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Going Green Two Sides Fast Fact #41

WhatTheyThink’s Going Green has joined forces with Two Sides to help address the “perceptions” that paper destroys forests,

By Richard Romano
Published: February 11, 2013

Fast-Fact-LogoWhatTheyThink’s Going Green has joined forces with Two Sides to help address the “perceptions” that paper destroys forests, that electronic media are “greener” than print and paper, and that recycling is the solution to all environmental ills. Over at Two Sides UK, a link to a short paper from a Stanford physics student who calculated the energy consumption required to create a single sheet of paper—printed on both sides—as well as the equivalent two-page document viewed on a desktop and a laptop computer. There are a lot of things taken into account, but he comes up with: “The sum total process energy value for our sheet of paper in this example would amount to 152.9 kJ [kilojoules].” And for electronic media? “The total energy in consumed in reading our two standard text pages in Houston for the above example would be 153.3 kJ (desktop) and 16.4 kJ (laptop), compared to the 152.9 kJ for a sheet of printed paper.” Why Should You Care? The author concludes, “paper can be re-read without additional cost any number of times, which isn't true for computers. So where one time reads are required (like e-mail), use a laptop. Where a document must be read only once with normal reading speeds (like e-mail), it is better to use a laptop. If it is to be reused many times over, it certainly wouldn't hurt to print.” (The paper is from 2010, which is likely one reason why e-readers or iPads and such were not included, which could change the whole dynamic.) The thing that is neglected when thinking about energy consumption of electronic media is that the computer is already on doing other things. I can go back and read an e-mail several times and it really won’t make too much difference, because I am not turning my computer on just to read one e-mail, as much as I may like to. As for that two-page electronic document, did I create it, or did someone else? If someone else did, and sent it to me, than should not the energy consumption be doubled, since it takes two to tango? I always have a hard time with these types of side-by-side comparisons because different media are created and consumed in different ways. And electrical consumption is only one piece of the larger environmental puzzle; as we all know, there are other environmental impacts, good and bad, unique to each respective medium. Also, too: energy can be produced in different ways that have different impacts on the environment, again, both good and bad. So whilst I applaud the attempt, any attempt, at rigorously quantifying things like energy use and other environmental impacts, I question whether using such figures to arrive at determining whether one is “better” than the other is the best objective. That said, I do like these sorts of quantifications to highlight places for improvement in both media. For more Two Sides facts see http://www.twosides.us/mythsandfacts.

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.



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