Monday, April 20, 2009
While countless words are published about the environment in honor of Earth Day this week, it's time for the publishing industry to confront its involvement in an egregious, and rather bizarre, form of greenwashing.
I'm talking about touting Web content and digital editions as being environmentally friendly and disparaging ink-on-paper editions, which are still the major source of revenue for most traditional publishers. For example, one magazine's Web site recently admonished readers to reduce their carbon footprint by signing up for a digital edition -- right next to an article about the huge amounts of electricity that Web servers gobble up.
But the worst offenders are the vendors of digital-publication software, such as Nxtbook, Texterity, and Zinio.
"When you publish with Nxtbook Media, you're making a very green decision -- one that's good for both the bottom line and the environment," says the Nxtbook Web site without providing any data or justification for its questionable environmental claim.
Fortunately, Don Carli, the Godfather of Green Media, played the role of Bovine Fecal Matter Police in an excellent interview recently with Metaprinter:
"When subjected to 'cradle-to-cradle' lifecycle analysis, e-reading is not nearly as green as many naively assume it is," says Carli, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Communication. "Computers, eReaders, and cell phones don't grow on trees, and their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable."
Computers and other electronic equipment require various metals and petro-chemicals in the manufacturing process, electricity (often coal-powered) to live, and "at the end of their all-too-short useful lives . . . become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man," says Carli. In contrast, "much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials."
I should note that Amazon and Sony seem to have had the good sense not to claim that their e-book readers are an environmentally friendly choice. Not so with the publishing-industry vendors who create editions of publications that can be read on computers.
So I now have the honor of presenting Dead Tree Edition's Greenwashing in Media Award jointly to Nxtbook, Texterity, and Zinio.
As punishment, their executives should be forced to use their own company's digital-edition software to read an entire digital facsimile of a magazine on a small laptop computer. Trying to read something that is taller than wide on a device that is wider than tall is a truly painful experience.