First off, I want to say that, as someone who has been an analyst in the commercial printing industry for fifteen years, I’m thrilled to be part of The Inspired Economist. For years, printing has been seen as part of the problem, so the ability to get in on the ground floor of a blog on environmental sustainability and talk about how printing can become part of the “greening” of corporate culture is quite a thrill.
Using print—a medium that contributes to solid waste and may appear to be part of the problem—to “green” a company’s document management and marketing culture seems nonintuitive. It is perhaps for this very reason that I hope readers will find my posts enjoyable.
There are two points that I want to open with.
First, in marketing, electronic alternatives are often framed as the green alternative to print because they don’t require paper, ink, packaging, and physical transportation. However, there is a lot more to one’s environmental footprint than this. Take, for example, one’s carbon footprint. On this issue, electronic alternatives with their massive, 24-hour energy drain start to look less appealing.
A brace of studies released several years ago by the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment (IZT) of Berlin, Germany, have yielded some surprising conclusions about the ecological impact of print vs. electronic media. In a nutshell, electronic newspapers have a much greater environmental impact than conventional print newspapers, at least when it comes to the business models that companies have been using—that is, e-newspapers as downloads for PCs, laptops, or via UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Services) for mobile devices. IZT researchers point out that the real environmental impact of “electronic paper” is largely due to the energy required to make customized newspaper content available via UMTS mobile communications, ubiquitously and 24/7. At the same time, the researchers found that the environmental impact of the hardware required (that is, mobile devices) is much less than with conventional PCs or laptops, but the energy consumption that individual data transmission requires for the energy-hungry UMTS network more than compensates for the energy savings from end devices.
Second, with the development of new technologies, print marketing looks a lot different than it used to. Traditional offset is a lot cleaner, more efficient, and focused on cradle-to-grave environmental responsibility than even a few years ago. The maturation of low-waste, low-environmental-impact digital technologies have changed the equation yet again, both in terms of how they produce print and the applications they drive.
Although I will be discussing the evolution of print technologies as they relate to environmental responsibility, it is the applications, in particular, that I will focus on here. What makes these applications particularly exciting is that, in many cases, they are being driven—not by environmental considerations—but by their effectiveness and profitability. Greenness is actually a byproduct.
It’s not often that double-whammies are to your benefit, but it’s certainly nice when they are.