Is Digital Media More Sustainable Than Print?

In a very interesting article, Don Carli, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Communication, observes: “the printing industry and forestry professionals maintain that sustainably harvested timber used for papermaking is not contributing to deforestation, but they have done a terrible job of influencing public perception in their favor. On the other hand, proponents of digital media as well as a number of strident environmental groups have done an effective job of depicting print media as a major cause of deforestation, despite the fact that hamburgers, condominiums and mountaintop coal removal cause significantly more deforestation than print media.”

He goes on claiming that the challenge for the printing industry is not ‘fighting back’. Rather, “its challenge is to fight for a future for print and digital media becoming radically cleaner, greener and more socially responsible within a decade. The printing industry needs to find common issues and synergies with the proponents of digital media and coal-based energy that we can fight for together. Consumers are too much in love with digital media and too dependent on coal to cast them aside and kick them to the gutter.”

via Prepared to fight for the future of media? – AGI – Aktuell Grafisk Information.


How sustainable is print media versus its online pendant? A tricky question. If you look at the broader definition of sustainability, taking into account its social justice part, then print media (the newspaper around the corner) might be more sustainable, as it allows access to news and opinion to everybody. It does not exclude those who cannot afford to buy computers and other technological devices. Another issue is our dwindling ability to focus on a specific article and maintain attention – mainly caused by the information overflow online media offers. Reading online means a constant scanning, searching, clicking on links, navigating horizontally, vertically, reading comments, twittering and rating …

Picture credit: Daniel R. Blume

4 thoughts on “Is Digital Media More Sustainable Than Print?

  1. i am typically wandering all over the net most of the time therefore I usually tend to read a ton, which unfortunately isnt normally a good option as nearly all of the internet websites I visit are made up of pointless nonsense copied from many other internet websites a million times, on the other hand I’ll hand it to ya this website is actually enjoyable and also seems to have a lot of unique content, therefore cheers for stopping the pattern of exactly duplicating other peoples’ sites :)

  2. That is quite a difficult question to answer. Although deforestation is a massive issue, the mining of rare metals to create the components in electronics is also a major concern. And what about the oil-based content in electronics? Or the oil-based ink on the printed material? Or the responsible disposal of e-waste?

    My ambiguous opinion would be “it depends”. If we could have a “craddle-to-craddle” approach to the manufacture of electronics and the printing of newspapers and magazines, then both could be sustainable. But for that to happen, electronics would have to be designed to be re-used or recycled – which they are not. And print material should be made of (mostly) recycled content. And the rest of the content should be made from sustainably harvested wood. (Then you could get into what “sustainably harvested” means… because a plantation of a single species of trees is some people’s definition of “sustainable”, but I do not agree).

    I shouldn’t read your blog so early in the morning. It makes me think to much :)

  3. Totally agree. While electronics such as the Kindle seem like a very good idea to reduce paper with not too much need of (potentially nuclear or fossil based) electricity, I’m not yet convinced that switching from books and paper to IPads, for example, would make such a big difference with the environmental bottom line. Also, writing a PhD I have come to appreciate chapter drafts on printed paper. I find them so much easier to read and reflect on.

  4. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme? Exceptional work!

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