In the media sector, recently new means of distribution, new platforms for accessing media and consequently new media products have been introduced. With new products potential environmental impacts related to activities of media companies are changing. Finnish media publisher Alma Media commissioned an LCA study in order to learn more about environmental impacts related to their mature and emerging products. Based on this, the current paper aims to present potential environmental impacts related to printed and online newspapers, focusing on their differences and challenges in assessing, comparing, communicating and acting on the results. Three newspapers are studied as cases, covering upstream printing house supply chain, printing house activities, delivery to readers and final disposal for print versions; electronic storage and distribution, the relevant share of electronic devices manufacturing and disposal and electricity needed for downloading and reading for online versions; content production for both.
Mainly generic data was used for online products assessment, since specific data were not available. The specific data for the more mature print products were detailed but less comprehensive than generic. The implication is increased uncertainty and difficulties in communication of results. Environmental performance of both printed and online newspapers is dependent on various characteristics of the newspaper and its readers, including e.g. format and number of pages for print versions, and type of device used and its total use, size of content download and reading time for online versions. User practices may be changing as emerging products get more mature, which will influence environmental performance.
Print and online versions give rise to different types of environmental impacts and the distribution of impacts in the life cycles differ. Printed newspaper impacts largely occur in the printing house supply chain and in delivery to readers, whereas online newspapers impacts are mainly connected to the electronic devices supply chain, and to some extent electricity used for reading and distribution. Impacts of printed newspapers studied occur more locally with paper manufacturing and printing located in Finland. Impacts related to online versions largely occur in other countries. Also, new value chain actors are involved, which are not directly related to the media company. Different actions for improvement may be necessary for emerging media products, as well as new types of collaborations.
Comparison of online and print versions is not straightforward as different benefits are provided and reader practices differ. Although emerging media products may be considered substitutes for print counterparts, this is not necessarily the case. The choice of functional unit of assessment proved crucial for the comparison. Different functional units were used (one year, one reader and week, one reading hour). Comparing print and online versions Alma Media online newspapers showed lower environmental impacts than their print versions per year and also per reader and week. However, impacts per reading hour were lower for printed newspapers in some cases. Using different kinds of perspectives, e.g. through different functional units, gives more information and increased knowledge. Complexity in assessing, comparing, communicating and acting on emerging media products was experienced in this study. Further studies and action need to be taken.