Digital Versus Print- Busting the Myth!

Is digital media more sustainable than print media? Green Hat weighs up the options.

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If you’re carbon conscious, you’ll want to keep your marketing as sustainable as you can; but is print or digital media the best way to do this? We’re often told that it’s more sustainable to keep marketing online rather than producing leaflets and posters to spread the word, but there are a few myths we should dispel.

The paper issue

Paper comes from tree fibre, which is a renewable resource and one that can be recycled. Although there has long been an association with paper production and forest destruction the reality isn’t quite so bleak. Thanks to careful management the forests in Europe have actually increased by 17 million hectares in the last two decades (MCPFE). For more information on sustainable forest management read what Two Sides has to say on the matter.

The e-waste issue

Computers and phones are made from non-sustainable materials, which can’t be recycled quickly or sustainably. With the speed at which we’re consuming digital products there’s a growing e-waste problem. According to Greenpeace, the average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005. Meanwhile mobile phones have a lifecycle of less than two years in developed countries. Here’s more about e-waste.

The paper footprint

The amount of carbon used to produce a poster, an annual report or leaflet can be accurately measured. Carbon balancing schemes are used to keep track of the energy used from the moment a tree is cut down right through to the print and distribution process; we have a tick mark guide to rate the environmental impact of every print job we do! Of course once you have a completed piece of print material no more energy is needed to view and access it.

The digital footprint

Digital products are stored on servers, which are constantly sucking up energy. It’s difficult to measure how much carbon is used in the process as there’s no limit to the number of times media can be viewed on laptops, tablets and smart phones. Take a look at some of these eye opening infographics created by The Guardian, which look into the estimated size of their digital carbon footprint.

The Conclusion

There’s no doubt that both digital and print media consume energy and neither are footprint free but as designers or consumers we need to think about how we create information, how we view it and how we store it.

Helpful Tips

Below are some useful links to help you stay carbon friendly no matter what the media!


Greenpeace guide to greener electronics

Battle of the Book. The New York Times 2010

Green Hat Green Print Guide


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Edited by Helen Kinsella

Image sourced: Green Hat

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