Paper or Electronic Posters: which is more eco-friendly?
In recent years, many organizations have committed themselves to reducing their environmental footprint for the sake of the planet. But lately, some have pointed to the ecological burden of internet and electronic use, the carbon footprint of which may be surprising to some.
When it comes to posters, do the arguments against digital have much merit? In this post we delve into the math of it all, and compare the carbon footprints of print versus electronic posters.
A Look at the Emissions Math
To limit the number of dependent variables, let’s assume that we are comparing printed posters to eposters at an in-person conference. So, in both cases, the same number of attendees and staff, the same amount of food eaten, and the same number of posters presented. Let’s say you want to show 1000 posters over the course of three days, with about four hours of presentations per day.
For these calculations we used energyusecalculator.com and this kWh to CO2 calculator. For one 55-inch LCD/LED monitor, four hours of use requires roughly 0.5 kWh. With 15 monitors changing posters every 10 minutes, this means you can show 90 posters per hour, or 360 posters per day.
Imagine, for a moment, how chaotic it would be to present 360 paper posters, 15 at a time, in just four hours! While for eposters one would need a 100m2 room, for printed posters one would require a 300m2 room to comfortably display the same number of paper posters per hour. Add to this the added costs of lighting and air conditioning a significantly larger room. In this sense, electronic posters are much more time and space efficient as well as resource-efficient.
Using 15 monitors for four hours per day uses approximately 7.5 kWh of electricity, or about 22.5 kWh for the entire conference duration. If each monitor is paired with its own laptop that uses 40 watts, then for the same duration those laptops would use 7.2 kWh over the course of three days. This totals to about 30 kilowatt-hours to show 1000 posters, or 6.9 kilograms of CO2-e.
Printed paper posters, on the other hand, require different resources than eposters, and demand more energy and types of materials, particularly in the short term. A commercial printer uses an average of 400 watts when printing.
For these calculations, I used HP’s Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Printing 1000 pages with a five year old 42-inch printer takes roughly 1,443 kWh, or 336 kg CO2-e. If the printer is 10 years old, this rate skyrockets to 672 kg CO2-e to print the same number of posters–almost 100 times more CO2 than presenting the same number of posters digitally! Then, the paper posters, which are packed up by individual authors at the end of the conference, are either kept in a closet or disposed of, never to be appreciated or learned from again.
All of this, of course, does not account for the materials needed to make the monitor and laptop, the printer and chemical inks, the paper or fabric the poster is printed on, or the gloss and finish to protect and store the poster. Those variables are challenging to calculate because of how much the emissions vary based on time, the type of resources used and how those resources were accumulated, as well as poster material and content.
But what about the Internet?
In this article Ben Clifford writes that “a typical website produces 6.8 grams of carbon emissions every time a page loads.” If it takes 6.8g of carbon to load a webpage, one would need to load a webpage almost 100,000 times for it to come close to having the same footprint as the amount of energy needed to host the posters at a conference electronically.
ePostersOnline, which hosts tens of thousands of posters from over 500 conferences, takes a bit more than the average website–about 15 grams of CO2 per page load, for the entire domain. While this may seem like a lot, it is still drastically less energy than what would be needed for resources to print an equivalent number of paper posters. Hosting all posters online makes them available for decades to come after the conclusion of a conference. Better yet, all of SciGen’s web domains are sustainably run as part of AWS's pledge to use 100% renewable energy by 2025 and to go carbon neutral by 2040.
ePosters and Web Hosting: the better choice for the planet and researchers
Making the switch to the electronic display of posters can be seamless, even for decades-long printed poster users and conference attendees. It’s one of many great first steps toward reducing your organization’s carbon footprint.
While understanding and calculating digital carbon footprints is complicated, it’s clear that e-posters are the friendlier option for the planet. They demand less energy, don’t contribute as much waste, and can remain available to large audiences for longer.
Back in the day, we’d take pictures of posters at conferences with digital cameras because we knew the posters would be disposed of or put in storage. So displaying posters electronically is not only more sustainable for the environment, but for the researcher as well. With eposters, content is easily preserved over time, making its information accessible to interested physicians and scientists for years after a conference.
Although printed posters were the go-to option for scientific conferences for decades, the old model demands a variety of resources that are taxing on the environment. Especially with the move away from fossil-fuel powered data centers and tools to make websites and data storage better for the environment, it seems like the electronic poster model will continue to be the default model in years to come.
We are always looking for new methods to improve the eposter experience while at the same time protecting the environment. Have ideas about how to make your conference or ePoster service more environmentally friendly? Contact us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @ePostersLive, or email us at [email protected].