Prints environmental image

Commentary written by Lasse Krogell;

Recently the Finnish printing federation made a survey among print buyers concerning the pros and cons of the printed product. One clear concern among the print buyers is the environmental image of the printed product. The paper and printing industry has worked hard to inform the public about the impact, but with weak results. One of the strong campaigns has been Two Sides.

Every week we see messages, where we are asked to switch to digital to save the planet. Some publishers do this when they stop publishing their printed magazine. Most common is the case where you are asked to switch from a paper bill to digital. In the Helsinki area Microsoft will build two big data centres.

Also, these are said to be environmental projects where the heat generated by the centres are used for heating a huge number of houses. With this, heating centres using fossil fuel will be closed. Of course, it is good to take care of the heat generated by the data centres, but still all energy cannot be used for heating.

If I don’t remember wrong the digital infrastructure is responsible for more than 5 % of the global carbon footprint. Data centres alone have a 3,7 % global carbon footprint ( ). The aviation industry is 2,4 % and the paper and printing industry is less than 2 %. And still people thing it is good for the environment to switch from paper to digital.

It seems that it is very difficult for the paper and print industry to inform the public about the environmental impact of print. Even newspapers that earlier consumed huge tonnages of newsprint tend to write in a negative way about forest clear cutting and show aerial photos of areas clear cut. I think these “news” are information that strongly impacts the attitude of the public.

The news written about the upcoming Microsoft data centres are written with the message how good it is with these new centres when they will have such a huge positive environmental impact. Assuming the electricity produced will be green.

In the forest close to where I live there are examples of clear-cut harvested areas, but also a just harvested area with the thinning cut principle. The thinning cut has made the previously very dense forest to an area where it will be quite easy to walk and pick berries and mushrooms. From the pictures here you can compare the clear-cut area to the thinning cut area.

I am not at all an expert in forestry, but I have read articles where the thinning cut is said to be even more economical than the clear-cut. The main reason for this is the high costs of planting and the risks that elks, and other animals will destroy the young plants. The other reason being the fact that in the thinning cutting you save some of the trees for the sawmills where the price for the cut trees is much higher than as raw material for pulp.

Could it be a way of improving the public´s attitude towards printed products by minimizing clear-cut harvesting? Certainly, there are areas where the only sound harvesting method is clear-cutting, but most areas can be harvested by thinning. Perhaps this could increase the price of paper by a small amount. Still a small sum if it would change the public´s attitude towards the printed product.