When we started selling holidays ten years ago, we soon realised that the industry could be responsible for large amounts of paper and print consumption. Travel brochures, booking forms, pre-departure information packs, and booking receipts were all going out by post to people around the world. The printer was churning away all day long.
We actively seek out partners in Africa that run lodges, vehicles, and tours in as environmentally sound a manner as possible. The move towards a paperless office was one of the first things we looked at in order to improve our own environmental performance. Anyone who has travelled with us will know that the whole booking process is now handled digitally, but we still get a few enquiries each year for a paper brochure to be sent out. It was a tough decision to make, given the ubiquity of the holiday brochure to the industry, but I am sorry we do not offer a brochure.
Instead we update our website on a regular basis and provide good quality images and up to date travel information that can be read on screen. This makes good business sense of course, as brochures can go out of date quickly and have significant production and distribution costs. More than anything however we are comfortable that this improves our overall environmental performance. Or does it?
Is there any hard data that confirms that reading on screen is an environmentally sound option compared to printing a document?
We occasionally get challenged on this question, so we wanted to get our facts straight to justify our decision.
The printing industry itself of course advocates the continued use of paper and printing as a medium for disseminating information. Their two-sides movement makes a strong argument for use of paper and backs up the environmental record of the printed medium. They are absolutely correct that the majority of the world’s forest resources are lost to agriculture and energy production not the paper industry. Their argument that the paper industry helps maintain and even expands forest resources worldwide could also be challenged. For commercial reasons, it is often the case that fast growing mono-cultures are planted rather than attempting to replenish deforested locations with a mix of indigenous species. How disappointing is a forest walk through a dense conifer plantation in the UK or to hear of how vast mono-cultures of eucalyptus have taken over tropical rainforests. Sadly, a planted forest rarely replicates the biodiversity and complexity of a natural forest.
The paper industry is responsible for less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse emissions, as they correctly state, so a move away from paper is not going to dramatically reduce greenhouse warming overnight.
The battle against climate change however is being made by everyone doing their own small part. If you can really reduce your carbon footprint by reading off-screen, why not do so? If enough of us opt to do this, we should be making a small, but positive difference. How much of a difference is still open to debate. With a move towards reading from electronic devices, such as a kindle or an Ipad, some studies by the industry have estimated that digital magazines are at least two orders of magnitude more carbon efficient than the printed equivalents.
The best study we found was from Canada, where the conclusions were reached that unless you take more than 6 minutes to read a page it is ‘greener’ to read it on a screen than print it. There are a lot of assumptions here, but it is a fascinating calculation. It does seem to assume we specifically turn our computers on to read a digital article – of course in reality many of us have our office computers on throughout the day anyway. Not that I am suggesting you should be scanning through holiday brochures during work time of course!!!
Studies such as those mentioned above, only consider the carbon footprint of printing or digital reading. In reality there are many other environmental impacts from printing on paper, such as the organic chemicals and solvents used in ink. We should not forget the ozone and ultra-fine particles produced by the printing process itself. This can vary, as there are many low emission printer models on the market, but if you have ever sat next to a working printer you will know how unpleasant even the best models can be.
Overall, reducing paper consumption, where suitable alternatives exist, can only produce positive environmental impacts. Exactly how much we can argue about, but reducing and reusing paper remains our office policy. For this reason, please view our website rather than ask for a brochure and we will do our best to limit the paperwork involved in any bookings you hopefully make with us. Then when our computers reach the end of their lifespan, we can discuss best practice in electronic waste disposal…… but that’s another story again……..