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Print versus digital: which is the more environmentally sound?

Many business here in the UK and worldwide are making a conscious effort to reduce their inside and outside print processes, largely in the belief that doing so will result in significant environmental benefits.However, the things we rely on print to provide – internal and external comms, marketing, branding, etc. – don’t simply go away when print is taken out of the equation. Often, digital processes are used to fill the void where print previously sufficed. Is digital really any more environmentally sound than print, or are many businesses taking a flawed approach to sustainability? PMG investigates…



The case for

For many proponents of digital over print, the argument focuses on the idea that paper and ink are environmentally unsound, unsustainable products. Doing away with print, wherever possible, will thus reduce businesses’ carbon footprints and increase sustainability. Digital marketing, email and conference calls can replace many of the tasks currently fulfilled by print in most corporate environments, while smartphones, tablets and laptops are seen as more versatile, more durable and more secure than ink and paper.


The case against

Digital, however, isn’t necessarily as environmentally friendly as some may think. Digital devices require energy to function, and at present the majority of that power is provided by fossil fuel power stations. Increasing your reliance on digital in order to develop a ‘paperless’ office may actually increase your carbon footprint in the long run. There’s also the lifecycle of digital devices to consider. Most mobile devices are obsolete within a few years of release, and recycling these devices can prove problematic. Most smartphones, laptops and tablets, for example, contain heavy metal-filled rechargeable batteries that can cause untold damage to the environment if disposed of incorrectly.



The case for

There are those, and here at PMG we’d count ourselves among them, who believe that print can indeed be sustainable and responsible. Paper can be sourced in such a way that protects forests rather than endangers them, with many sustainable logging firms planting far more trees than they cut down. Paper can also be recycled and used over and over again, increasing the ultimate lifecycle beyond that of many digital devices. The move towards green printing has even led to the development of sustainable ink, making print an even more environmentally conscientious option.


The case against

Print continues to suffer from something of an image problem in certain quarters, with many linking print to deforestation despite the fact that companies are able to source paper from areas where forest cover is actually increasing significantly year-on-year. However, the main case against print comes from businesses’ bad habits: unnecessary wastage, printing errors, failure to recycle etc. Poor practice around the office can make print wasteful and unsustainable.


Which is the more environmentally sound option: print or digital? There’s no easy answer to this conundrum. Here at PMG, we’ll never push you into using print where it isn’t appropriate just because we’re a print management firm. On the contrary – we’ll tell you where print can be replaced with digital in order to reduce costs and improve sustainability, and where the reverse is true. We want to improve your company’s relationship with print in order to help you achieve greater results from your print marketing activities, reduce costs across the board and boost sustainability wherever possible. If you’d like to find out how print management can benefit your business, don’t hesitate to contact us at PMG today.

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