Is Electronic Communication Really More Sustainable Than Print?

Image of e-waste and discarded circuit boards

Is Electronic Communication Really More Sustainable Than Print?

Common misconceptions about the sustainability of paper continue to pose a challenge for the print industry. But is the e-communication alternative really more sustainable? 

With many service providers encouraging clients and customers to “go green – go paperless” by switching to electronic bills, statements and communications, we feel it’s important to shed a light on the sustainability implications of electronic vs paper communications. 

The ‘go-paperless’ message

It’s becoming commonplace to receive encouragement from service providers such as utility companies and financial organisations to “go paperless” with your communications. The standard slant placed on this by such companies is that, by going paperless, you are making a more sustainable choice as a consumer. But is that really the case? 

In truth, the messages surrounding electronic communication fail to mention that in reality, often the primary motivation for companies to encourage paperless contact is that electronic communication incurs less cost to their business. 

Unfortunately, this misconstrued notion that paper-free communication is a more sustainable option can leave a lasting negative impact on consumer perceptions of direct mail and printed marketing.

Print paper torn up and ready to be recycled.

Is paper unsustainable?

Despite claims laid by companies and organisations looking to cut their costs and increase the force of their electronic communications, the reality is that traditional print and paper communication is inherently sustainable.

Ultimately, paper is made from wood, which stands out as one of the few genuinely renewable and sustainable resources. This raw material is grown and harvested in a controlled, sustainable way in managed, semi-natural forests. In fact, the paper industry has such strict parameters around its production that European forests (where the majority of wood harvest for paper occurs) have actually grown by an area the size of Switzerland in just 10 years. 

The paper industry utilises certification schemes – such as the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) – to ensure that the vast majority of paper used across the world originates from a sustainable forest source. 

Plus, far from being a wasteful product, paper is one of the most recycled products in the world, and the paper fibre loop presents an excellent model for circularity and sustainability. Here at The Encore Group, we are committed to ensuring that all of the paper used in our print and packaging production is certified sustainable and sourced from well-managed, carefully controlled forests and all production waste is segregated into appropriate grades for maximum recyclability.

We are committed to providing our clients with carbon balanced print materials. We are the first UK carbon-balanced envelope manufacturer and through our partnership with the global conservation charity, the World Land Trust, we have helped to protect 95 football fields worth of threatened, carbon-rich habitats around the globe since 2021.

The reality of digital emissions and e-waste

We’ve all seen the message purporting electronic communications to be a more sustainable method of contact numerous times over the years. But is there any weight to this claim? 

In truth, the environmental implications of our digital world cannot be ignored. As it currently stands, the ICT (Information Computer Technology) industry accounts for approximately 2.5-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and with no signs of slowing, this figure is expected to rise to at least 14% by 2040. 

Unlike the strict parameters that function to govern the controlled harvest of trees for sustainable paper production, there really is no equivalent structure in place to account for the environmental impact of electronic communications. Only 14% of e-waste is currently recycled. E-waste and rising carbon emissions from digital industries are genuine problems that we are facing on a global scale.

In short, e-waste refers to the waste generated by electronic products that are unwanted, not working and nearing or at the end of their “useful life”.

The UK is currently one of the largest producers of e-waste in the world. In the first 6 months of 2021 alone, we produced a whopping 148,134.09 tonnes of e-waste. E-waste poses a genuine threat from a number of environmental perspectives and is particularly dangerous due to the toxic chemicals that leach from the metals inside when buried.

Of course, the issue of e-waste and industry emissions isn’t a reason to boycott electronic communication altogether, when it has become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives. However, it’s important to cultivate a balanced perspective at a time when generalised and often misinformed arguments regarding e-communication are circling.

For more information on the sustainability of paper-based communications visit

Here at The Encore Group, we believe that direct mail can be an effective and sustainable method of communication for UK businesses. To find out more about our own environmental credentials, click here.

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