While we cannot dispute the convenience and immediacy of having annual reports on our company websites and our latest bank statement emailed to us, we have to ensure that electronic information is not ‘green-washed’. In the case of your bank statement being sent straight to your inbox, it is simply about reducing cost (to the service provider) and improving convenience to you as the user. It is certainly not about ‘going green’.
The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change published by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government Economic Service in the United Kingdom, in 2006 explains it simply. His 700-page document tackled the effects of climate change and global warming on the world economy and he used the same document to demonstrate how paper and print have a better environmental footprint than electronic communications.
- Printing the Stern Review emits 85g of CO2 (one copy can be read over and over again without further emissions).
- Reading the Stern Review on a computer for one hour emits 226g of CO2 every time.
- Burning the Stern Review to CD is estimated to emit 300g of CO2 for every copy
- Burning the Stern Review to DVD is estimated to emit 350g of CO2 for every copy.
Consider the environment before you send that email
Stern notes that sending 50kb via e-mail causes the same emission as posting a 10g item, with all its fossil fuel consumption in mail delivery etc. The big difference is that reading an item on a computer emits greenhouse gases at the rate of 3.8g of CO2 per minute. Reading a piece of paper results in no additional emissions.
Putting things in perspective
In an article Sappi’s eQ Journal (Issue 0004), Hans Wegner, Chief Sustainability Officer, National Geographic Society says, “I get frustrated with people who say ‘magazines are the problem,’ when an annual subscription to National Geographic is equal to using a gallon of gas [equivalent to 3.5 litres of petrol] in your car.”
Wegner does take some comfort in knowing that the carbon footprint of the [National Geographic] magazine is something he can quantify, unlike the impact of the online version. Wegner isn’t so sure that electronic is the better medium for the environment, despite the majority of the general public believing as such.
“We don’t know the environmental impact of saving a document on a server for ten years or more,” Wegner says. “And we have no idea of the impact of extracting finite resources to make electronic devices that cannot easily be recycled safely and practically.”
Trees are an important part of the paper story
Compare the manufacture of electronic devices to support communication, which rely on energy from non-renewable fossil fuels and components made from non-renewable precious metals, with the natural and scientific wonder of the tree: It is 100% renewable and it sequesters carbon during its growth cycle through photosynthesis.
Furthermore sustainably managed plantations mitigate climate change, provide a reliable and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber supply into the value chain and ensure that our land, water resources, fauna and flora remain protected. In fact, South Africa has the highest level of international certification of its plantations in the world. Over 80% of South African plantations are certified by the FSC.
The use of renewable biomass-based energy has also enabled the South African paper manufacturing industry to avoid the use of 1,3 million tons of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas annually and therefore the associated carbon emissions.
Once the paper reaches the consumer, it is vital that it is recycled thereby extending the period of carbon lock-up in paper and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere for longer.
Think before you do not print
So when you get that email that asks you not to print it so you can save a tree, point them to the www.paperstory.co.za website where they can download and print the latest PAMSA fact sheet, and a new strap for the bottom of their emails.
PAMSA does not advocate wasteful printing – we advocate responsible printing and paper use, re-use and recycle.
Follow us on Twitter @PaperRocks_SA.