In an open letter to the Rt Hon Mrs Andrea Leadsom, UK Government Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (Defra), Two Sides, a global organisation which promotes the attractiveness and sustainability of print and paper, challenged the Government to explain how its planned paper reduction program will assist carbon reduction targets.
In its recently published ‘Greening Government Commitments 2016-2020’ Defra revealed a commitment to reducing paper consumption by 50 per cent. However, this report does not consider what communications medium will replace this reduced paper use or that alternatives, most likely digital, will themselves have substantial environmental impacts.
Martyn Eustace, Director of Two Sides said, “in order to claim that a reduction of paper use by 50 per cent would assist the government to reduce its carbon impact, there needs to be a clear life cycle analysis behind the claim. This must also include the impact of the associated increase in electronic communications which would presumably arise.
“Alternative electronic communications are not environmentally ‘free of charge’. Based on the estimates contained in the SMARTer 2020 analysis, the aggregate electricity demand of the Cloud, (including data centres and networks, but not devices), in 2011 was 684 billion kWh. If compared with the electricity demand of countries in the same year, the Cloud would rank 6th in the world, with demand expected to increase 63 per cent by 2020.
“The environmental impact of our ever-increasing digital world cannot be ignored. The ICT industry accounts for approximately 2 per cent of global emissions, on par with the emissions from the global aviation sector. Each year, the electronic industry – one of the world’s largest and fastest growing – generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste from goods such as computers and smart phones.
“So, when considering carbon reduction, just consider that paper is a renewable and recyclable product that, if responsibly produced and consumed, is an environmentally sustainable media. In Europe, where 93 per cent of the UK’s paper comes from, recycling rates are 72 per cent and forests have grown by an area the size of Switzerland in the past 10 years. That’s about 1,500 football pitches every day.
"It must surely also be a consideration that in a world where data leaks and hacking of digital information is becoming commonplace, the Government should be particularly careful to recognise that paper records and communications can often offer a greater level of security.
“Whilst we clearly see the efficiency of electronic communications and encourage the reduction of unnecessary waste, the potential damage to the print and paper industry, by suggesting that print media is environmentally unfriendly, requires our strongest response.
“The paper and print industry account for 122,000 jobs and £13.5 billion in value to the UK economy. Making false environmental statements threatens jobs and the economy.”