Why Digital May Not Truly Be Helping You Go Green

We’ve all seen it: those memos around offices; that small, italicized note below an email signature; the casual mention from a coworker – all reminding those in their midst how keeping business paperless is the “green” thing to do.

While these are often well-meaning efforts to make an eco-friendly impact, we’re here to set the record straight about just how environmentally conscious electronic communication really is.

We should back up a bit.

Are we about to come off just the slightest bit hypocritical using the very communication vehicle we are about to purposefully discredit? Maybe. But our enthusiasm to point out that print is still a communication powerhouse, with less negative environmental impact than you might think, outweighs our hesitancy. Nevertheless, we’ll step lightly.

Why Digital May Not Truly Be Helping You Go Green

There’s no doubt that moving from print to digital for many business functions can appear to be the most effective way to “go green.” It may seem like the easiest and most cost-effective way to create some efficiencies and reduce your environmental footprint. But in the long run, could the zeal for going paperless be shortsighted?

Check out these reasons why digital might not be all that it’s cracked up to be when it comes to helping you “go green.”

  1. 1. Electronics manufacturing is an environment-killer.

Electronic devices have a huge environmental footprint before they ever get into consumers’ hands. It is estimated that there are upwards of 2 billion smartphones worldwide. Add that to 1 billion computers and 5 – 7 billion other electronic devices.

It’s true that once those devices are up and running they are used over and over again, making them “renewable,” in a way. But that likely doesn’t offset what happens during the manufacturing process.

  • Manufacturing one computer requires 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water, in addition to numerous non-renewable materials.
  • Computers, smartphones and other devices use rare earth elements (REEs). REEs have no substitutes and are not renewable. What’s more, mining REEs requires the use of large amounts of fossil fuels and is considered to be environmentally damaging. Close to 150,000 tons of REEs are used every year in the manufacture of electronic devices.
  1. 2. Electronic devices use more electricity and produce more carbon emissions over their life cycle than any print product.

It takes a staggering amount of electricity to power our devices, whether at work or at home. What’s more, every device leaves a carbon footprint.

  • Email alone (in 2015 the number of emails sent or received per day totaled over 205 billion) accounts for between 22 million and 4 billion metric tons of CO2 generation per year.
  • Computing and networking equipment in homes consumed more than $1 billion in electricity in 2012, equivalent to the output of three large coal-fired power plants.
  • One year of reading with an electronic device produces 105,000 grams of carbon emissions. One year of reading in print produces 26,000 grams of carbon emissions.
  • Most print materials have a finite environmental impact; that is, once it has been manufactured, transported, and sold, its environmental footprint is minimal. An iPad continues to use energy and emit CO2 for as long as it continues to work.
  1. 3. Disposing electronic devices is a HUGE problem for the environment.

All of our devices have to go somewhere when they die or when they’re replaced by newer models or more advanced technology. Where do they all go, and what kind of impact does it have on the environment?

  • The EPA estimates that most people obtain a new cell phone about every 18 months. Only 1% – 10% of cell phones are recycled in the USA, while the majority end up in landfills where they generate hazardous toxins and gases. What’s more, the plastic cases and housings take a long time to decompose.
  1. Don’t Be Fooled. Print Is Sustainable.

  2. Rethinking A Paperless Route

Paper making is sustainable, perhaps even more than manufacturing digital products.

  • Trees are a renewable resource, unlike many of the materials used in manufacturing electronic devices. Today forestry companies understand that responsible, sustainable management is the only way to stay in business, so it’s in their best interest to adopt environmentally conscious behaviors.
  • Sustainable forest management constantly replenishes this renewable resource. Responsible forestry companies grow more trees than are harvested every year.
  • The FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council) enforces renewable resources. Paper purchased with an FSC® label is chain of custody certified for FSC® through sustainable sources.

Energy Efficient Printing Presses

Printing press manufacturers, like Komori and Konica Minolta, provide equipment that maximizes operational efficiencies.

  • Our Komori Lithrone offset press reduces consumable energy usage, thus lowering the carbon footprint of print. Komori’s unique sheet transport system enabled by the stress-free sheet transfer and lower unit air control allows two-sided printing at 15,000 sheets per hour.
  • Our Konica Minolta digital printing presses use induction heating fixing technology. Only the press’s roller surface is heated rather than the entire roller to reduce consumption and warm-up time.
  • Our wide format flatbed uses dual registration points, allowing for simultaneous print and set-up for uninterrupted production.

Mindful Toners and Inks

Not only does the printing industry keep sustainability in mind with the design of presses, the toner and ink applications they use have become increasingly environmentally conscious as well.

  • The UV curable inks used in our perfecting offset press cures without being evaporated into the air and don’t contain solvent toxins.
  • Our digital color presses use SIMITRI plant-based toner to reduce environmental impact and cut toner consumption down by 30%.
  • Our wide format banner press uses Eco-ultra ink and LT solvent ink, keeping solvents from being released into the air.

It’s Important To Work With The Right Printer

At Delzer, we’re committed to using the most environmentally responsible products and practices available. We use mindful inks and toners, energy efficient machines, FSC® certified paper, and material recycling to minimize our environmental footprint.

So while no method of communication – be it electronic, print, (or let’s be honest here, verbal) – is entirely perfect, a healthy balance is key to minimizing society’s environmental footprint. Used correctly, print and paper is a practical and sustainable communications method as part of the solution for a more sustainable world.

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