More sustainable: Digital, print media?

Freshly printed copies of a newspaper.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The newspaper industry's gotten hammered
by the Internet. The latest survey from the Pew Research Center shows only about a quarter of Americans read a daily newspaper that's actually made of paper. The environmental silver lining, you'd think, is less paper being used, of course.

Marketplace's Adriene Hill reports from the
Sustainability desk, it's not quite that easy.


ADRIENE HILL: I'm here at the L.A Times printing press. One ton roles of paper are being printed, cut, and folded into tomorrow's dailies. It takes a lot less paper to get the job done then it used to because subscribers are dropping. And while it might not be good for the printing business, printing fewer papers conserves trees and energy.

Don Carli is a researcher with the Institute for Sustainable Communication. He says making all that newsprint is energy intensive, but so is reading online.

DON CARLI: There are also comparable and in some cases sometimes even greater environmental impacts in terms of energy consumption and other outputs in terms of waste. Toxic waste to the air, to the land, to water, from digital media infrastructures.

You have computers, data centers and server rooms that suck energy. You've also got to mine the minerals to make the devices. And, when you toss your old RAZR, it becomes e-waste. A multimillion ton toxic problem.

The trade-off from print to electronic devices isn't a clear win-win. But Rita Schenck with the Institute for Environmental Research and Education says she thinks reading online is better... to an extent.

RITA SCHENCK: Once you read several newspapers, say 10-20 newspapers, you have as much environmental impact as if you read and you took the whole life cycle of the electronic system.

One reason it's not quite so easy to declare digital media the winner: Imagine a global middle class -- all with cell phones, computers and tablets. Schenck says it just won't work -- that growth will require too many resources.

SCHENCK: When we start having the whole world connected electronically, it's going to become really, really important that we find a way to move those electrons around cheaper, for less environmental impact.

Schenck thinks that cheaper, better option will have to rely on renewable energy sources like solar.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.


CHIOTAKIS: Tomorrow, the future of news, how we get it, and what it might mean for the environment.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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