When it comes to sustainability, it is important to separate the facts from the myths. A wide-spread message is that you can "go green" by only using digital media, but the electronic media – naturally – also has environmental impacts.
“Go paperless”, “go green” or “save trees” are common messages that many organisations use to promote a switch from communication on paper to to electronic transactions and communications. The organisation TwoSides monitors this type of messages in order to debunk the myths.
"These sort of messages give the impression that electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than paper-based communication", writes TwoSides. "But it is very difficult to make such statements without considering the full lifetime of those different mediums."
When considering the climate impact and greenhouse gas emissions, we have to look at all the relevant factors, says for example Bill Gates in his book How to avoid a climate disaster:
Impact from production, usage and waste disposal as well as from raw material extraction and energy consumption throughout the life cycle needs to be counted.
The information and communication technology, ICT industry sector, is "the manufacturing and services industries whose products primarily fulfil or enable the function of information processing and communication by electronic means”, defined by OECD. According to the European commission in 2020 the ICT industry accounts for 5-9% of the world's electricity use. The energy use alone stands for more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is as much emissions as all air traffic in the world.
"The growth of the ICT sector in recent years has been unprecedented and is projected to keep that steady pace," writes the mobile network operators' organisation GSMA Europe, which also states that there are growing concerns about the industry’s environmental footprint.
Reducing the ICT sector carbon emissions also goes beyond meeting the energy efficiency goals. It includes "more complex challenges, such as finding ways to ensure sustainable supply chains", according to GSMA.