Reading news online is only a more environmentally friendly choice than newsprint if you read for less than 30 minutes a day, according to new research from Sweden.
E-reader tablet devices, which use less energy for downloading and displaying than a computer with a conventional screen connected to the internet, are a greener option for reading news digitally, the researchers found.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and financed by paper research firm STFI-Packforskon and the Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association, examined the environmental impact of different ways of reading daily news.
The researchers examined the Swedish newspaper Sundsvalls Tidning, which has trialled the Irex Iliad e-reader tablet in addition to its print and online editions.
In the European context, printed newspapers produced 28kg of CO2 per reader a year. Reading a web-based newspaper for 30 minutes a day produced 35kg of CO2 per reader a year.
At 10 minutes’ use a day, a web-based newspaper produced 14kg CO2 a year, including 8kg CO2 a year caused by reading the site.
This was about the same as reading tablet e-paper for 30 minutes a day, which caused 13kg of CO2 a year per reader.
However, in Sweden, which has cleaner forms of energy production than the European average, the printed newspaper had the greatest environmental impact.
One of the researchers behind the report, Ã…sa Moberg, said: “The environmental load and differences in environmental performance for the products change depending on whether you place it in a Swedish or a European perspective, primarily owing to different means of generating electricity.
“The products’ contribution to different sorts of environmental impact differs as well, but in general paper and internet newspapers with a longer reading time burden the environment more than e-paper and the internet version with a shorter reading time.”
The research, known as a “simplified life-cycle assessment”, looked at the energy used in editorial work, paper production, printing, distribution, waste-paper disposal; the energy used for producing downloading and reading digital versions, and the production and waste disposal of PCs, tablets and screens.
However, the study did not include the impact of journalists’ travel, the production of e-reader screens, recycling electronic waste, or internet infrastructure.
Paper production is the source of the greatest environmental impact of printed newspapers, the study found. For the online news, the greatest impact came from the electricity used, while for e-paper tablets, the production of the device itself had the greatest impact.
The news comes in the same week as the latest e-reader device that can be used to read news came on to the market. Users of Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, which was launched on Monday (19 November), can subscribe to newspapers and magazines including the New York Times.
An Amazon spokesman said the wireless technology used by the Kindle is not compatible with UK mobile networks, and the company currently has no plans to introduce the Kindle in Britain.
A study published last year by the Carbon Trust and Trinity Mirror calculated that producing a single printed copy of the Daily Mirror caused 182g of CO2 emissions.