Print Sustainability: By the Numbers
http://www.twosides.us/ is a print industry resource with a huge archive of interesting facts related to print and paper. While their research is primarily conducted in the US and UK, we see similar trends in Canada as well. We've paraphrased some of their well-documented findings below. For the PDF, which includes the various sources for the numbers below, just click here.
Print means jobs and good jobs at that. The United States mailing industry, including print, paper, production, suppliers, design and the handling and distribution of mail, employs a total of 8.4 million jobs. That's 6% of total U.S. jobs. These industries together generate $1.3 trillion in revenue (8.6% of U.S. GDP).
Print is environmentally sustainable. Paper is produced with trees, a renewable resource. In the U.S., the paper industry grows more trees than it harvests. Over the last 50 years, the per-acre density of trees grown on harvested forestland increased by 49%. The amount of U.S. forestland has remained essentially the same for the last 100 years at about 750 million acres, even though the U.S. population tripled during the same period.
Far from causing deforestation, the demand for sustainably sourced paper in Canada and the United States requires us to manage forests as a renewable resource, and provides a variety of environmental and social benefits.
Reading on computers isn't as green as you might think. Information and communication technology (ICT) manufacture is material-and energy-intensive. The production of each PC requires 22 kg of toxic chemicals, 240 kg of fossil fuels and 1,500 kg of water. Also, 80% of computer life-cycle energy use is accounted for before a PC is turned on for the first time. This compares with paper, which is made using a renewable resource — trees — and with mostly renewable energy.
Paper is the most recycled commodity in the United States with a recovery rate of 65.1% in 2012. In the United States in 2009 (the most recent U.S. EPA figures available), of the 47.4 million obsolete computers, 29.4 million were disposed of as garbage and 18 million (38%) were collected for recycling. Paper is recycled far more than computers.
The full impact of switching to e-media is often not properly considered and sometimes completely ignored. The direct impact of (ICT) products and services replacing paper is far from negligible, and the trade-off between the two "technologies" depends on conditions such as use frequency, source of energy, end-of-life management of the products, etc.
It is estimated that the production and running of the ICT sector equates to 2% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, similar to the airline industry, and this is expected to double by 2020. The paper and print industries account for 1% of global GHG emissions.
Even e-statements are not paperless. Many people print e-statements at home or at the office: More than a third of U.S. consumers say they print some of their bills while 8% say they print between 80% and 100% of them.