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Industry Insight

Kevin Keane on “the Coal-Fired Internet”

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By Patrick Henry
Published: October 1, 2009

(The following is taken from an article submitted to A Printing Office by Kevin Keane, president and CEO of IAPHC, the Graphic Professionals Resource Network. Contact him at kevinkeane@iaphc.org—Ed.) The best line of Print 09 was uttered in his usual off-handed but acutely insightful manner by Dr. Joe Webb at the first Xerox luncheon on September 11. Dr. Joe said: "We have a coal-fired Internet." Meaning, we should not forget that all those who tout paperless billing via a the Internet or downloading e-books to their Amazon Kindle reader via the Internet are still using one of millions of computer nodes on a worldwide network which is run off of electricity and which by definition leaves a carbon imprint of a considerably sulfurous sort. During my remarks as the wrap-up speaker at the Executive Outlook Conference which preceded Print 09, I observed that our industry (the printing and publishing industry and its relatives in communications) has not done, with a few notable exceptions like The Print Council, much of an effective job of fighting back in a unified and coordinated manner against the drum-beat that print on paper is bad, is not green and is not cool, with-it and wow. Everyone in the industry needs to do better in a fact-based manner with the occasional pithy petard like Dr. Joe’s coal-fired Internet observation. Our industry associations, our industry vendors, and in fact every single person who makes a living in the global graphic arts needs to pick up the fallen flag of pride and fight back to validate that what we do has value, and is not implicitly anti-environment. If you were a member of the IAPHC group, you would have found this pithy little nugget from the Two Sides Campaign: • The original wireless communication: Producing and reading a traditional newspaper can consume 20% less energy than reading news online for more than 30 minutes. The Internet is an amazing tool, and a real friend to communicating quickly and often quite accurately, I mean just think about how many links are embedded in what you just read! But print on paper retains a place of honor at the table of human discourse, thought-leadership and learning to be a citizen of the world. Let's not be shy about the power of print.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Michael J on Oct 01, 2009

Great post. "..and we save trees" is the mantra that is an excuse for not having to think through the best way to achieve a communications goal. I think Don Carli is doing the most important work in this area. The only way to stop this meme is with hard evidence. He's compiling granular evidence on the carbon footprint of every media, most importantly including the internet. As the evidence accumulates and the standards for measuring carbon footprint get mainstream, the "...and we save trees." will be replaced by another blabla that explains why "I don't want to think too hard about doing what I have to do."

 

By Andy McCourt on Oct 02, 2009

Great article and response from MJ! Gartner Research estimates the global IT industry is responsible for much the same % of CO2 emissions as the airline industry (2%). The airline industry has announced it will reduce its emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050. Will the global IT industry do the same, or continue to INCREASE its emissions, as it does now? Has anyone calculated the amount by which Print+Paper+Forestry has reduced emissions; in addition to sequestering CO2 in plantation trees? My bet is we are one of the BEST performers in this regard. Looking forward to Don Carli's reports but as Pat says, we need a cohesive, powerful global campaign to tell the truth about printed matter, and counter the skewed spin and outright obfustication by the IT sector. If the Internet runs on coal, then Printing runs on planting more living, breathing, carbon-sequestering, harvestable trees - and then re-using the fibre up to eight times! What a story.

 

By Patrick Henry on Oct 02, 2009

Michael, Andy, thanks sincerely for your comments, but I do want to point out that the call for a cohesive, powerful campaign on behalf of the environmental advantages of print comes not from me but from Kevin Keane, the author of the initial post. Naturally, I second the call and salute Kevin, Don Carli, and many others for doing all that they've done to set the record straight about the contributions that print can make to a greener tomorrow.

 

By Suzanne on Oct 02, 2009

Really. Keep your eyes on Google's server farms. Word has it they may be buying electricity from Canada. http://www.cips.ca/node/384

 

By Garth G on Oct 02, 2009

Absolutely right on! We all need to "pick up the fallen flag". If not us, then who will? This topic resonated for me personally when recently my 5th graders principal announced the school was "going paperless". Of course, he indicated the school was "going green" and that they'd "save a small forest". The other reason was to utilize an internet based tool for communicating class assignments, test scores, teacher comments, etc. It IS a useful tool but not the only one available in the communication bag of tricks. Earlier this week David Struhs, VP of Sustainability for International Paper held a webcast focused on their Down to Earth series, Pixels v. Paper. If you missed it I suggest you visit IP's website and follow the "sustainability" link. There is quite a bit of useful information. Write a letter, promote print, be part of the solution!

