The Environmental Impact of Getting the News

A Comparison of On-Line, Television, and Newspaper Information Delivery


  • Inge Reichart

  • Inge Reichart is with the financial controlling unit at the University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland. Roland Hischier is with the sustainable information technologies (SIT), Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) in St. Gallen, Switzerland.


The environmental impact associated with reading an on-line and a printed newspaper is analyzed and compared with respective parts of a television (TV) broadcast. Two reference units were chosen for comparison to account for differences between media in presentation and consumption (reading or watching a news item) and consumption of the daily news as a whole. The environmental impact is assessed using life-cycle assessment (LCA).

Key drivers of the environmental impact for both electronic delivery systems are energy consumption and power generation. Not only do the manufacturing of the products and their use have an environmental impact, but so does the use of the necessary infrastructure, that is, energy consumption of the telephone network or data transfer via Internet. Printing of on-line information also turned out to be important.

In the case of the printed newspapers, energy consumption is again important, here for the manufacturing of pulp and paper. Complete printed newspapers (the form in which they are typically purchased) have a very high environmental burden relative to watching the TV news or reading on-line news, even if the propensity to extend TV viewing is taken into consideration.