Newspapers: Green and ‘Read’ all over

Alex Rabbetts, Migration Solutions

Britain is getting greener. The drip feed of climate change news stories, new-look rubbish dumps and colour-coded bins filling our front gardens has paid off and the amount of rubbish recycled or thrown away by the British has fallen by 15% over the last six years. Recycling has made a big impact, with around half our household waste now recycled. However, there’s also been an overall reduction in the amount of household waste produced, falling in by as much as 7% in some places. Some of this is down to the recession – people spending less equates to less packaging; a stagnant housing market means less moves and fewer attics, cellars and sheds to be cleared. However, one of the most striking trends is the decline in the amount of newspaper being recycled and this correlates directly to the 28% fall in the circulation of British national dailies as we increasingly turn to digital sources for our news. In fact, the latest Reuters Institute Digital Report shows that smartphones now play a big role in news consumption with 28% of their survey sample accessing news via their mobile each week in the UK.

Good New for the Environment?
Good news for the environment then? Possibly, but the perception that digital news is somehow ‘carbon light’ compared with newspaper products is wrong. The Guardian has taken the bold step of publishing the carbon footprint for its entire digital media operations and estimates that for providing content for www.guardian.co.uk and www.guardiannews.com this was about 10,000 tonnes of CO2e last year. This is around a third of the company’s current overall carbon footprint and about the same as the carbon emissions of Luxemburg!

Behind this ‘big number’ is the Guardian’s willingness to try and get under the skin of the complexity of the internet and attribute realistic power consumption and CO2e figures to each leg of the ‘news pixel’s’ journey – from the device you read the news on, across the network, to the various datacentres and servers they control around the world and back again. Most revealing is the fact that the vast majority of the energy consumed is by customer devices – Wi-Fi hubs, modems, laps tops and smart phones account for about 86% of the footprint, while the data centres that support them account for single digit percentage points of power usage.

The Guardian covers its report with caveats around the estimates and informed guesses it has had to make about these emissions, however the holistic view of the energy consumed by a pixel of news from the journalist’s typing fingers to the reader does reveal that behind the shift from paper-based news to digital news is an equally important shift in energy consumption from the producer to the consumer.

Related articles:
Digital carbon footprint: steps in the right direction
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainability/sustainability-report-2012-digital-carbon-footprint

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