Many see printers as bad guys who produce paper-based documents as an energy-hogging, landfill-clogging, waste-producing industry that needs to be replaced by cleaner, more efficient electronic media.
But are we?
Despite all the hype about electronic media being “greener” than print, the opposite may be true. Electronic media are huge consumers of energy. When you consider that the paper industry is one of the largest consumers of clean energy like wind power, the tables may actually be turned.
In a recent publication, “Pixels or Paper?”, International Paper wrote: The printing industry is one of the biggest users of renewable, low-carbon energy in the world. 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. In addition, these facilities use combined heat and power (CHP) generation systems, which are 80-90% efficient. Fossil fuel use and purchased energy in this industry are steadily decreasing.
Taking only the servers that power the Internet as a comparison, the electronics industry uses more than 90% fossil fuels purchased off the grid, which are greenhouse gas emitting. The conventional power-generation systems used are only 45-60% efficient. And the consumption rate for data centers in the U.S. alone doubled from 2000-2006 and is set to double again in 2010.
The printing industry is increasingly “green.” Our presses are highly efficient. We use recycled paper. We use vegetable-based inks. Even many of today’s plastics and coatings are recyclable. Today’s digital presses and consumables containers are made from recyclable components. E-media may not produce a tangible product, but this doesn’t make it green.