As a member of AIIM, I am following a number of highlights that celebrate paperless work environments. World Paper Free Day (November 4) encourages us to explore how we can conduct our daily lives – with an emphasis on the work environment – without the use of paper. The question of whether paper free is, in fact, environmentally friendly, must be considered. Digital technologies create a large carbon footprint, when you consider the manufacturing process, not to mention the disposal of our various devices. Trees, on the other hand, are renewable resources. Then again, paper generates its own waste, and not all paper products are recycled, not to mention the fossil fuels needed to recycle paper. This brochure describes the benefit of paper. This article discusses the question of whether digital products are, in fact, greener than paper. Don Carli discusses the environmental impact of digital technology in this article; although it’s a little dated, it still raises interesting points. This article compares the carbon footprint of reading items in paper or digital format.
It’s no secret to those who know me, that I prefer digital to print. I prefer to read e-books, and have been doing so since 1998. I am motivated primarily by the wish to have a connected digital trail, and to reduce clutter. I much prefer to carry an e-reader that can contain thousands of books, and which is light and portable, than carry a heavy print book. I prefer to keep my life organized (I know, you’re shocked) via integrated calendars and to-do lists that can be accessible from any mobile device. I keep a digital journal that I can access anywhere. I store all my documents on the cloud, and have done so for over a decade, because this environment allows for instant backup and saving, collaborative editing, and convenience of access. Do I dislike paper? Absolutely not, but I find that digital works better for me. I do realize the environmental impact of all my devices, so I try to balance this impact by leading a zero-waste life in other areas to the best of my abilities.
I think it’s important that we all evaluate critically the carbon footprint of all media that we use, rather than jump on bandwagons too quickly, and fall prey to “greenwashing”. As information professionals, I think that we can bring our collective research abilities to help the organizations in which we work make informed and evidence-based decisions about which media formats work best for them, and to balance this with minimizing their carbon footprints to the best of their abilities.