Print or Electronic? A Discussion on Environmental Impact

Mar 17, 2011

Conventional wisdom says that printed materials result in fallen trees and discarded paper clogging up landfills. But two studies from Germany found that electronic newspapers can actually have a greater environmental impact than print newspapers. This is thanks to the energy required to make content available 24/7 on electronic devices, as well as the energy consumption of the required devices, not to mention discarded batteries clogging up landfills.

Environmental impact is less straightforward than we think, and while electronic media reduce paper consumption and landfill use, they use more energy. So the use of electronic media over paper trades a renewable resource (trees) for a non-renewable one (fossil fuels used in energy production).

Print can actually be more environmentally friendly than electronic media, but there are opportunities to make it even more so.

Environmental issues have taken center stage in the past year, and while there is not a great “green” shift in the graphic arts, evidence suggests that might be changing.

Recent surveys from The Industry Measure (formerly TrendWatch Graphic Arts) have found that, when specifying paper, graphic design and production professionals only occasionally take into account the source of a paper’s fiber, or a paper mill’s record on environmental sustainability. While these data don’t indicate a groundswell in environment-friendly print buying, they do suggest a not inconsiderable level of interest. Savvy graphic design professionals have the opportunity to further act on their conscience while at the same time boost business by appealing to the “green” market among their own customers (present or potential)—a win-win scenario.

These same surveys have found that only 24% of graphic design professionals specify their own paper. Clearly there is room for a more proactive approach to eco-friendly paper on the part of print buyers.

There are two basic types of environmentally friendly paper:

• Non-wood fiber sources, such as straw, cotton, kenaf, bamboo and other materials can be used as a fibrous source for papermaking, helping to take the strain off of wood forests.

• Recovered and recycled paper helps reduce the demand for virgin wood pulp and diverts discarded paper from landfills.

Many paper mills offer recycled paper in a variety of grades, and the quality, “runnability” and cost of recycled grades have improved to the point where they are often competitive with non-recycled grades. When specifying paper to your printer, explore alternative fibers, recycled papers or other environmentally friendly options.

However, there is more to being environmentally conscious than simply specifying recycled or alternative papers. Considering a specific paper mill’s overall record on environmental sustainability, which includes CO2 emissions generated during paper production, is just as important as its offering recycled grades.

For graphic design professionals seeking to improve their own records on environmental responsibility, the Internet—and paper companies and industry organizations themselves—offer a wealth of resources. After all, touting one’s design business as “eco-friendly” is a good way to attract the business of customers who are either already environmentally conscious or who are on the fence about the issue and are looking for service providers to make these decisions easy. And given the inherent environmental advantages of printing over many alternative media, running a “green” design shop can be a good way to stimulate demand for print among clients who might be considering other media.

Action Graphics is committed to helping you reach your environmental goals and together help create a better tomorrow.  To find out more about our environmental initiatives, visit our Green Printing section. To get your own copy of our “Recycled Paper Swatchbook” call us today at 800.365.6687 to find out how we can partner with you on your greening efforts.

More Insights to Enjoy:

+ Think Personalization, Think Green

+ How to Make Your Print and Mail Projects More Environmentally Friendly

© Action Graphics, 2011. Article taken from our e-Newsletter, Action Insights for your Inbox. Sign up today to receive future issues of our newsletters.

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