Claim: Online media is more eco-friendly than print media.False. The environmental impacts of print and digital media cannot, and should not, be directly compared because the products are very different. Consumers use different types of media, these uses overlap, and there are also overlapping stages in the production processes. This means that there is also overlap between the environmental impacts of print and digital media. It is difficult to compare the two using the same measurements. The environmental impacts of media are generated by manufacturing activities, content production, distribution and consumption. The most significant environmental impacts of print media are associated with paper production and printing. These impacts can be substantially influenced by using renewable and eco-friendly energy source as well as by reducing energy and material consumption in printing operations.
Alma Media’s printing press, for example, wages an ongoing war against maculature, or paper waste. During the last year alone, the printing press was able to reduce paper waste by nearly six per cent, or 132,000 kilograms, compared to the previous year. This achievement produced substantial savings in energy consumption. The environmental impacts of online media are associated with the manufacturing and use of the device the reader uses to consume the media.
Fact 1: In 2016, the average daily media consumption of Finns amounted to 7 hours 33 minutes. The top three were traditional television, traditional radio and social media.*
Claim: The public discussion on the environmental impacts of media is greenwashing.False. Discussion of all kinds promotes the analysis of environmental impacts. However, claims need to be supported by actual studies. Publishers are increasingly studying the full life cycle of their services and products and reporting on the measures they take. Consumers can ask simple questions to support their decisions. For example, they can ask the sellers of media consumption devices about where the device was manufactured and from what materials. If nobody asks questions, there will be no progress. Meanwhile, researchers are developing new ways to assess positive environmental impacts, which are referred to as the handprint. The handprint highlights the positive sustainability impacts of operations. In water consumption, for example, the handprint can be increased by avoiding excessive water consumption and implementing water purification solutions.
Fact 2: The media plays an important role by publishing current information on environmental issues and promoting discussion. Alma Media, for example, has a long history of increasing awareness of responsible and environmentally conscious advertising among major Finnish advertisers and organising seminars on topics such as goodvertising for its advertising customers.
Claim: Recycling is an effective way of reducing the environmental impacts of media.True. Finns recycle more than 70 per cent of their print media products. When it comes to the recycling of electronic waste, however, there is a lot of room for improvement. In Europe as a whole, only about one in three devices are appropriately recycled. Smartphones can contain more than 40 different raw materials, including copper, tin, cobalt and precious metals such as gold. From the social and environmental perspectives, it is better to collect previously mined materials from old devices than to constantly mine new materials. The existing devices have high concentrations of metals, while mining is characterised by low concentrations of metals and extensive processing. Mining also has significant impacts related to land use and water consumption.
Fact 3: The amount of energy consumed when recycling metals is lower by multiples than the energy consumed by the extraction and primary production of raw materials. Efficient recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions to a significant degree.
Claim: The environmental impacts of media are difficult to keep track of.True and false. Because media consumption habits change rapidly and technologies and devices develop at the same time, it is difficult to accurately assess the environmental impacts of media. However, even in the absence of a complete picture of the environmental impacts, it is necessary to take action.
Alma Media has reduced its carbon footprint in many ways, such as by placing special focus on the eco-friendliness of its head office completed in 2012 and the new Tampere printing press completed in 2013. Both properties have been awarded the international LEED environmental certificate, and the printing press is believed to be the world’s first printing facility to achieve LEED certification.
Consumers can extend the life cycle of print publications by passing newspapers on to other readers or by recycling them. They can monitor the share of digital media in their telephone and electricity bills. Energy consumption can be reduced by switching off devices when they are not in use. People are also urged to use their devices for as long as possible.
Fact 4: Extending the useful life of devices from two years to four years, for example, reduces their computational environmental impacts by half. Hanna Pihkola from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland provided expert consultation for this article.
VTT study: Environmental awareness and changes in the use of media (in Finnish)
Joint study by Alma Media and VTT on the environmental impacts of media
* A Finn’s typical day of media consumption 2016, TNS Atlas