The Painful Truth: Are iPads Killing the Environment?

Published on December 26th, 2010 | by

iPad from Apple Store

Quick! Which of the following three industries uses the least amount of forest land per year? Don’t look it up. Just pick one off the top of your head.

A. Lumber Industry

B. Paper Industry

C. Energy Industry

Many people would pick the energy industry because the product is invisible. You can’t see, hear, or touch energy. It doesn’t create a tangible product that clogs up the landfills. Plus, iPads, iPods, cellphones, laptops, GPS . . . the products are just downright cool. We need them.

Yet, the energy industry actually uses the most forestland per year — 53% of the total land used. [1] Much of this is to get at the coal beneath the forest surface. By contrast, the industry that uses the least forestland is actually paper, with 11% of the total forestland used. (The lumber industry uses 28%.) This is due to the emphasis on sustainable forestry practices that focus on maintaining forests as healthy, sustainable sources of supply.

It’s not popular to talk about the energy industry as the bad guy. I mean, even the most sincere environmental consultant, blogger, and activist is wired. But if we really care about the environment, we need to be honest with ourselves. Those gadgets don’t power themselves.

So if you’re looking to make a New Year’s resolution to better the environment, maybe you could resolve to lay off the gadgets. Read a book instead.

[1] Do You Know the Facts?


About the Author

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.
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    • Thanks, I am sure that the answer can be find in those book in your list

  • Cool way of looking at it, but I think the article is missing some perspective. While I don’t have any hard data to support this, there’s no way portable electronics are anymore than 1% (probably less than 0.1%) of any individuals carbon footprint.

    Take an iPad, for example, which has a 10 Watt charger. A typical CFL bulb is 13-16W, an incandescent 40-60W. Switching out your light bulbs saves 3-4x more energy than forsaking portable electronics, and turning off your lights when you leave your house yields even more savings.

    You can also buy small solar and handcrank chargers for your electronics, if you’re feeling extra environmental.