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Newspaper Publisher’s Study Finds Usage Determines if Print or Digital is Greener

January 23, 2012
HELSINKI, FINLAND—Jan. 23, 2112—The printed newspaper is, on average, a more ecological news media than an online service. This conclusion is based on a comparison of the environmental impacts of one hour of consumption of each media channel. However, taking into account actual usage volume and consumption hours at the current level, the annual environmental impacts of print media generally outweigh those of a corresponding online service.

These are the results of a study carried out by Alma Media in partnership with leading research institutes to determine the life-cycle environmental impacts of three of its newspapers and their respective online services.

Comparing the environmental impacts of print media and online services is difficult as the most significant environmental impacts of print and online media mainly concern different environmental issues. Moreover, the results of the comparative study are influenced by the definition of what is included and excluded from the analysis, but also the fact that print and online media tend to be used in a complementary fashion rather than being seen as substitutes for each other.

The amount of time spent reading does not factor into the environmental impact of the printed newspaper, whereas the impacts of online media are largely dependent on reading time, the number of loaded pages and the technical specifications of the device used to access the service. As a result, conclusions on which type of media is more ecological depend on which functional unit is applied.

The unique study was the first evaluation of the environmental impacts of print and online media, also including the environmental impacts of editorial work. The media surveyed in the study included Alma Media’s Aamulehti and the Aamulehti.fi online service, Iltalehti and Iltalehti.fi and Kauppalehti and Kauppalehti.fi. The study was carried out by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Centre for Sustainable Communications at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.

The study is part of the Green Growth program of Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.

Consumer choices play a key role in the environmental impacts of online services


The study indicates that the environmental impacts of print media are primarily created in the early part of the product life cycle—i.e., paper production and printing. Conversely, the environmental impacts of online services are primarily created towards the end of the product life cycle and related to factors involved with their consumption, such as the production of the device used to read the content.
 

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