by Michael Boyink/[email protected]
“Do you know how much is saved in paper by reading the Herald online?”
A simple question from a reader.
I didn’t have a simple answer.
Seems like something a newspaper editor should know, right?
So I tried to find out.
I found multiple answers.
No paper is saved by choosing to read the eEdition instead.
Unless you convince a couple dozen friends to also switch to the eEdition, that is. Otherwise, I’ll keep printing the same number of papers each week even as we sell a few more or a few less copies.
Another answer is “it depends on the size of the tree and the size of the paper.” Trees don’t come in a standard size and neither does paper. Different types of paper require more trees to produce than others.
The most definitive answer I could find online is “12 trees are needed to create one ton of newspaper.”
A single issue of last week’s Herald weighed 4.4 ounces. That means .00165 trees are required per copy, 3.71 trees total for our entire weekly entire press run.
But, hold the phone.
It doesn’t just materialize out of thin air. It’s not an environmental slam-dunk.
It uses natural resources to get created, distributed and downloaded.
Articles get written on computers. The photos get taken by cameras. The layout is done on computers. The finished product is emailed to our webhost, which requires computers. The webhost loads it onto a web server that has to run 24/7. And you download it using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
And every step of that process requires electricity.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of Energy, here in Missouri that power is “generated from a mix of coal, hydroelectric power, natural gas, nuclear and renewable resources.”
It adds up to more than you might think.
According to a 2007 report from the Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, a person taking 30 minutes to read an online version of a newspaper does more environmental damage than if they had purchased the print version.
Like all studies, it’s based on assumptions that may or not be true.
And we haven’t fully evaluated the situation to accurately determine the relative carbon footprints of either the print or eEdition.
There’s the wood harvesting process. The pulp-making process. Transportation of the paper to the printer. Distribution of the printed paper. The environmental impact of creating a computer or smartphone. The ease of recycling paper vs. electronics. The fact that trees are raised as crops in managed forests and reducing demand for paper might actually reduce the number of trees planted.
And so on.
You begin to see the complexity lurking under the surface of that simple initial question.
My take-away, after a few hours of research?
No matter the medium, consumption has a cost. Choose the medium that best suits your lifestyle and read on.