 

By matt on Oct 02, 2009

Wow, talk about fighting the wrong battle in the wrong way. Are you really going to battle the greenies? Where is the sense in that? And then your attack is that we are possibly the lesser of the many evils? We are "not implicitly anti-environment". Why waste the few valuable resources printers have in this way? The greenies are not there to be converted, they are in the process of converting others. Printed product has value - sell that value, don't get sidetracked into a fight you cannot win. Fight for your customers with the value you provide. The sustainability and carbon footprint pale in comparison to the importance of ROI - are you competitive there? If not your other 3 letter initiatives (FSC and CFI) are not going to save you. Print matters, print sells, print promotes action at a higher rate and lower cost than the alternatives. That is the proposition we can win with - "coal fired internet" just makes us look like hapless dopes.

 

By Don Carli on Oct 04, 2009

Business, government and society cannot afford to become dependent upon a digital media mono-culture any more than it can afford to be solely dependent on fossil fuel energy. However, this isn't a time to fight back using zero-sum arguments. Dr. Joe's point was first made in 1999 by Mark Mills in a report for The Greening Earth Society titled "The Internet Begins with Coal" which claimed that for every 2 Megabytes of data moving on the Internet, the energy from a pound of coal is needed to create the necessary kilowatt-hours. It briefly made headlines at the time, but was rapidly criticized and marginalized: http://enews.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/net-energy-studies.html There is too much at stake to repeat the errors made by Mills and The Greening Earth Society in efforts to confront king coal. Unfortunately, the challenge that the printing industry faces is not "fighting back." Rather, its challenge is to fight for a future for print AND digital media becoming radically cleaner, greener and more socially responsible within a decade. The printing industry needs to find common issues and synergies WITH the proponents of digital media and coal power that it can fight FOR together. The paper and printing industries need to think twice before embarking on a campaign based on pithy put downs and self-righteous "we win-you lose" zingers. "Fighting Back" like that may feel good for a little while, but as the Scandinavians say, so is “peeing in your pants to keep warm.” Well funded pro-coal organizations like the West Virginia Coal Association proudly state that a lump of coal is burned every time a book is ordered on-line! The fact is that neither print NOR digital media supply chains are sustainable as currently configured. Plus the printing and papermaking industries have neither the resources nor the collective will to go "tit for tat" in a war of words and images with the digital media, IT and coal industries. The coal industry alone spends over $80 Million per year on lobbying and receives and estimated $9 Billion in subsidies annually. Besides, print media supply chains are in not in a position to claim anything more than marginal advantage in terms of their sustainability, and supporters of digital media and coal are more than capable of emitting a fog of competing claims about the billions being invested in green IT and clean coal. The Institute for Sustainable Communication is working with the Ad-ID joint venture of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and The Association of National Advertisers as well as with global brand leaders, companies in their media supply chains and other stakeholders to identify, quantify and ultimately reduce the carbon footprint of ALL media. Please contact us if you are interested in working with us to find common ground upon which we can forge a sustainable future for print AND digital media supply chains. dcarli@sustaincom.org http://www.sustaincom.org

 

By Anthony on Oct 06, 2009

Print has its place. Online Integrated networking has its place. Print Marketing has to change to a new dynamic world where integrating with an email campaign can drive business as never before. The world of flat one sided communication can now become relationally focused non-interrupting dynamic multidimensional resulting in exponential growth for our clients and the print industry if we grow the pie together, rather than fight for the same small chunk. From my days at Microsoft and IBM, we learned great lessons in this area at high expense. Hopefully our Print entrepreneurs will lead the way to a life transforming world :-).

 

By Steve Schrier on Oct 07, 2009

Holoirith Punch Cards, Mag Tapes, 5-1/4” Floppy Disk, 3-1/2” floppy disk, Zip drives. Try reading these media today. One of the most important factors of print, is it permanency. We know the Internet and electronic media represent a revolution in communications. Yet for all it’s power, as currently configured, it has no permanency . Why is that important – well, will electronic media connect future generations to our civilization? This summer, I was fortunate to visit the Mediterranean area seeing The Pyramids and the Parthenon, The Sistine Chapel and viewing a book in a museum over 1900 years old. I took over 600 photos. After selecting the ones to print I burned the photos onto several CD’s. I would bet in ten years, I might have difficulty in finding a devise to view these CD’s. All art after all started as” Communication Art “. The early cave paintings were mans attempt to communicate. Paintings and Art from Medieval and Renaissance .was commissioned to communicate the message of power of Christianity and religion. Today art often commissioned to communicate the messages of Corporations and Organizations. Will this art be available to future generations for them to understand and connect to our generations? Maybe permanency should not be a valid concern for electronic media, but as they say. "Those Who Do No Study Their Past Are Doomed To Repeat It"

 

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