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
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
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:
On-line newspapers on the Internet. The World Wide Web is
rapidly being integrated into every day society. Many companies, including
newspaper-publishers, are investing in the development of on-line services.
The potential market is huge, but also somewhat uncertain, due to rapid
changes in technology and erratic behaviour of the on-line community. It
is still very difficult to charge money for on-line services, and current
computer hard- and software pose a barrier to the majority of potential
users. Also, with the current equipment, environmental benefits are questionable.
Modern, small-volume printing techniques and concepts, such
as print-on-demand and distribute-then-print. These can facilitate the
printing of personalised copies of newspapers and other publications. This
way, only requested information is printed, not wasting paper on unwanted
content. Additionally, stocks and excess printing can be reduced (just-in-time
principle) and distribution lines shortened. Unfortunately, in some implementations,
distribute-then-print might be unfavourable from an environmental point
of view. Also, equipment and infrastructure for these methods require a
large investment. The technology is there, but it may take the printing
and publishing industry some time to really start using it.
The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) for mobile telephones.
This protocol basically provides an Internet-gateway for mobile communication
equipment with limited display capabilities. The WAP makes it possible
to access network information services, including news services, from any
location covered by a mobile phone network. Although some newspaper publishers
(e.g. De Telegraaf) have plans to provide WAP-services, these cannot
be considered an alternative to the regular newspaper. This is mostly due
to limited content and display capabilities, and the relatively high cost
of use. Still, this technology may prove of use in the future development
of a true, wireless electronic newspaper.
The News Tablet. This is a true electronic newspaper, in
the form of a flat tablet with a display, based on current portable computer
technology. Content can be loaded into the tablet at "recharge points"
located at newspaper-stands, subway-stations, etc. A Japanese newspaper
is willing to try a small-scale experiment with these devices, but there
is little information on this subject. The news tablet is an important
step towards a real alternative for the traditional newspaper. There are,
however, still some technical limitations which make it rather expensive
and impractical compared to its paper counterpart, and would therefore
probably prevent introduction on a larger scale.
Electronic paper (e-paper) and electronic ink (e-ink).
Electronic paper combines the benefits of paper (readable, portable, flexible,
etc.) with those of an electronic display (reusable, interactive, etc.).
The technology is still very much under development. But this development
is making good progress and has attracted interest and investments from
various big companies, including newspaper publishers. Electronic paper
could be used in the form of an "electronic book" (e-book), which
contains multiple pages and some miniature computer components. It can
display any type of printed information, including a newspaper. E-paper
is a simple concept, using very little material and even less energy, but
there is a possibility of rebound effects resulting from new applications.
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).
An interim information-manager looking into the possibilities
for a print-on-demand project at Het Parool, an Amsterdam newspaper.
The co-ordinator of environmental affairs at De Telegraaf,
a popular Dutch newspaper.
The head of quality and environment at PCM, an important
The chief editor for the on-line version of the quality newspaper
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:
Electronic distribution of information over computer networks,
reducing the need for material carriers and mechanical distribution.
Increasing possibilities for selecting and providing relevant
information for the reader, thereby decreasing the amount of unwanted information
Increasing scale and combination of services, which may facilitate
The main barriers are:
Opening new markets, attracting new readers
Retaining current readers
Fear of getting behind and losing out on future developments
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
Conservatism among both producers and consumers
The need for large investments in new technology and infrastructure
Uncertainty about new markets
Limitations of new technology, especially concerning user-friendliness
and methods of payment
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): http://environmental.scum.org/bcm2/