Is Going Paperless Really Good for the Environment?

is-going-paperless-really-good-for-the-environmentEvery business is concerned about its use of paper and the subsequent effect on the world’s trees – every email has the “Please consider the environment before printing…” reminder at the bottom. You could easily think that electronic communication is the way to go, but going paperless isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s not quite as simple as deciding to order fewer Canon cartridges from – paper may actually be the way forward.

It may well be that our over-reliance on electronics and cloud computing might harm the environment more. It’s a complicated issue, but one thing is certain – the printing sphere has to increase the sustainability of its supply chains and recycling streams. Digital media isn’t the panacea for the ills of climate change.

It’s possible that paperless offices have a smaller carbon footprint than paper-using ones, but there’s no real evidence to support this. It seems that proponents of digital media guilt-trip people into believing that they’re killing the trees by using paper, but digital media isn’t exactly blameless when it comes to harming the environment.

Print may actually lead to more trees being planted

Paperless fans claim that digital tech is here to save the world, but they overlook the resources gulped down by the manufacturing of mobile phones, game consoles and so on. That’s before these devices are even turned on…another lump of coal, anyone? More forests in the US are destroyed by mountaintop mining to find coal and minerals, than to source paper, but this goes unnoticed.

It’s likely that when companies take account of the paper they’re using, they’ll want to know how these trees are being replaced. This will drive the replanting of trees to give us responsibly sourced paper and prevent forests being sold to property developers.

In addition, broadband and cloud-based media are using huge amounts of energy and it’s only set to grow, unless there’s a tech revolution soon.

Think again

Digital media’s energy demands may be more destructive than the need for trees for paper. Paper has been demonised by environmentalists, but it may be that it’s an easy, controllable target – everyone can choose to write on both sides of a page, or to recycle. Forgoing a phone with all the exotic Central African minerals in it is harder, but it’s the sourcing of these minerals that’s doing long-term damage to land, forests and water bodies. It’s hard to plant new trees in lands that have been ravaged by sulphuric acid.

The paper industry needs to transform its production methods so that it uses renewable fuels. Society also needs to use more efficient printing methods, using greener raw materials. Only then will it lose its bad reputation.

Another thing to consider is the cultivation of forests, both for paper and for biomass production. Paper companies will need to have an emphasis on recycling and harvesting sustainable biomass. They’ll also need to start and maintain a dialogue with customers, letting them know their environmental credentials so that they feel OK with buying from them.

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