Are electronic communications more environmentally friendly than paper?

This news item appears in the ProPrint daily newsletter on June 12th 2013. It makes the point that there is no evidence for the assumed environmental efficiency of electronic communications compared to paper communications — such as bank statements.

Two Sides Australia has warned banks that anti-paper statements may be in breach of consumer law.

Australia’s leading financial institutions have been notified by letter that it is wrong to encourage clients to switch to electronic billing for environmental reasons.

The open letter said any link “between reducing the use of paper and helping the environment” was “unsupported by facts” and a violation of Australian Competition & Consumer Commission regulations.

“It is certainly not proven that electronic communications provides a lower carbon footprint,” said the letter.

“Electronic document storage may be recognised as delivering efficiency but not sustainability.

“On average it takes 500kwh of electricity to produce 200kg of paper, the average amount of paper each of us consume each year. This is equivalent to powering one computer continuously for five months.

“The term ‘paperless’ is also disingenuous. An online search emits 0.7g of CO2 every search made whereas a business card emits less than 0.12g of CO2 over the card’s entire lifetime.”

Two Sides’ national manager, Kellie Northwood, said the print industry was the victim of an increasing trend by big corporations to link e-commerce initiatives with false environmental claims.

“As consumers we are constantly being told to change our behaviours, go online, opt for e-statements to be better for the environment. These claims are grossly misleading,” said Northwood.

“If the major Australian financial institutions want to encourage customers to switch to e-billing because it is more cost-effective, then we have no quarrel with that.

“However, we do ask the major banks and credit unions to stop making a false link between reducing the use of paper and helping the environment, unless they have verifiable proof that this is so.”

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