Thursday, July 16, 2009

Smackdown: Printed Editions vs. Digital Editions

Finally, a paper company is fighting back against the ridiculous notion that electronic books are greener than printed books.

International Paper recently released “Are Pixels Greener Than Paper”, which compares the environmental profile of ink-on-paper publications (dead tree editions) to digital publications (what I call “dead dinosaur editions” because of the fossil fuels and petrochemicals they consume). It has good points backed by in-depth research, but we need to translate and reformat the PR-speak into something more understandable to the general public.

With The Wall Street Journal's bogus claim yesterday that "e-textbooks are environmentally friendly", it's more important than ever to take a realistic look at e-books. Therefore, Dead Tree Edition offers this color-coded "tale of the tape" (as they say in boxing circles) comparing Dead Dinosaur Editions with Dead Tree Editions on key attributes, with quotations from the IP brochure:
  • Raw Materials:Paper is a renewable resource. The North American “paper and forest products industry replenishes more than it takes and ensures the sustainability of our forests by planting 1.7 million trees every single day, more than three times what is harvested.” But as for dead dinosaur editions, “making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals, including gold, silver and palladium, as well as the extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents.” No one is planting dead dinosaurs into the ground to make more oil for the petrochemicals that digital devices consume.

  • Energy/Carbon Footprint: “Sixty percent of the energy used to make paper in the U.S. comes from carbon-neutral renewable resources and is produced on site at mills.” “The electronics industry uses more than 90 percent fossil fuels purchased off the grid."

  • Recycling:“In the U.S., nearly 60 percent of all paper is recycled, recovered and reused to make new paper products.” Electronic devices have a recycling rate of only 18%.

  • User Editing: The Journal article says most students prefer dead-tree textbooks to dead-dinosaur textbooks, partly because they can't highlight important passages or write notes in e-textbooks.

  • Reliability: Digital editions are often read on machines running Windows or Vista. 'Nuf said. Dead-tree editions never crash, get infected with viruses, receive spam, or serve pop-up ads.

  • Durability: Ever dropped a laptop? Not pretty.

  • Lifespan: I read a 150-year-old book the other day and have 75-year-old copies of National Geographic, but my 15-year-old WordPerfect for DOS files are either unreadable or FUBAR. How many of today’s laptops, e-book readers, and iPhones will still be in use five years from now?

  • Waste: “The lifespan of a computer is short, and electronics have become the fastest growing waste stream in the world.” Much of that waste is toxic. Paper is reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable.

  • Personal Hygiene: Speaking of waste, which would you rather read while sitting on the toilet, a magazine or a Kindle? And remember that, before they had toilet paper, our ancestors had the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Ever tried to wipe your bottom with a Blackberry?


Dial H 4 Hero said...

Thought you might like this story about the Kindle:

When I buy a printed book / newspaper / magazine, I can rest assured that it won't magically teleport away.

Anonymous said...

Talk about a smackdown! Check out this one between a kindle supporter and somebody who has actually done some hard research into the environmental damages of electronics.
(The smackdown starts with "Anonymous said...
You probably won't read this so long after your original post, but...)

Some people just won't be convinced until all the land in America is used to grow corn for the fabulous ethanol gas that lowers your auto's mpg and flat out tears up your boat engine!

Project Speaker said...

Quick question for you ... did you even read the report?
I doesn't even mention the subject you say it's about. There's zero mention of digital editions of publications. The closest thing is a mention about reading newspaper content from a Web site. The entire report is a comparison between the printed page and the computer.

You say right at the top of your article:
International Paper recently released “Are Pixels Greener Than Paper”, which compares the environmental profile of ink-on-paper publications (dead tree editions) to digital publications (what I call “dead dinosaur editions” because of the fossil fuels and petrochemicals they consume).
which is absolutely false.

As I asked, you either did not read the report or are trying to distort IP's entire argument to create a blog post which serves no useful purpose.

Anonymous said...

Quick, take all the knowledge on the Internet and print it out. See if you can keep enough trees planted ...

One Kindle is worth 1,000 books. I'll exchange a few dollops of rare metals and some plastic casing for all the books it would take to duplicate the information.

And if you think it costs some electricity to light up a pixel on a screen, try all the gas it takes to cut the tree, pulp the tree, make paper from it, get the paper to the printer, print the book, ship the book to the distributor, to the store, to the buyer ...

Anonymous said...

I'm such an innocent that I actually had to look up FUBAR in Wikipedia

Oh, and WordPerfect still opens WordPerfect files.

Jon Dale said...

Isn't it somewhat Ironic that I read the IP Paper report as a PDF, on my laptop?

Also, at the end of the article it says:

For more information about related topics, visit these websites:

(then lists 8 websites to visit)

I think this report is a waste of time, money and resources. Granted, it points out differences between paper and digital efficiencies with regards to the environment, but offers absolutely no solution about what should be done.

In what context should we use print or digital?

Communication has changed, and it continuing to do so. A need for an increased speed of communication is natural. We used to have horse drawn carriages delivering mail, now trucks, because it's quicker. Then email, quicker still.

Ink-on-paper cannot match some of our basic communication needs, but as this report shows, it is having an impact on the environment.

I do think, however, increased awareness will force the technology innovators to be creative in ways to optimize and reduce the carbon footprint that we all leave behind.

Fopap-jf said...

What if electronic hardware was dismantled and disposed of on your doorstep, spread cacergens, poisoned the local river and kids, sent you blind and mad?
As much as hardware is and will continue to be made, it will continue to have a post life legacy. Have you ever stopped to wonder where it all ends up? Before you feel all cosy and think either a)Not my problem or b)nicely by a recycler, most is shipped and dismantled by desperates trying to scratch a crust, 90 percent of hardware is landfill.
3rd worlders burn boards to salvage the metals and there is no sustainable resource for heavy metal content, plastics are man made, so at no level is ANY hardware Green. Add in costs and emissions to charge and run, life span and at no level are they even carbon neutral or remotely friendly.
Now I could say at my age why should I give a shit, not my problem if the planet is poisoned, won't be around, but what makes it worse is its poisoned in the name of profit and greed of corporates, who obviously market on niceties and not doom and gloom.
Greenpeace operate a green questionaire, have a read, But before you argue paper is bad, how its natural, you think nothing of trees rotting down, burried they become a carbon store, (coal after years), paper is the same, non toxic, can be burned, recycled and is completely sustainable.
Don't believe the bullshit, paper is good just as the trees its derived from. Can a tablet or Kindle remove CO2 and lock in carbon, I think not.