Image credit: amishrobot, used under Creative Commons license.
Dear Pablo: Help! My company has 50,000 people in 300 offices around the world and sends out its annual report to each and every one of them! What is the environmental impact of this?
On the one hand it is great that your company is engaging with every single employee by sharing its annual report with them, but you can't help but cringe at the environmental footprint of producing and shipping 50,000 annual reports. First, let's explore the impact of producing the reports, then delivering them, and finally, let's look at what your company could do better.
What Is The Impact Of Producing 50,000 Annual Reports?
I know that the annual report in question has 42 pages, or the equivalent of 23 sheets (counting the front and back cover). Using a measuring caliper I determined that the pages are almost twice as thick as regular copier paper and weigh around 7 grams each, or 160 grams in total. 50,000 of these annual reports weigh 8 metric tons and result in 18.14 metric tons of CO2-equivalents and the staggering use of 544,000 liters of water. While this is tiny compared to the impact of wasted phone books each year, it is not insignificant.
What Is The Impact Of Shipping 50,000 Annual Reports?To simplify matters, let's assume that the average shipping distance is 8,300 miles (1/3 of the circumference of the earth) and that the shipping is done half by air and half by truck (assuming domestic transportation and regional delivery is done by truck with intercontinental mail by air). The air mail emissions are 35.5 metric tons and the truck freight emissions are 9.9 metric tons. So we can estimate that just delivering the annual reports to the employees totals over 45 metric tons of CO2, or a little less than is emitted by nine average US passenger vehicles in one year.
What Can Your Company Do BetterPut into perspective, the impact of producing (18.14 metric tons of CO2-equivalents) and shipping (45 metric tons of CO2-equivalents) is pretty insignificant when you consider the company's total corporate emissions. Still, this doesn't justify it by any means and they could be decreased or virtually eliminated. In addition to reducing the environmental impact of the company, eliminating the production and delivery of the annual reports would also save a lot of money.
Further probing revealed that this company's report is printed on FSC-certified paper with printing equipment powered by wind, hydro, and solar (which is it?), which is certainly a step in the right direction in reducing the environmental impact, although it does nothing to affect the transportation emissions.
What more and more companies are doing is delivering their annual reports electronically. Virtually every company, including the one in question here, make a PDF version of their reports available online. Some companies have even done away with printed reports altogether and have taken the opportunity to create more interactive reports online. The company in question here could use its corporate email system, which I assume every employee uses, to deliver a link to the annual report and could even use this opportunity to gauge interest and collect feedback.
Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com and Principal Environmental Consultant at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed. Don't forget to Like Ask Pablo on Facebook.
More TreeHugger Articles On Wasted Paper
Ask Pablo: What Is The Impact Of All Those Unwanted Phone Books
Machine From Japan Turns Office Waste Paper Into Toilet Paper
What A Waste: Coffee Machine Designed For Paper Cups Only