Print, the sustainable media

Benjamin Franklin was the first to suggest the idea of Daylight Savings Time.

I am writing this on March 13, 2011, the day we “spring forward” into Daylight Savings Time (DST). With spring arriving presently, it is a good time to consider the ways that print media is contributing to environmental sustainability.

It is none other than American printer, inventor and statesmen Benjamin Franklin who is credited with the idea of saving daylight. It is believed that Franklin was first to suggest moving daylight hours to the end of the day between the vernal and autumnal equinoxes as a means of conserving resources. In a 1784 letter to the editor of the Journal of Paris, Franklin joked that if Parisians would break their habit of sleeping late and not seeing “any signs of sunshine before noon,” then the six hours of missed daylight in the morning could be used to replace six hours of candlelight in the evening.

As Franklin wrote, “I say it is impossible that so sensible a people, under such circumstances, should have lived so long by the smoky, unwholesome, and enormously expensive light of candles, if they had really known, that they might have had as much pure light of the sun for nothing.”

You can read the complete text of Franklin’s letter here: http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/franklin3.html.

The modern concept of sustainability is very similar to Franklin’s simple idea: it addresses the complex and long-term problems of environmental, economical and social well-being; it teaches that satisfying needs and managing resources in the present is also about ensuring the same for future generations.

In this respect, the paper and printing industries—as well as the consuming public—have made significant progress. Although we still have much work to do, we should use this occasion to celebrate print media as among the most sustainable communications, marketing and publishing choices of the day.

The following are some of our important green accomplishments:

  • Print helps to grow trees
    According to the USDA Forest Service, about 4 million trees are planted daily in the US, 1.7 million of that total by the wood and paper industries. Most paper now comes from sustainable forests. These forests are essentially “tree farms,” where trees are grown as a crop, just like broccoli or wheat. When these trees are harvested, new stocks are planted. Print on paper gives landowners a financial incentive to renew forests rather than convert them for other uses, such as agriculture or development.
  • Paper is a renewable resource
    One-third of the fiber used to make paper comes from wood chips and sawmill scraps; another third comes from recycled paper. Overall, in the United States nearly 80 percent of the almost 400 paper mills use recovered fiber to make some or all of their paper products, and of these, approximately 200 mills use recovered paper exclusively.

  • Post-consumer paper recycling is at record levels
    The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) reported that a record-high 63.4% of the paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling in 2009. This exceeds the industry’s 60 percent recovery goal three years ahead of schedule. This is a tremendous achievement by the both the public and the paper recycling industries.
  • Print is often greener than electronic media
    All communications media leave a carbon footprint. Making a CD or DVD, both of which are difficult to recycle at best, generates around 300 to 350 grams of CO2 per copy, while printing a 100-page four-color annual report releases about 80 grams. Even Web-based communications have a carbon impact—both in terms of the electricity needed to power the computers involved and the metals, plastics and other materials that go into their construction.

It took about 135 years for Benjamin Franklin’s brilliant idea to be realized (DST was officially implemented in 1918 when Congress adopted “An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States”). Obviously Congress did not heed Poor Richard’s dictum: “You may delay, but time will not.” We need not delay in promoting the uniquely sustainable qualities of print and paper-based media. Let’s start today!

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