by Dr. Adam L. Gruen
20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.
t-shirts and other apparel.
of site updates.
of the World 2000, The Worldwatch Institute, Lester Brown et al., particularly
Molly O'Meara's Chapter 7, "Harnessing Information Technologies for the
Environment," W. W. Norton & Company, New Yor/London, page 127.
Frieda Gordon Dilloo of Berkeley, CA.
3 From the
ULS Report, a bi-monthly newsletter created to help people Use Less Stuff by
conserving resources and reducing waste.March-April,1998, Volume 5, Number 2,
Build 2.1 January 1999, by
David Tomere, editor, BETA
5 In the
last 20 years, the combined usage of today's top ten users has increased from
92 million tons to 208 million, a growth of 126%. Individual percentage
increases showed the USA lowest at 77%, the UK at 88%, France at 104%, Germany
at 129%, Italy at 131%, Japan at 137%, Spain at 168% and Canada at 219%. But
the real stars were China at 597% (from 3.8 million to 26.5) and S.Korea at
842% (from 0.7 million to 6.6).
availablehere. I thank David
Tomere for bringing this site to my attention.
by bankinfo.com: "Too Much
Information! No Paperless Office Yet, But Plenty of File Cabinets," by
Tiffany A. Wilken.
Exopa Terra, an electronic journal of
technology and society, conducted an informal survey of 75 office workers to
determine how the widespread use of technology has impacted the volume of paper
circulating in the office. It found that respondents print much of what they
States Environmental Protection Agency, Solid Waste and Emergency Response
(5306W). The article cited is June 1996. For more info on
WasteWise: 800 EPA-WISE.
9 Pacific Northwest
Pollution Prevention Resource Center, phone: 206-223-1151, e-mail:
email@example.com, web: www.pprc.org.
amount varies according to which computer you use. But I also saw a variety of
figures, one as high as 300 watts per computer.
et al., p121.
et al., page130, as quoted from US Dept. of Energy, Annual Energy
et al., p 130.
March-April,1998 issue, as above.
Information Technology Meets Global Ecology:
by Cate Gable
Last month, I outlined the basic IT/ECO dilemma: can we
justify information technology as a supporting tool for global ecology when
computer manufacturing is one of the most polluting processes on the planet?
For every 25-kilogram computer, there are 63 kilograms of waste, 22 of them
One reader pointed out, "In order to ponder figures like
these in a meaningful way, they would have to be juxtaposed with statistics
such as: how much a typical office computer or home PC saves on driving, paper,
and chemicals (for copying etc.)."2
I decided to take the challenge. Here's what I
Most evidence points to computers actually increasing paper
usage. Eighty percent of the waste in a typical office is high-grade white
paper. The volume of office paper and commercial printing increased 245%
between 1960 and 1994, from 3.9 to 13.5 million tons.3
David Tomere writes in his online mag, BETA Online:
- The United States' over-all paper usage dwarfs other
countries' with 88 million metric tons in 1995 to number two Japan with 30
- From 1975-1995, the combined usage of today's top ten
users has increased from 92 million metric tons to 208 million, a growth of
- Some authorities predict that world consumption will
increase during the next 15 years from 280 to 490 million metric tons, another
rise of 75%.5
Tiffany Wilken in her essay on the myth of the paperless
office reiterates,6 "paper usage seems to be increasing, rather than
decreasing. What gives?" Though we take advantage of digital technology for
info-searchs, email, chats, and games, we don't quite trust it. We've all been
burned by our computers at one time or another. In the back of our minds is the
haunting doubt, "What if my computer crashes and I lose all my files?" A
hardcopy back-up still feels safer than something on hard-disk.7
The major obstacle to reaching the paperless office may be
"sociotechnical," according to a report funded by the Electronic Document
Systems Foundation. People like the smell of opening a book. We may simply
On the other side of the fence are those who think the
paperless office is occurring in a slow transition. The EPA hosts information
for corporate members in a group called WasteWise.8 They report many
instances of dramatic savings in office waste in the following general
- on-line purchasing catalogs, directories, human resource
documents, and corporate policy manuals avoid the need for constantly updated
- CD/ROMs or other electronic filing and storage systems
store vast quantities of well-indexed information without the use of paper
- Electronic data interchange (EDI) saves $1 to $5 per
document over paper- (other e-commerce business-to-business savings have yet to
But what about energy costs? The Pacific Northwest Pollution
Prevention Resource Center estimates that, "About 25 percent of office
computers are left running at night and on weekends. . .which accounts for
about 7 percent of commercial electricity consumption. That doesn't include the
cost of air conditioning to remove heat buildup caused by office
A typical desktop computer with a monitor uses
120-18010 watts of electricity, about the same as two lightbulbs.
Computers in sleep mode use 30 watts or less. 11
Yet the net effect of the use of information technologies is
far from clear:
other office equipment represent the fastest-growing demand for electricity. At
the same time, most computer processing units are embedded in devices other
than computers and these electrical controls have increased energy efficiency
in a number of industries.
In 1999, electricity demand was only slightly higher than
the previous years because ...it was off set by a decrease in industrial demand
from efficiency improvements.12
This research took about 2 hours. I did print out one longer
WasteWise report of sixteen pages-who would want to read that on a computer
screen-but I used Union Camp Great White paper with 25% recovered fiber that
had gone through the printer once already. And I did not drive to the library,
although as Lester Brown et al. have pointed out in their hot-off-the-press
State of the World 2000, "No communications technology in history has
ever been associated with a new reduction in travel."13
So what's my conclusion?
We would have to take into account the entirety of the
earth's macro-systems, tally up everyone's missed trips to the library, count
up all the computers left on 24/7, figure the percentage of computer 'sleep'
time, count sheets of paper, give credit for recycled fiber. . . How can any of
this be measured in a neat total? It's enough to make rocket scientists run
screaming from the room.
But, it's not all bad. More and more of us are realizing
that the 'cost' of a computer is not just what we paid for it. If we are asking
questions too large to be measured that means that our consciousness about the
earth is changing radically.
Another reader of last month's column said, "I just read
your article in Mindjack. Good for you, Cate. Particularly your unwillingness
to come to a conclusion. If we don't use IT we're sunk socially and
environmentally. Lead on! Godbless. Julie."
She's right twice. We can't come to a conclusion, yet-there
isn't a clear one- and perhaps IT can assist us in finding one. Every time I
cruise the web I find innumerable, creative ways that IT furthers the
- The World Wide Fund for Nature's (formerly the World
Wildlife Fund) Panda Passport that you use to travel electronically and gather
points as you respond to environmental crises around the globe:
And how 'bout this runner-up winner in a ULS environmental
contest who earned in-line Skates from Rollerblade, Inc. for his effort:
Tobay Salas, Hinesburg, VT, age 6, home school: When
something breaks, I make it into something else. For example, the arm broke on
my robot and I made it into a toy pocket clock. I didn't throw anything away
and got a new toy by using my imagination. 14
Hey, it's a start!, even if recycling your robot arm may not
have as much impact as a moratorium on logging. The use of IT for complex data
retrieval and storage projects created by environmental scientists using GIS
and data-mapping techniques are giving us a view into earth's macro systems:
ozone depletion, climate fluctuations, biodiversity distribution-a view that
hasn't been available before.
We'll look at some of these projects next month.
b i o :
Cate Gable is a poet and writer (author
of Strategic Action Planning NOW!) , strategic marketing consultant in
e-commerce, teacher, and President of Axioun
Communications International. She divides her time between Berkeley, CA;
the Pacific Northwest; and Paris, France. Send comments to her at