Have you ever considered what the carbon footprint of a magazine or an eReader is? What about the carbon footprint of your publication? Not everyone cares about carbon footprints or defers to the authority of science on climate change, but when Coke, Pepsi and Apple begin to carbon footprint their products, and Taco-Bell begins to open LEED-certified restaurants with low carbon footprints, it may be time to start.
According to information recently released by Apple, the lifecycle carbon footprint of an iPhone is responsible for the emission of 121 pounds of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions over the course of a three year expected lifetime of use. Over 10 million iPhones have been sold to date. Though it is not a direct comparison, it is interesting to note that Discover magazine estimated that the lifecycle carbon footprint of each copy of its publication is responsible for 2.1 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the same amount produced by twelve 100-watt light bulbs glowing for an hour or a car engine burning 14 ounces of gasoline. Over the next few years it can be expected that the reporting of lifecycle data and the carbon labeling of all products will move from the margins to the mainstream - including the footprinting of print and digital media products. Welcome to the age of low carbon everything.
There are billions of kilowatt hours of electricity embodied in the paper, ink and digital technologies we use each day, and close to a kilogram of CO2 is emitted for each kilowatt, but the energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with print and digital media supply chains have typically been overlooked, misunderstood or underestimated. Those days are drawing to an end. Increasingly major brands like Walmart, Pepsi, Coke, TacoBell and Timberland see carbon footprinting and carbon disclosure as an opportunity to differentiate themselves and grow - even in the face of a global recession.
A question publishers should be asking themselves is whether they plan to lead, follow or to be dragged kicking and screaming into the low carbon publishing era. Considering the billions that beverage and fast foot brands spend on advertising it is just a matter of time before major brands will seek to include the carbon footprint of advertising into their disclosures and expect publishers to measure and verify the carbon footprint of the ads that they buy. Several decades of opinion research have shown that most of the American public either ignores media coverage about climate change and carbon footprinting or they reinterpret what they hear based on partisanship or self-interest. However, mainstream brands like Pepsi and Coke have seized the opportunity to reframe the debate. In part their carbon footprinting initiatives are based on pressure from retailers like Walmart coupled with recent market research studies indicating that demand for environmentally and socially responsible products continues to rise even during the recession. For example, 82% of Americans say they're still buying green products despite changes in the economy according to a poll of 1,000 Likely Voters conducted on January 15-16, 2009. Countdown to Copenhagen
In part their carbon footprinting initiatives are based on indications that the EPA is ready to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and declare global warming a threat to public health and welfare. In addition, leaders of 192 nations are preparing to meet at the United Nations COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this coming December to decide on a global framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. Global brands have taken note and have decided to be proactive.
While a heated zero-sum war of words continues to rage in the media between self-proclaimed conservative "climate change deniers" and their "carbon communist" adversaries, major consumer brands are taking action, and a new array of carbon footprinting standards, carbon labeling specifications, carbon calculators and other resources are emerging to meet the growing demand from business and from government.
Before you use one of the many carbon calculators popping on the Web to measure the carbon footprint of whatever medium you use, it's important to realize that the results can vary dramatically - as do their underlying assumptions. Most fail to employ standards. Until now, lots of calculators and "carbon neutral" companies have made promises to help you reduce your footprint. But there's been no single authority or regulatory agency to dictate how carbon usage should be calculated or disclosed. Standards and specifications for carbon footprinting such as ISO 14040, ISO 14064 and PAS 2050 now do exist, and open standards-based Web 2.0 platforms like AMEE are now available that enable accurate carbon footprinting, like-for-like comparisons and large-scale supply chain analysis.
AMEE has recently opened a North American office to address the growing demand for low carbon solutions that is led by Robin Baker, VP Business Development and Markets. According to Baker "Our aim is to map, measure and track all the energy and carbon data on Earth. It's a huge task: aggregating every factor, algorithm and methodology related to carbon and energy-assessments, and all the data required for the calculations. We believe harnessing energy information will transform business practices, products and services to compete in a low carbon economy." Tools for Publishers
While AMEE is not specifically focused on publishing, there is nothing that precludes its capabilities from being used by publishers to track the energy use and emissions associated with their operations, their supply chains or their products. For example, one could send energy use data from a printing device or an eReader directly into AMEE as a data-sink, and convert it to carbon in real-time. This could provide real-time feedback that could use to reduce energy use. Publishers could also use it in estimating the carbon footprint of media product lifecycles. Recently PricewaterhouseCoopers announced (and demonstrated on YouTube) an innovative Facebook application based on AMEE data called "Carbon Bigfoot by PwC." The free application enables students and environmentally conscious individuals to calculate their carbon footprint based upon three primary metrics - shelter, commute and devices. (An interesting addition to the calculation would be the energy consumed by the computing and network devices involved in the use of Facebook.)
We cannot achieve sustainability and will not be successful in managing human induced climate change solely by expecting consumers to change light bulbs, drive hybrids and recycle. It is time for publishers to recognize that neither print nor digital media supply chains are sustainable as currently configured and that both have sizeable carbon footprints that advertisers, regulators and consumers will increasingly expect to be identified, measured and ultimately reduced. Do you know what the carbon footprint of your product is? TSR