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Pondering the Impact of Paper and Electronic Devices

Paper companies blog. We have websites and YouTube channels. We conduct e-mail blasts, share content through pdfs, and like college students most of my co-workers would suffer from withdrawal if someone took away our iPhones and BlackBerry’s for a full day.On the flip side we see all forms of media companies advertising in print, magazines being inspired by televisions shows, and after going totally viral on the web even the Story of Stuff went to print.

So which form of communication has less impact on the environment – ink on paper or electronic devices? I am afraid this is a classic case of “it depends.”  The formats are so completely different it is extremely difficult to make fair comparisons. As an industry, we struggle with the ability to compare the footprint one magazine to another and yet there is an expectation that we ought to be able to compare the environmental impact of publishing and advertising across different platforms. And unfortunately, many arguments have been put forth based on just slices of the full life cycle – leaving much room for criticism by pundits.

The Environmental Paper Network has focused on minimizing paper consumption, clean manufacturing, responsible forestry and recycled content.  Electronics watch dogs are concerned about PVC and toxic chemicals used in manufacturing digital devices along with the proper disposal of e-waste.  MetaFore (now part of GreenBlue) developed the EPAT tool to try to educate consumers about environmentally preferable paper and came up with 21 metrics. Meanwhile, the Green Electronics Council has developed ­EPEAT which evaluates 51 criteria for electronic devices.

The fact is, everything we do has some form of an environmental impact. So, at a high level, what we need to do is to try to minimize waste across any form of communication. List hygiene matters whether you are sending catalogs or e-mail blasts. Good design matters for digital and print. So when you use paper, select the supplier with the lowest impact. And when you think about upgrading your smart phone or laptop (again) consider checking out the devices’ environmental credentials. And don’t forget to shut it off when not in use.

There will no doubt be more on this subject to come – in the meantime, join the dialogue. What do you think: is one means of communication clearly better than the other?

Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.  Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability.  Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development.

Reposted from the eQ Blog with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America. For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite.

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One thought on “Pondering the Impact of Paper and Electronic Devices

  1. Hi Laura, at Terracopia we have devised a single metric to measure all environmental impacts. Not only can you compare the impacts of different media using the same index, but you could also compare the environmental cost of a magazine with the environmental cost of an orange!
    We are currently looking for sponsored pilot projects and supporters and backers. Please get in touch if you can spare some time to critique what we are doing. Thanks – you hit the nail on the head with your article.

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