Increase Your Carbon Footprint – Move Your Content Online

Topics: Training

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Does moving your content online really further your corporate responsibility policy?

People, Planet and Profit: these are the three factors that the United Nations incorporated into standards for public sector full-cost accounting and other benchmarks. Called the triple bottom line, these three pillars make up the evaluation of an organization’s commitment to social responsibility.

Shifting printed meeting material to online formats saves money and gives you green bragging rights. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the move will not move your organization’s triple bottom line rating to a higher level.

Consider my arguments…

Triple Bottom Line Pillar 1: People

As an organization that creates and delivers knowledge, your responsibility to the people you serve is to make sure they receive that knowledge. Your content delivery method (i.e., the types of media) may be a barrier to the delivery of knowledge if you limited the methods. Believe it or not, many people still prefer to print before they read.) See our article “Debunking the Myths of the “Paperless Conference.”

While attendees of all ages value and learn with print, consider (yes, this is a bit stereotyping, but…) your senior, long standing member, over 60, a leader in your community, who has been reading your content in printed form for years. Can you afford the cost to turn him down – make getting his/her content more difficult? Heck, maybe it makes good business sense to make it easier (less expensive or free) to provide him/her a printed version. Just a thought.

Triple Bottom Line Pillar 2: Planet

Moving your conference content online will not reduce the energy consumed in sharing that content… it can actually increase your carbon footprint.

The cost to store and access data is NOT free – data centers are a huge consumers of energy resources – not just to run computer but to provide air-conditioning, battery backup, lighting, expenses that add up to 60% of the cost of a Data Center. And unless you have your conference content locked down on a server the world can’t see (bad idea at least for a portion of your content and helping your organization stay relevant) your content is indexed on dozens, of if you are lucky, hundreds of servers.

Our government in 2007 estimated that our energy use by computer data centers would double by 2011 and by 2020 the CO2 emissions will grow to be twice the airline industry’s emissions.

Are attendees, non-attendees printing their handouts?

Our estimates are that personal printers (especially inkjets) are 4 to 20 times more costly to run than the specialty printers at Omnipress and result in more waste. Using a printer to produce books or handouts for attendees and shipping them to an event is more energy efficient and cost effective than making attendees print things out at home.

Triple Bottom Line Pillar 3: Profits

The key to generating profits is to provide value, and it’s an organization’s job to determine just what that value is. If your attendees, members, and I’d go so far as to include your entire community, if they value the content you provide and want to consume that content in digital or printed media – is any media bad? Does that not contribute to your mission and your triple bottom line? Saying it a different way, do you really think it makes good business sense, good for your mission, to deny them of that content, deny them of learning and thus deny your organization of profits?

The bottom line is there are cost-effective, environmentally balanced, valuable ways to use the efficiency and reach of electronic communications with the power of print to streamline your content delivery – solutions that align with your triple bottom line that benefits people, the planet and profits.

Are you adding value with your electronic distribution of content or is it just a cost-saving decision (while ignoring other costs) and justifying it by calling it “green”?  Let’s bring back some meaning into the intent of the “green” movement.   We have taken our environmental impact serious for years.

What do you think?

Does your organization consider your triple bottom line when you make decisions?


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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cameron Toth, Tony Veroeven. Tony Veroeven said: Go paperless at your next conference; & increase Your Carbon Footprint? #affordablemtgs #engage365 #wec10 #eventprofs […]


August 11th, 2010Campbell says:

What’s up with the title? How can moving documents online INCREASE the carbon footprint? Hmmm.


August 11th, 2010David McKnight says:

Campbell – you are not alone in that assumption. When looking at the marginal energy cost of one document is appears free. But if you assume that by being on-line a larger number of people (I’ll call them readers) get access to the content, consuming more energy with each visit, and that there is some energy cost consume each day the document in stored on computers..times each reader. Now add to that about 10-20% of your event content is printed, one sided, on attendees energy consuming personal printers (at 4 to 20 times more cost than large high speed digital printers).

The bigger picture begins to suggest that over a period of say a year more energy is consumed to put a document on-line.

The point of this article is to focus on value and learning. If people prefer paper there are environmentally sound ways to provide that just as there are to produce an iPad.

And by the way…just got my iPad yesterday to test out our new Mobile event content solution – NO SPECIAL MOBILE APPLICATION needed – save your money and open to ALL. 10-20% of conference attendees are going to love this! The other 90-80%, well what do we tell them “tough…drop $700 and get one of these great iPads” or go home and print it. But as laptop, smartphones and iPad get cheaper, and faster (the iPad isn’t yet a work horse)….we’ll be there to deliver the content the way they want it…in digital and print media…at least for the next couple decades…then I’ll let my son deal with it!

Twitter: Djmcknight


August 12th, 2010Paul Wehking says:

Interesting points. I also believe that paper farmers (aka large paper companies) in the U.S. should be thanked for keeping millions of acres from being developed by “growing” trees on them.

As for education at events, I think it is simple. The folks who really know their stuff give content to attendees the way they want it – online, print, or on some form of digital media (CD, flash,etc). Perhaps I should say they “make it available as some give it “free” to attendees online but charge for print or digital media forms. This of it this way… how many times would you go back to a restaurant that served only one menu item to all customers… say a well done 12 ounce steak. Hmmmm… my guess is that 15% of the customers may come back. The rest will go elsewhere.

Attendees will tell you where the “value” is with their dollars and voices – mostly dollars though.
Paul Wehking recently posted..Increase Your Carbon Footprint – Move Your Content OnLine

Twitter: paulwehking


August 12th, 2010David McKnight says:

Paul – to your point…

• There are 12 million more areas of forest in the US today than there were 20 years ago.

Now, once we stop printing, the owners of that land aren’t just going to let the land go wild…they will use or sell if for other things to make money. Hopefully to grow things…but maybe for parking lots and buildings too?

Twitter: Djmcknight

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