Outdoor view of Google’s data centre, Douglas country, Georgia. Source: Google.
Environment Resource Management Sustainable Energy

‘Going Paperless’ too harms the environment !

Papery Society

Stats say that to make 1 ton of paper, 12 to 24 trees are felled. Felling a tree is the first step in paper making process and it actually starts here. Cut trees are taken to the pulp mills. Process in cutting trees include fossil fuel powered machinery usage and transport. This opens the account for carbon footprint in paper making. The fibrous wood is pulped, bleached, dried and pressed to make paper of desired quality and cut in the desired size. Electricity powered or fuel wood powered mechanical energy is employed here. This further adds up to the carbon footprint of the paper that we use daily.

In addition to this, paper making process utilizes huge amount of water for bleaching, causing depletion of natural resources, creating demand for human essentials and agriculture. Further, paper making process directly affects the environment through the release of effluents via water (though treated) and poisonous gases into the atmosphere.

Figure: 1

Paper - paperless harms environment
Image Credit: www.pulpandpaper-technology.com


To one’s surprise, paper’s carbon footprint doesn’t stop here as per my analysis. The bleached, weightless, flexible thin white marbles (adjust with me, its paper only) doesn’t serve its cent percent purpose in this state. It has to be painted with black or with a mixture of RGB (Red, Green, and Blue). This painting (printing) process adds few grams of carbon to the footprint account of paper. The pigments, additives, binders and solvents are made out of resources made of carbon. Printer and photocopy machines manufacturing utilize essential natural resources and their operation needs electricity which in turn is produced majorly through the conventional method, thereby increasing the carbon footprint. And herewith, paper’s carbon footprint account is closed.

Switching to Non-Papery mode

IT era promises to replace paper through computers and gadgets meant for data storage and transfer viz., floppy discs, CDs, DVDs, Pen drives, Hard disks, etc. The invention of the internet made people curious, searching for information and retrieving the same has become easier and faster.

On the day-to-day internet usage, we might rarely analyse the source from where we get the data searched. There are physical servers and remote cloud servers making this magic possible. And hence, the moment will be the best for environmentalists (a few of them) as the misery of cutting trees to make paper will be stopped hereafter and the environmental temperature will see a dip in mercury level. But what exactly happens is different and it continues to be different till now. Being paperless leaves higher carbon footprint possibly when compared to the previous.

Sources say a simple google search adds 0.2g of CO2 to the environment and watching a youtube video roughly adds 1g CO2. Owning a google account adds 1200g CO2 since every google client is being provided with a few Gigabytes of virtual storage space (rarely used effectively) in their cloud servers. This is the same in case of the Google’s competitors viz., Apple, Facebook. To provide their clients with virtual storage spaces, these internet giants own huge data centres.

These data centres are the centres of carbon emission hence increase carbon footprint. They consume a huge amount of electricity to render the best user experience to their clients. The power consumption of data centres based in US alone accounts for 3% of the country’s total power consumption. Though these data centres are developed to be energy efficient, a gain in energy efficiency is took over by a new client.

Figure: 2

Outdoor view of Google’s data centre, Douglas country, Georgia. Source: Google.
Outdoor view of Google’s data centre, Douglas country, Georgia. Source: Google.

High performing servers, batteries and Uninterrupted Power Supply systems and powerful temperature maintenance systems are being employed in the data centres. Billions of litres of water are consumed every year by these data centres. This excess consumption of electricity and water accounts for nearly 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Though the minority ‘major data centres’ have gone for producing their own power source in non-conventional methods, the majority ‘minor data centres’ continue to provide bad impact to the environment.

“And the misery continues even when we switch on to Non-Papery mode”