The students calculate that a mere one percent of the rainforest’s trees would be required to print out the nonexplicit internet. This is the bit of the internet that we can see and that is estimated to account for only 2% of the entire internet. The rest is private or dark and so invisible to ordinary people. The students reckon that the nonexplicit internet could be printed with less than one percent of the 400 billion trees spread across the 5.5 million square feet of the Amazon rainforest. Their point seems a little vague, but they were very pleased to discover that so little rainforest was required.
They based calculations on Wikipedia content, assuming an average of 15 pages per article. The students calculate that there are 4.724 million articles on Wikipedia, and this is the basis for what they wanted to print. It amounted to nearly 71 million paper pages (presumably A4), of the nonexplicit internet. They also assumed that a single tree yields 17 reams of paper, so each Amazonian rainforest tree is therefore good for 8,500 sheets of virgin paper. This means that 8,337 trees would be required to print Wikipedia, some twelve percent of each square kilometre of the Amazon rainforest. And that is just for Wikipedia.
Extrapolating out these numbers the University of Leicester students reckon that to print all of the nonexplicit internet would require 8,001,765 trees which is about 113 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest. They say this amounts to two percent.
So what do we think about this work? That it is scientifically flawed and based on curious assumptions is clear. However it is worthwhile because it makes a start in doing calculations of this sort. It’s also worthwhile because it raises awareness of the loss of Amazon rainforest over the last few years. It does not a lot to improve print’s environmental profile, but it does provide an interesting illustration of the internet’s massive data volumes. This might encourage people to think a bit about the emissions related to managing and delivering internet based content. Maybe then they will also consider the environmental impact of an online existence.
According to the US Energy Information Administration the country’s energy related CO2 emissions are rising. So much for all that green-speak; more a bath than a wash. But it might not be as bad as it seems because increases of 2% to 3% are actually small relative to overall US growth which has been pretty muscular over the last couple of years. Historically growth and emissions rates are similar so these increases are progress of a sort from the world’s biggest polluter.
Print’s contribution to the rise is hard to quantify, if not impossible because few other developed economies have such a large and sprawling print industry. How many of the many printers in the US strive to quantify their contribution or their CO2 emissions is unknown, but it’s unlikely to be very many. Even the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership hasn’t got this data, so perhaps it would be a good idea to track our industry’s emissions. This is an opportunity for local associations to provide interesting economic growth information and a measure of progress in reducing print’s environmental impact.
So how might that work in the US and elsewhere? It starts at local level, with emissions gathered to build up a national picture. Encouraging printers to capture and share the data, would be a first step in calculating benchmark CO2 emissions values. Printing companies, manufacturers and industry associations could begin with their own efforts, and take it from there. There would need to be some sort of database, say an online list where companies could post their emissions, the time period for the measurements and information about their set up, how much energy the company used and the generation method, such as coal, hydro or renewables.
This last sounds complicated but energy companies in developed economies can provide the necessary percentages. For instance in the UK the Green Energy company supplies electricity entirely generated using renewables, but most big energy providers have a mix. This last would have to follow a standard method for doing the calculation, so that we could be certain that the numbers weren’t fudged. It would need to include energy sources, transport data and the size of the factory. ISO 14064 provides the parameters for how a company can quantify its emissions, however it is a daunting document and one that few graphics companies are likely to bother with. An easier start is to simply measure energy and report its sources. Maybe this is a project associations and manufacturers should be thinking about? Our industry should be able to provide the data that governments use to measure CO2 reductions, and to demonstrate our own progress.