Lou Harry’s column in the August 31, 2015 Indianapolis Business Journal points out the need for a discussion on sustainability in both print and digital media. The column explores the consequences of a local arts organization’s announcement to do away with a printed program at its performances. As Harry reported, the announcement stated that, “We’re bringing the audience closer than ever before through new innovations like interactive program books. We are also going green by cutting back on all paper, ink and waste as a result of traditional methods. . .”
A program serves a number of objectives, the most important being to inform and engage the audience. Harry’s column does an excellent job of examining the pros and cons of an online-only program. He acknowledges the very pragmatic issue of cost, but in the end states, “that I disliked the idea in part because a program, for me, isn’t just an information source. It’s a souvenir—a record of one’s arts life. ‘Put it online and, Poof!’”
An organization facing financial constraints has to make choices, but this particular choice shouldn’t be made under the guise of “going green”. We live in an era of multi-channel communications. Print and digital will co-exist and they will be most effective when they are integrated to leverage the best of each. And people want the option to choose how they channel information. I pay my bills online, but I still want to receive a printed monthly bank statement.
While my bank and others promote the concept of “going green”, there is no definitive data documenting that an online channel is more eco-friendly than print. In most cases, such as sending invoices, the real issue is out-of-pocket costs. When sending invoices, digital wins hands down because printing and mailing an invoice is labor intensive and the digital option requires no postage. (We’re a printing company and we send our invoices electronically.)
According to the American Forest and Paper Association, more than 65 percent of the paper in the U.S. was recycled in 2012, making paper the nation’s most recyclable commodity. When using paper from sustainable sources is added to that, it makes paper a very eco-friendly option. Some printers, including Printing Partners, are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative as being committed to only using paper that comes from sustainable sources.
Print vs. Digital Media: False Dilemmas and Forced Choices, by Don Carli from the Institute for Sustainable Communication, sheds light on the discussion of print vs. digital. Carli questions whether we must choose between print and digital and whether one is actually more environmentally friendly than the other. He states that, “Both print and digital media are essential and both can be sustainable, but both print and digital media will need to become far more eco-efficient over the next 10 years.”
Concerns for the environment and deforestation are valid, but going paperless is not the solution. Researchers at the Earth Institute’s Center for Environment Research and Conservation have data showing that “deforestation is primarily driven by the need for land uses such as agriculture, human settlements, infrastructure and mining.” The paper industry has made significant progress in creating and certifying a sustainable supply chain for paper. Unfortunately, according to Carli, “forest certification is limited in developing countries with less than 2% of forests in Asia, Africa and Latin American being certified.”
While digital media poses as the poster child for environmental consciousness, the reality is much different. Manufacturing electronic devices also leaves a carbon footprint, as well as the energy needed to power them. According to Carli, “Greenpeace estimates that by 2020 data centers will demand more electricity than is currently demanded by France, Brazil, Canada and Germany combined. What is less widely known is that mountaintop-removal coal mining is also a major cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the pollution of over 1,200 miles of headwater streams in the United States.” And a growing concern is the rapid growth of discarded electronics, especially in developing countries.
Television did not replace radio and neither will digital media replace print. It has changed it. And both can be most effective when the messaging is integrated.
This message was written and delivered digitally. But if I wanted even greater impact, I would send a letter to the editor at IBJ and hope that it is published in print.
Michael O’Brien, President
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Print Vs. Digital Media: False dilemmas and forced choices
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Print or Digital: It All Has Environmental Impact