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"Seacourt epitomise our core values of ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly work."

Think Digital Media Is More Sustainable Than Print? Think Again

Posted by: Gareth Dinnage | Oct 16, 2013

As marketers, we are constantly choosing between communication routes, whether to go for digital or print, or both for a singing-and-dancing fully integrated campaign. However, over the last 10 years, digital communication has become massive, without doubt due to its speed, ease of use, efficiency and the ability to connect quickly to people all over the world. We are also told it is the greener option. However, is it really as sustainable as we are led to believe? Uncovering the real facts and statistics behind each option should enable us to make better informed and more effective decisions when it comes to our communications plans, whether being "greener" is part of the criteria or not.

In this new digital age, we are told to consider the environment before printing this email, that direct mail is a wasteful and irritating medium and that paper production destroys forests. We are told that bright new shiny information technology will solve a multitude of problems with use of the internet, email and in-boxes, enable us to work faster, greener, and is the preferred medium for communication delivery, all in one fell swoop. What is harder to determine is the level of truth in all these statements.

Paper: Did you know that paper is one of the few fully renewable and sustainable products, and continues to store carbon throughout its lifetime? No less than 94% of the paper we use comes from European forests, and 98% of these are covered by a management plan or equivalent. (Regarding deforestation, 90% is caused by unsustainable agriculture.) A well-managed forest, used and replanted, absorbs more carbon-dioxide than a mature forest consisting of older trees. So not only can paper be completely sustainable when produced from managed forests, but its continued use can actually promote the extraction of carbon-dioxide in the air.

Print: so what about print on paper? Is this medium as ineffective and wasteful as it's made out to be? When designed and targeted correctly, paper/print delivery method is a highly effective form of communication where there is minimal waste, minimal costs and is known to enhance response rates, which is the “raison d’être” of communication in business, isn't it? With new hi-tech processes, the digital print medium is targeted, efficient, effective and low-cost. And if you choose to use a sustainable printer with green processes, the environmental footprint can be minute. A Royal Mail/DMA survey concluded that 76.5% of direct mail is now recycled, and this figure is increasing year on year. Other research shows that mail comprises 0.1% of total household emissions in Europe, the per household equivalent of nine litres of milk or five cheeseburgers, and reducing year on year.

Digital: Compare all this to the digital medium where you have not only short-life messages, viral (in)security, constant spam, and high distraction level. But the main punch comes from the fact that digital media technology uses significant amount of energy from coal fired power stations. E-waste in Europe is increasing three times faster than the total waste stream and Greenpeace estimates that by 2020, data centres will demand more electricity than is currently demanded by France, Brazil, Canada and Germany combined.

The Way Forward?: Certainly the first objective is making a properly informed decision. If we are making decisions based on the greener option, then we need to know the real facts. The website is invaluable for information on the paper and print industry. The second objective must be longer-term; to engage with sustainable partners who can provide a green route, whether via digital media or printing. Only then are we managing a level playing field. Afterwards the decision is purely based on the matter of picking the right communication vehicle at the right time, in ensuring your data is clean, and in working to best practice. And that's as it should be.

Seacourt Ltd are a world leading environmental printing firm, who achieved a world first in closed-loop zero-waste to landfill in 2009, are double Queen's Award in Sustainable Development award-winners and use completely waterless printing technology, the ultimate in environmentally-friendly printing technology. For more info, visit and for more information on what constitutes a green printing service.