Print vs. Digital: The Sustainability Perspective

Print vs. Digital: The Sustainability Perspective

In the pursuit of “Going Green”, digital media has become a popular method of communication. But avoiding the environmental impact of print media is not as simple as going paperless. But the push to go paperless leaves consumers and producers with a “false dilemma” where print media has a strictly negative impact and digital media has a strictly positive impact. This dilemma arises from the newness of digital media; there is less available research on the environmental impact of digital media, and the consumption of digital media is still driven by the desire to avoid the impact of print media.

There are many aspects of wastefulness to consider.

Assessing the impact of print media is easily done due to the tangible nature of the product; trees are a renewable resource. Comparatively, digital media publishing has no consistent measurement system and so we are unable to determine exactly how large its impact is. The hardware produced to run computers, phones, tablets, and other technology requires almost as much energy to recycle as it does to produce. Distribution, maintenance, and energy used to run the technology are also factors.

Some of the benefits of digital media to a consumer are portability and affordability. But many readers and book lovers find sentiment and connectedness in a printed book that cannot be replaced by digital e-books. Although no two readers are the same, and just as there are some readers who prefer printed books, there are certainly other who prefer the electronic counterpart.

Considering the many different ways each media impacts the environment, and the need to satisfy consumer desire and demand, focusing on making both forms of media sustainable is arguably the best way to ensure all consumed media is, in fact, sustainable.




Christensen, K., & Siever, B. (2010). Seeing the forest: Why publishers and readers need to take a fresh look ­at print and online publishing to create a sustainable information industry. Serials. 23(1), 20-24. Retrieved from:

Christensen, K. (2010). Sustainability – will we find it online? Against the Grain. 22(1), 46-48. doi:

Dixon, A. (2012). From touchstones to touch screens: The evolution of a book lover. The Horn Book Magazine. 88(2), 69-71. Retrieved from:

Rebsamen, W. (2015). Printed books create a harmony between man and the environment. ShelfLife. 10(3), 3-8.

Tolliver-Nigro, H. (2010). It is safe to use paper (again): An inside look at sustainable forestry and integrated papermaking. The Seybold Report. 10(16), 8-10. Retrieved from:


One thought on “Print vs. Digital: The Sustainability Perspective

  1. I love this! I never really thought of the waste produced by digital media!! I think a lot of people just assume digital media, like you say, doesn’t have a tangible trail, and so it doesn’t seem to be creating waste! I was just thinking the other day about how it’s crazy how many phones are broken daily, and generally we just go buy new ones. I know apple refurbishes a lot of older products, but it’s an insane notion to think of how much waste is created alone by electronic goods! We do all need to band together as consumers and demand that products be sustainable and less impacting on our poor planet. I don’t understand why companies force our hand by making Green Products three times the price, when really it should cost less to be reusing, and we should have incentives to buy from more eco conscious companies. Very thought provoking article, I’m glad I read it! Hope your assignment is banging out nicely for you!


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