Is it more environmentally friendly to get information on paper or on screen?

“I take the digital version, it’s more ecological! “ The argument, brandished by voices often young in the newspaper subscription service, seems unstoppable. Images emerge of trees on the ground, of rotary presses projecting polluting ink, of trucks crisscrossing France … While, opposite, a simple click reveals a press article on a smartphone, without apparent materiality and a tiny ecological guilt.

The ecological impact of digital

Greener, necessarily greener, the newspaper on screen? The rare study on “The carbon footprint of the publishing sector” dates back to 2012. Commissioned by the World Association of Newspapers and News Media Publishers (Wan-Ifra) and compiled from Swedish and Finnish data, it surprisingly concluded that reading a print magazine and its line equivalent had similar carbon balances, but also very variable.

The more a printed newspaper is read and circulated, the less CO it emits2 by number, to produce information, be printed, distributed and recycled. Conversely, the green bill for its digital version climbs according to the reading time and whether or not the articles are printed.

Failing to referee the match, the study financed by the print press shows that the answer is complex and depends on multiple factors (paper laundering, duration of use of smartphones, etc.). The paper newspaper, which consumes much more energy at the production stage, has the advantage of emitting a unique carbon footprint. Once printed, it can be stored and shared. Unlike the digital press, where the downloaded articles borrow with each new reading a very material network of cables and energy-consuming data centers to be transported to our computers, tablets or smartphones.

→ ECOLOGY. The forest facing the challenge of global warming

These terminals, packed with technology and greedy in rare minerals, represent up to 80% of the digital green bill, which is responsible for around 4% of global greenhouse emissions. A share that could double by 2040.

Measure and compare the carbon footprint

If we have a clear picture of the impacts of digital at the global level, it is very difficult to descend to a finer scale with precision, because digital networks are complex and globalized. And a smartphone is used for more than reading a newspaper, underlines Éric Vidalenc (1), economist at the Ecological Transition Agency (Ademe). Whereas, opposite, we have sectors that know their flow of materials and resources well. ” A “Big project to analyze and compare different digital services versus their hardware or analog version” is however underway at Ademe with a view to the arrival of 5G.

→ DEBATE. Do we need 5G?

“The strength of print compared to digital is that we know how to measure our carbon footprint”, insists Benoît Moreau, who has developed a methodology to quantify it. His company Infograph thus calculated that a regional daily emitted, on average, 200 grams of CO equivalent.2 over its life cycle, ie sending ten emails. Across the Atlantic, a similar study assessed the environmental impact of National Geographic to 820 grams of CO equivalent2 per copy, or what a car travels three kilometers.

How the paperweight evolves

Having a measurement tool also enables action. This is the goal of “Carbon calculator” developed by Infograph for the Bayard group (to which belongs La Croix L’Hebdo), urged by its readers of the youth press to show a green paw. “This instrument allows us to compare practices or bring together production centers, notes Nicolas Mathieu, the industrial director of the press group. A large part of our carbon footprint comes from the production of print. But a lot of effort has been made. Paper production, from labeled forests, contributes more to developing forests than destroying them. Most paper makers reuse some of the water. The paper The daily cross thus comes from the Vosges factory in Golbey (the paper from Weekly, it also comes from sustainably managed forests), but progress remains to be made in terms of transport, still often using diesel ”, he explains.

The law on the circular economy has also programmed in 1er January 2022 the ban on plastic wrapping the press and the use of certain inks. Press publishers, including the Bayard group, are working on alternative solutions: blisters made from cellulose fiber, total elimination of packaging or paper envelopes (2). The law also set recycling targets. “95% of a daily paper is already recycled on average seven times, but magazines will still have to improve”, notes Philippe Chantepie, co-author of a report on the implementation of this law (3).

“Both print and digital must be more sober, but the real question is that of efficiency: which mode of information will best make you read? “, remarks Benoît Moreau, Infograph. Buying a paper newspaper also means supporting the value chain and jobs within a sector. It is also more to contribute to the economic viability of a newspaper, the bulk of the revenue of a press title still coming from print.


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