The Green Newspaper?

A report on eco-efficient ICT-developments in the newspaper-sector
Levien van Zon, Evert Both, Esther Goede
Free University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Autumn 1999


This report was written by students from various disciplines as part of a basic course in environmental sciences focusing mainly on socio-economical aspects. The research was carried out within the context of a bigger EU research-project on eco-efficient producer services.

In this report we focus on eco-efficient services in the newspaper industry, made possible through the use of information and communication technology (ICT). Eco-efficient services are services which represent an added value and create significant environmental benefits compared to alternatives. We want to know if ICT-developments in the newspaper-industry can be eco-efficient, and if so, to what extent application can lead to dematerialization.

The information in this report is based on research through literature, including many articles from newspapers, magazines and the Internet (see Appendix), and interviews with several people working in the Dutch newspaper-industry. We have tried to map some of the ICT-related developments in the newspaper-industry that could be relevant to eco-efficient services or dematerialization. We have also tried to establish the main drivers and barriers for these developments, as well as their environmental aspects.

Newspapers are suffering from increasing competition provided by other media, such as radio, television, the Internet and other publications. They may have to look for new ways of distributing their information services in order to survive. From an environmental point of view such developments might be favourable, in that they can lead to a reduced use of resources, most notably paper.

We have identified several ICT-related technologies that could help increase the eco-efficiency of newspaper-services:

We have tried to asses the position of Dutch newspapers on the subject of (possibly) eco-efficient ICT-developments and dematerialization. To this end we have interviewed four people:

It seems that many of the measures taken to reduce the use of resources were implemented as a result of government regulations or covenants, or simply to save money. The measures are usually related to office buildings (e.g. lighting, heating), working place (e.g. paper recycling and reduction), printing process (e.g. use and recycling of water, paper, ink) or distribution (e.g. optimisation, reduced packaging).

New ICT-developments are implemented by newspaper-publishers mostly out of fear of "missing the boat" at some later stage. On-line newspapers are currently the most important development, though the content is still somewhat limited with most newspapers. Het Parool is also thinking of introducing a locally printed (print-on-demand / distribute-then-print), customisable newspaper as an experiment, to attract younger readers.

The new developments are currently not allowed to compete with the traditional newspaper, which remains the primary product. New products and information services are only meant as an addition, to retain or attract more readers. Eco-efficiency is never a consideration.

We have concluded that, in the current situation, ICT-developments are not eco-efficient. They will not yet lead to dematerialization, as new products and services are merely an addition to the traditional newspaper, which is still preserved and protected at all times by the publishers involved..

There are, however, several large-scale trends in the newspaper industry which may prove favourable to dematerialization in the long run. These include:

The most important drivers behind the use of favourable ICT-developments in the newspaper industry seem to be market-related, such as: The main barriers are: Factors that may prove unfavourable to eco-efficiency include the possibility of rebound effects and the nature of the main driver, the market economy, which may lead to a growing number of products instead of dematerialization.

The eco-efficiency of ICT-developments is difficult to quantify, due to the complexity of the electronic equipment, its many possible uses and the rapid changes in technology and its use. To get an indication of eco-efficiency one would probably need to carry out a full Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) on the traditional newspaper and its newer incarnations.

Summary created April 2000 by Levien van Zon (levien @

Full document (in Dutch):