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Greening Print Marketing: iPhone Creates 100X the Carbon Footprint of Discover Magazine

I just got on a great e-mail list — the “Green Media Newsletter.” The first issue immediately caught my attention because it addressed an issue that everyone is bantering about these days. Which is more environmentally responsible? Electronic media or print?

Although this article didn’t create a direct comparison between the two, it offered a great illustration that drives home a point I’ve made here many times. That is that the issue is complex, and it’s important for those wanting to green their marketing programs not to oversimplify. The choice between print and electronic media is impacted by many factors and isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

The author of the “Green Media Newsletter” article used an admittedly eye-popping illustration, though—between the illustrious iPhone and the venerable Discover magazine. I’ll let her speak in her own words:

According to information recently released by Apple, the lifecycle carbon footprint of an iPhone is responsible for the emission of 121 pounds of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions over the course of a three year expected lifetime of use. Over 10 million iPhones have been sold to date.

Though it is not a direct comparison, it is interesting to note that Discover magazine estimated that the lifecycle carbon footprint of each copy of its publication is responsible for 2.1 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the same amount produced by twelve 100-watt light bulbs glowing for an hour or a car engine burning 14 ounces of gasoline.

Over the next few years it can be expected that the reporting of lifecycle data and the carbon labeling of all products will move from the margins to the mainstream – including the footprinting of print and digital media products. Welcome to the age of low carbon everything.

To read the complete article in the Seybold Report – click here.

So one iPhone, used over a lifetime, creates 100 times more carbon emissions than a magazine over its lifetime. Don’t you love the headline? It’s great blog fodder!

But the fact is, it’s not a fair comparison. You cannot compare the carbon footprint of an electronic device that you use countless times per day to the footprint of a single magazine, read only a few times, and of which millions are printed.

But it does make a great point about the complexity of this issue and the care with which we as business owners, marketers, and consumers must make when we evaluate the “best” sustainability options. Everything impacts sustainability. Production. Transportation, Usage. Disposal. Impact on indigenous people or environments. The list goes on.

We’re in a complex world, so we must weigh our options carefully and with an eye for the bottom-line truth. But it IS fun to read the headlines.

Like this post? View all my “Greening Print Marketing” posts.

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

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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