Thinking about the environmental impact of the media, Adam Tinworth asks some pertinent questions:

Given the news earlier in the week that deforestation is responsible for more global warming than air travel, I can’t help wondering whether the slow death of the published magazine at the hands of the internet might not be a good thing, at least in terms of the environment.

Or is the production of all the technology and energy needed to sustain an online communications infrastructure more damaging than print publishing ever was?

This is an important set of questions, not least in ight of the recent discussions in Parliament about whether newspapers should be subject to the same transparency about their carbon emissions as they increasingly demanding of government.

There seems to be little solid research about the environmental impact of either print or online media. Perhaps the most interesting recent work in this area was the Carbon Trust’s pilot carbon audit of Trinity Mirror’s entire supply chain (PDF, beginning p14).

The report stresses that its findings are specific to Trinity Mirror’s supply chain and cannot be extrapolated out to the entire newspaper industry, but still makes useful reading.

The majority of the Daily Mirror’s carbon footprint, the study found, was concentrated in the production of paper. According to the study, the Daily Mirror, made with recycled paper, emits 174g of CO2 per copy, 80 per cent of which were caused by raw materials and processes occurring outside Trinity Mirror’s immediate operations — particularly paper manufacturing.

But magazine paper is even worse than newsprint:

Manufacturing paper for use in glossy magazines is more energy intensive than for newsprint, because of the lower recycled fibre content and the requirement for a higher quality finish. Glossy colour printing is also more energy intensive than newspaper printing, reflecting ink and printing technology used.

Ultimately, none of this is much of a surprise. Everyone understands that a daily newspaper involves many processes with obvious environmental consequences. It doesn’t take much imagination to envisage the impact of chopping down forests, mulching them in a chemical process, printing on them in a huge industrial machines before distributing relatively heavy products using petrol-guzzling trains, planes and automobiles.

The more interesting issue, which Tinworth hints at, is the largely invisible environmental impact of the Internet.

No doubt, a carbon audit of the web would show energy use concentrated in the vast server-farms that physically house most of the content of the Internet. Some more would go on the energy needed to run the telecommunications infrastructure — and then there would be another big spike with all those PCs on standby and rechargable mobile gadgets at the consumer end.

Ultimately, the question for the environmentally-conscious media consumer might well be how getting the news online compares to those 174g of CO2 emissions caused by buying the Mirror.