Digital Media: Is it Green?

Friday, April 2, 2010

At first it seems like common sense that because it reduces paper involved in media consumption, digital media presents a more environmentally friendly option. However MediaShift writer Don Carli shows in a recent arcticle how growing research and awareness has proved this idea to be a large misconception. While reducing paper consumption provides a popular and easy way to address the problem and certainly can have an impact, the industry needs to look at the facts and find a suitable balance between the use of paper and digital media.

The main problem concerning the massive consumption of digital media remains the mass amounts of energy required by data centers, computers and cellular networks. According to the U.S. Department of Energy data centers use more than 60 billion kilowatt hours-per-year, equal to the amount of electricity of 559,608 houses use in one year. A large portion of this energy comes from mountaintop-removal coal mining, a huge contributor to deforestation. Currently, data centers are connected to 600 square miles of deforestation caused by mountaintop-removal coal mining.

In addition to problems caused by direct energy consumption used to power digital media, massive amounts of energy are used to produce the technology that enable digital media. According to MIT researcher Timothy Gutowski, every one kilogram of plastic or metal part made for technologies such as cell phones, computers, or iPods requires as much energy as running a flat screen TV for one to 10 hours. Also, according to Greenpeace, e-waste caused by people throwing away cell phones, computers and iPods accumulates to around 20 to 50 million tons of trash yearly.

Certainly, there are many sides to this issue, however, I see very little the media can do about this issue. While Carli proposes that data centers could make a greater effort to run on sustainable biofuels, I do not think the responsibility lies within media industries alone. Rather, this issue points to a greater need for the government and all industries within the private sector to place a greater focus on developing sustainable energy alternatives. However, I do agree that as individuals, we need to be more responsible with our technological devices by using and updating them in a manner that will decrease the need for a new computer/iPod/smartphone every few years.


Staci Mead April 4, 2010 at 7:17 PM  

This is an interesting twist; no one ever thinks about what happens to all the technological things we throw away now that all of our communication is done through them. Replace it and move onto the next. I agree with you, we do need to pay more attention to EVERYTHING we consume, and it's not solely the media's responsibility; It's everyones. Nice work!

Meredith Jinks April 5, 2010 at 6:29 PM  

I have never stopped to consider this subject before. It is interesting to evaluage just how un-green digital media really is. The amount of energy that is needed to sustain all the digital media is excessive. Very fascinating article.

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