How green are your communications?

Bristol-based Latcham is a leader in business communications and document fulfilment solutions. Below, they tell us how print and digital communications can impact the environment.

"In light of the publication from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last August, and more recently, COP26, a lot of organisations are currently looking at their impact on the environment.

At Latcham, we have been focusing on making our own business as green as possible now for over ten years and are working towards carbon neutrality in 2025.

Our company specialises in both printed and digital communications for businesses that use them to talk to their customers, and a myth that we hear again and again is that electronic communications are greener than print. The link between print and damage to the environment makes sense as trees are cut down to make paper, so this means that switching to email and digital communications must be automatically greener, right?

This is both untrue and reductive. Both paper and digital media have an effect on the environment and both communication channels need to be appraised for relative impact, rather than assuming one is greener than the other.

How to make printing carbon neutral

10% of deforestation has been carried out to cater for the supply of wood products, including paper. And the print industry uses more than three million tons of hydrocarbon-based inks and chemicals every year, releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. In addition, toner-based inks contain microplastics, which are also damaging to the environment.

While these are massive problems, they all have pre-existing solutions. With sustainably managed forests, trees are a renewable resource. Also, microplastic-containing inks can be swapped for water-based inks, with refillable cartridges.

Packaging, recycling and the energy used to power the print facility also need to be carefully considered when looking at how to reduce the footprint of printed communications.

Carbon neutrality should be the aim, and it is achievable.

Reducing your digital footprint

Digital communications are only as green as the energy that powers them. Are your communications sent from a facility that runs on renewable energy? If they aren’t, they are not green. If we look at Bitcoin - the Bitcoin network now consumes more energy than Poland, and mining a single bitcoin generates 250 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The average person uses 440 pounds of paper each year, which takes 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity to produce. By comparison, one computer uses this same amount of electricity in just five months.

In addition to this, research claims that the ICT industry could use 20% of all electricity and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025 (which would be more than any country except the US, China and India).

The Carbon Literacy Project states that a regular email can have a carbon cost of between 0.3 to 4g of carbon emissions and emails with large attachments can be as high as 50g. It is estimated that the carbon cost of an average office worker’s emails is as high as 0.6 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide emissions.

Without further investigation into the energy sourced to power your digital communications, you won't know whether they are green or not. Just going paperless by switching from printed to digital communications isn't enough and could potentially be seen as greenwash.

However, this doesn't mean that digital communications can’t be green, because when powered by green, renewable energy, they absolutely can be."


Read about Latcham's journey toward carbon neutrality here, or visit their website for more information about their commitment to sustainable print and digital solutions.