skip to main content

SciTech ConnectSciTech Connect

Title: Comparative life cycle assessments: The case of paper and digital media

The consumption of the written word is changing, as media transitions from paper products to digital alternatives. We reviewed the life cycle assessment (LCA) research literature that compared the environmental footprint of digital and paper media. To validate the role of context in influencing LCA results, we assessed LCAs that did not compare paper and print, but focused on a product or component that is part of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. Using a framework that identifies problems in LCA conduct, we assessed whether the comparative LCAs were accurate expressions of the environmental footprints of paper and print. We hypothesized that the differences between the product systems that produce paper and digital media weaken LCA's ability to compare environmental footprints. We also hypothesized that the characteristics of ICT as an industrial sector weaken LCA as an environmental assessment methodology. We found that existing comparative LCAs offered problematic comparisons of paper and digital media for two reasons — the stark material differences between ICT products and paper products, and the unique characteristics of the ICT sector. We suggested that the context of the ICT sector, best captured by the concept of “Moore's Law”, will continuously impede the ability ofmore » the LCA methodology to measure ICT products. -- Highlights: • We review the LCA research that compares paper and digital media. • We contrast the comparative LCAs with LCAs that examine only digital products. • Stark differences between paper and digital media weakens LCA findings. • Digital products in general challenge the LCA method's reliability. • Continuous innovation and global nature of digital products impedes LCA methodology.« less
Authors:
;
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
22246929
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Environmental Impact Assessment Review; Journal Volume: 45; Other Information: Copyright (c) 2013 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, All rights reserved.; Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; COMPARATIVE EVALUATIONS; ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS; ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS; ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY; ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION; INDUSTRY; INFORMATION; LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT; REVIEWS