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What’s the carbon footprint of … a newspaper?

Duncan Clark, Guardian
Depending on what you read and whether you recycle, newspapers can be a green way to spend your time or a big contributor to your footprint

it’s impossible to answer this question with any great level of accuracy. As with other footprints, it all depends on how many of the economic ripples caused by the newspaper industry you attempt to capture.

To make matters more complex still, in the case of anything made of paper, the carbon footprint depends not just on production, printing and transport, but also whether the consumer recycles it after use. This is significant because sending paper to landfill not only produces the greenhouse gas methane but also increases the amount of virgin stock that needs to be produced.

Another factor is the simple amount of paper used. For his book How Bad Are Bananas?, Mike Berners-Lee used his kitchen scales to work out what the approximate carbon footprint of various newpapers would be if they all used averagely carbon-efficient paper stock and printers. The results were as follows:

• 0.3 kg CO2e the Guardian Weekly, recycled
• 0.4 kg CO2e the Sun, recycled
• 0.5 kg CO2e the Daily Mail, recycled
• 0.8 kg CO2e the Guardian, recycled
• 1.8 kg CO2e a ‘quality’ weekend paper, recycled
• 4.1 kg CO2e a ‘quality’ weekend paper, sent to landfill
(4 November 2010)

Like your dinner, your gadgets come from somewhere

Tom Philpott, Grist
… like a lot of folks, I think hard about where my food comes from, but spare very few thoughts about where my gadgets come from. Still, every once in a while, I come across an item like this post by Elizabeth Grossman, on the excellent public-health blog The Pump Handle, that really makes me pause.

No gadget is an island

Grossman filed a report from the Indonesian island of Batam, which lies just across the strait from Singapore, a major manufacturing center of electronic gadgets and components. If U.S. high-tech companies have outsourced manufacturing to countries like Singapore, then places like Batam are where Singapore-based companies send their labor-intensive, highly toxic work. Writes Grossman:

Thanks to much of the island’s designation as a special economic zone beginning in 1989, Batam has been experiencing explosive growth. In the 1970s, the island’s population was under 10,000. Today it has soared to about 900,000 and continues to grow. The industry here is primarily electronics — shipbuilding and general manufacturing are also major industries — with Batam’s workers providing inexpensive labor for assembly line production for Singapore-based operations of international companies. Panasonic, Epson, Sanyo, Siemens, Flextronics, Infineon, Teac, Schneider, Unisem, and Philips are some of the names we see on factory buildings in the Batamindo Industrial Park, one of the island’s largest industrial parks. The website for its Singapore-based developer notes that more than 60,000 people work for the companies located here.

The food and consumer-tech industries have similar challenges: keeping the end product reasonably cheap while maintaining brisk profitability. That means holding down worker wages.
(2 November 2010)

Peak Stuff: Are We There Yet?

Janet Carmosky, Forbes
… Thanks to the recession, among the things that Americans can no longer afford to order from Chinese factories is a large volume of “Stuff.”

The economic paradigm I’m putting out here is that when the American consumer moves permanently beyond “Peak Stuff” it’ll be a moment of great opportunity for the US-China economic relationship. Because, did anyone really think that:

  1. Retailers clearing 100% gross margins on crap no one needs, for which

  2. Chinese manufacturers accept at most a 7% net margin, such that
  3. Factories operate on insufficient surplus to fund QC, environmental stewardship, R&D, meaningful social benefits to employees, communications, branding, marketing, or even a decent finance function, while
  4. Chinese banks underwrite American consumer debt to keep the consumption of crap growing

was anything other than the macro version of the quintessential codependent relationship? “Everything will be okay, honey. You just need to buy more Stuff. And it’s on sale this week only!”

… here’s hoping that Peak Stuff brings more of us to choose Experience over Stuff more often. Take the carbon footprint and whatever cash we’ve got and spend it connecting with people in places that feed that green-lighted creativity.
(9 November 2010)
Anti-consumerism… in Forbes Magazine yet. -BA

The Story of Electronics

Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff

(November 9 2010)
Full version is online. Just released November 9. Other videos from Annie Leonard and The Story of Stuff group:
The Story of Cosmetics (2010)
The Story of Bottled Water (2010)
The Story of Cap & Trade (2009)
The Story of Stuff (2009)