Are Pixels Greener Than Paper?

It’s a debate that’s raged in the printing and marketing community for some time. If you switch to electronic methods of communication, are you really greener than if you use print? Or by switching some portion of your print marketing to email or other e-communications, are you really helping the planet?

International Paper has produced a new brochure in its “Down to Earth” environmental series, “Pixels Vs. Paper: Are Pixels Greener Than Paper?” that addresses this question. Of course, it is written by a paper company, so the answer will not be a surprise, but the brochure does contain some interesting tidbits that marketers may want to keep in mind:

Trees are a renewable resource. Every day, paper companies plant three times as many trees as they harvest.

Paper is biodegradable. Nearly 60% of all paper in the U.S. is recycled. Electronic devices, on the other hand, are typically made from plastics and other non-renewable resources. According to IP, only 18% of all electronic devices are currently recycled, and e-waste constitutes the single largest waste export in the U.S.

Of course, data in brochures like this is highly selective. For example, I wonder how many of those heavy iron presses are recycled when they go to rest? But in their favor, these presses do last decades, not months. If the materials are printed digitally, many of today’s toner-based presses are designed to have their parts recycled (whether or not they actually are is another story).

Paper production uses less energy. It’s also important to compare energy consumption as part of the equation. When considering environmental impact, look not just as the media, but at the energy consumption used by each method of production. According to the IP brochure, the amount of electricity to run a computer for only five months could produce enough paper for the average person to use for an entire year.

There are three other brochures in the “Down to Earth” series:

  • Volume 1: “Certification: Where Does Your Paper Come From?”
  • Volume 2: “Recycled vs. Virgin: Is Recycled Paper the Best You Can do?”
  • Volume 3: “Carbon Footprint: How Big Is Your Carbon Footprint?”

Copies of these brochure can be obtained at IP’s sustainability website.

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

Image courtesy of The Stock Exchange (uploaded by rapidyak)

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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