The Sustainability of Tablets

September 27, 2012 Aaliyah Madadi

The business world has seen a rise in tablet adoption as companies are beginning to use this multi-purposed device for an array of tasks. With global sustainability concerns on the rise and increasing reservations regarding paper usage patterns, deforestation rates, and declining water supplies, it’s important to examine how corporate and societal trends, such as tablet adoption, are impacting the sustainability of our resources and environment.

The Demise of Printing

In 2011, Morgan Stanley conducted a survey of 700 tablet users and observed that 46% of respondents decreased their printing habits after owning a tablet. Of these respondents who printed less, 79% explained that the reduction in printing was the main benefit of using a tablet. Overall, there’s been an estimated 16% decrease in printing due to the combination of tablet use and company efforts to curb printing. The study also revealed that businesses using tablets realized considerable monetary savings from printer and paper reduction:

Ultimately, this study illustrates the cost efficiencies realized by companies that have replaced paper usage with tablets. Daily use of tablets by businesses include tasks such as checking email, providing sales support, researching, working remotely, and social media integrations. Tablets are also becoming the device of choice for presentations and pitch decks. But despite the utility of tablets and the cost savings from printing reduction, the question still remains – is the tablet a sustainable alternative to paper?

From Paper to Tablets

The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that it’s possible to reduce paper usage by 10 to 30% with the appropriate use of available technology. However, one of the rising concerns of tablet usage are CO2 emissions that are released during the products’ manufacturing and usage. According to Apple, the iPad 2 has 2.5g of CO2 emissions per hour of use (a 60-watt incandescent light bulb emits 48.4g). While it’s tougher on the environment to create an iPad rather than printing a book, the paper and water saved from reading content on tablets makes up for the initial CO2 emissions. Eco-Libris explains that from a carbon footprint perspective, an iPad becomes a more environmentally friendly alternative to reading a printed book once you finish reading your 18th book on the device – and this doesn’t account for the newspaper articles and magazines that tablet owners read online versus through print. Furthermore, it takes about 7 gallons of water to produce the average printed book while e-publishing companies can create a digital publication with less than two cups of water. Considering that the newspaper and book publishing industries combined consume approximately 153 billion gallons of water annually, reading your content online can be an environmental alternative.

The E-Waste Issue

Electronic waste is an increasing problem as the global rise in technology is contributing to the accumulation of electronic products in the trash. When electronic products are incorrectly disposed in landfills, toxic materials such as mercury and lead leak from the landfills and can contaminate groundwater and damage other ecological systems. Pike Research estimates that global e-waste will increase to 25 million tons by 2025. The fault here isn’t solely on the companies that make the products or the consumers that purchase them – it’s also an educational and informative issue about the proper ways to dispose of products such that they don’t contribute to the e-waste catastrophe.

First, try to use your electronic products for the entirety of their lifetime. With the increasing variety of products and changing technologies, it may be difficult to resist purchasing the newest phone or tablet; however, making use of your product for the entirety of its life results in ones less product that is discarded early. If you decide to buy a new product before the expiry of your old one, consider selling it on a secondary market or passing it on to a friend. Ultimately, the fewer products we cycle through means fewer electronics that end up in landfills.

Second, recycle your products when you’re done with them. Because of all the toxic components in electronic products, they require special attention before they can be recycled. Usually this means that the product must be disassembled and the parts separated and recycled/disposed of separately and safely. Certain companies, such as Apple, have recycling programs in place where they will give you gift certificates in exchange for old Apple items and then recycle your product free of charge.

These are a few small efforts that can make a big change on the state of our environment and resources.

About the Author

After graduating from the HBA program at the Richard Ivey School of Business, Aaliyah launched her career as Marketing Coordinator at Uberflip! Prior to her HBA, Aaliyah also completed a Bachelor in English at Western University.

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