources. There are environmental tradeoffs in every choice we make, and there is no simple 'right answer'. Effective stewardship requires a careful examination of the larger picture that compares the entire lifecylce, from raw materials to energy use and end of life, to fully understand the impact and performance of both electronic media and paper.
The facts may surprise you.
RAW MATERIALS: Are they Sustainable?
PAPER: on of the great things about paper is that its primary raw materials are renewable. The paper and forest products industry replenishes more than it takes and ensures the sustainability of our forest by planting 1.7 million trees every single day, more than three times what is harvested. And the U.S. Dept. of Energy has stated that the carbon sequestered on forest lands in 2006 was greater than the carbon released from harvesting wood over the same period.
ELECTRONICS: Making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, including gold, silver and palladium, as well as the extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. The life span of a computer is short, and electronics have become the fastest growing waste stream in the world.
ENERGY CONSUMPTION: Is it Effiecient?
PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRY: OUr industry is on of the biggest users of renewable, low-carbon energy in the world. Sixty percent of the enrgy used to make paper in the U.S. comes form carbon-neutral renewable resources and is produced on site at mills. In addition, these facilities use combined heat and power (CHP) generation systems, which are 80-90% efficient. Fossil fuel use and purchased energy in this industry is steadily decreasing.
ELECTRONIC DATA CENTER SERVERS: Taking only the servers that power the Internet as comparison, the electronics industry uses more than 90% fossil fuels purchased off the grid, which are greenhouse gas emitting. The conventional power-generation systems used are only 45-50% efficient. And the consumption rate for data centers in the U.S. alone doubled from 2000-2006 and is set to double again by 2011.
END OF LIFE: How Does it Break Down?
PAPER: paper is a biodegradable substance that is also recyclable and reusable. Nearly 60% of all paper in the U.S> is recycled and more than 63% of the fiber used to make new paper products in the U.S. comes from recycled sources.
ELECTRONICS: Only 18% of all electronic devices are currently recycled. 1.84 million tons of these devices were disposed of in U.S> landfills in 2006, and an estimated 30-40 millions PCs will be ready for disposal in each of the next few years. Additionally, e-waste now constitutes our single largest toxic waste export.
The fact is both print and electronic media must become increasingly more sustainable to survive, and the choices we make should be based on a data-driven comparative analysis of life cycle, carbon footprint and total environmental impact. The paper and forest products industry has been addressing sustainability for decades, and now adheres to many third-party certification standards and government regulations.
The future sustainability of our society is dependent upon sustainable supply chains over the life cycle of the medium with which we choose to communicate. The ultimate question is not electronics or paper, but what combination of these has the least total impact on our environment."
Source: International Paper Sustainability
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Academy Graphic Communication
International Energy Agency
Environmental Protection Agency