Ahead of Earth Hour on 31 March 2012, here are a few facts about the impact of digital communications versus its paper counterpart. So next time you need to read a really long document, it’s probably better to print it out.
Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the Government Economic Service in the United Kingdom, released the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change in 2006. This tackled the effects of climate change and global warming on the world economy.
He used the 700-page document to demonstrate how paper and print have a better environmental footprint than electronic communications.
- Printing the Stern Review emits 85g of carbon dioxide (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 carbon dioxide every time.
- Burning the Stern Review to CD is estimated to emit 300g of carbon dioxide for every copy, while burning it to DVD is estimated to produces 350g of carbon dioxide for every copy.
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 carbon dioxide per minute. Reading a piece of paper results in no additional emissions.
By all means, opting for electronic billing but do not label as ‘going green’. It is simply about reducing cost (to the service provider) and improving convenience to you as the user.