Archive for March, 2013

The carbon footprint of the internet

Sunday, March 10th, 2013


Please consider the environment before not printing this page.  That request asking you to kindly not print your last email might have the best of intentions for our environment, but it fails to take into account a major factor which influences the “sustainability” of your decision; the internet.  Advice related to paper and the environment will often recommend doing as much online as possible, but keeping it digital whenever you can might not be as eco-friendly as you think.  Like everything you do, working in the digital world has a carbon legacy and most shockingly the environmental impact of the internet relates directly to deforestation; just the thing you’re saving when you opt-out of the paper world.

Moving our lives online perpetuates our desire to be online. Everyone has recognised this from marketers, app developers and manufacturers who capitalise on and conflate our desire to ascend into the virtual reality. When our laptops stop working or we replace our old tablet with the latest version we create e-waste.  In the US in 2010 out of 384 million electronic units only 19% were recycled, the rest ended up in landfill letting toxic substances like mercury, lead and cadmium infect water, land and air.  But it’s not just the old equipment we need to think about, the energy used to manufacture more and more gadgets, known as grey energy, has its impact too.

These are all things to consider before you buy lots of technological equipment, but once you’ve bought you’re new ipad there’s not that much you can do, and if you’re at work it probably wouldn’t go down too well to take all computers you deem superfluous to the recycling.  The carbon footprint of the internet doesn’t stop at building the initial computer, the amount of time online and what you do online massively contribute.

When you’re browsing the internet or writing up that work report your computer is powering a hidden mass of data which uses up a lot of energy. Dark data is all the stuff which floats around on the internet and computers unaccounted for.  They’re the bits of data that get left behind; user PST files on desktops, the data on your USB stick, old versions of websites now defunct, downloads that get tucked away and forgotten about.  Dark data is like the shadow or light data (which is data in use) and it’s estimate that we consume on average 34 gigabytes a day of data, most of it being this kind of dark data.  So it’s not just having a device on which uses energy, it’s the exact tasks you engage in which drain it.

And it’s all driving deforestation

According to the ISC the growth of digital media and therefore higher demand for energy directly contribute to deforestation, whereas the paper industry doesn’t.  In a report looking into the environmental impact of “going paperless” it’s reported that,

“Internet servers and data centres are contributing to the destruction of more than 500 mountains and over 600 square miles of forest.”

So next time you notice that plea to ‘not print this email’ think about the environmental impact of staying online.

The hidden cost of paper and printing

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Do you work in an office? If the answer is yes then you’re contributing to the 11 million tonnes of paper and board consumed in the UK each year every time you print off an email.  It’s easy to forget our carbon footprint when we get into work, after all, that’s the boss’s problem, right?  And when you’ve got a lot on your plate and a crucial meeting coming up, choosing to print or not to print will be swayed by practicality and work requirements rather than the environment.  Though the environmental cost of paper and printing isn’t as much as you might think, we can still all improve our green credentials, and luckily for us, the paper and pulp industry has made it easier to make green decisions.

What’s the cost?

According to two sides we use on average 200kg of paper each per year which translates to 130-250kg of CO2.  This might sound like a lot, but it’s only the equivalent of a family car travelling a distance of 600 miles.  The average person drives around 13,000 to 15,000 miles per year so it’s a tiny fraction of the impact we’re having with our cars per year.  That being said, every decision we make should try and take into account the environment, and when it comes to paper in the office improving your carbon footprint is so easy that it’d be silly not to try out some of the solutions.

What are the solutions?

Of course, some offices need to use paper and printing frequently.  The paperless office, first mentioned in the 1970s, hasn’t taken off because it’s expensive to implement and not necessarily desirable.  So what are the options available to us?

Reducing the amount of paper used in the office is certainly something to consider.  Very simple things like printing and photocopying on both sides of paper where you can cuts in half how much paper you use.  Ordering office essentials and supplies in bulk reduces packaging waste, and going online where you can reduce paper resources.  If you really want to reduce paper use in the office you’ll need to set specific targets and encourage everyone to make a conscious effort to reduce paper waste.

Recycling is another obvious option which is often neglected in the workplace.  One tonne of recycled paper saves about six mature trees and 3.3 cubic yards of rapidly diminishing landfill space according to Friends of the Earth.  Good quality white office paper is extremely valuable when it comes to recycling and should be recovered wherever possible.  If you introduce paper recycling in the office make sure you set up a separate bin; paper contaminated with other kinds of waste often can’t be recycled.

What the paper industry has done

Recognising the potential environmental impact of paper and printing, both industries have put in notable efforts to reduce their carbon print.  The pulp and paper industry has reduced the emissions of CO2 per tonne of paper produced by 42% compared to 1990 and if you use paper from an FSC approved supplier then you’ll really be helping the environment.  Contrary to popular belief paper production is not a major cause of deforestation and European forests are 30% larger today than they were in 1950.  According to,

“A sustainably managed forest can be relatively carbon neutral if logging is balanced with re-growth.”

To make certain our prints are up to standard we ensure they are printed on FSC paper, as well as being 100% ECF Virgin Fibre. Although we are no longer FSC accredited, we have instead chosen to assign the fees paid through the administration of the FSC, to a scheme with the Woodland Trust called the Carbon Capture Scheme. You can read all about the Carbon Capture Scheme on our Purely Green page.