Pablo knows: Lifetime of Smart Phones over 11X MORE Environmental Impact Than Lifetime of Phone Books.

Last February, as the industry was at the peak of fighting the anti-print eco nuts, we took a deep dive into what really goes into all of those high-tech devices we all now can’t live without, focusing on exactly what happens when people discard them (regularly) and move on to the next device.

In the Dirty Little Environmental Secrets Print Haters Don’t Want to Talk About article, we revealed some alarming stats:

But only about 14% of the computers components and materials can actually be recycled into usable materials. What’s in E waste?? Among the many hazardous materials harmful to human health and the environment are: lead, mercury, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, to name just a few (for more, go here). EPA numbers indicate that only about 18% of the 3,000,000 tons of used electronics in the US are actually recycled. Let’s compare that with EPA’s estimate that 57% of the paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling in 2008.

The silence from our critics was deafening.  I never heard from any of them.  Not a one.

As we are in the midst of a heavy time for delivery of books, the din from the haters has again swelled. The new comers to the anti-phonebook team love to jump in with all kinds of pronouncements (most without any factual basis) that phonebooks are killing the planet in so many ways.  But its refreshing when you get to see something online who actually gets it right.

The treehugger.com website has a regular writer Pablo Paster, who actually did his homework recently in this blogAfter calculating the impact of an annual directory, he then compared the environmental impact to a digital alternative — the much treasured iPhone.  The conclusionthe carbon footprint is 3.1 kg CO2e per phone book.  Over a lifetime of phonebooks, that would come to 186 kg CO2. Using just an iPhone, it has 70 kg CO2 which adds up to 2.1 metric tonnes of CO2  over a lifetime of smart phones.  Net net:  “a lifetime of smart phones has over eleven times the impact of a lifetime of phone books.”

Pablo then tries to even the playing field with all of the other devices that an iPhone could replace.  But it starts to sound a bit weak especially if he had dug deeper on what the disposal impacts for an iPhone are vs. a phonebook.

All in all I have to congratulate the guy on doing an honest assessment.  It’s refreshing to see that someone will admit that all technology isn’t necessarily the slam dunk eco alternative to a phonebook that they are made out to be.  And don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone.  But that print phonebook requires no ongoing power, no special routers, no Internet connection, is full portable, can be used easily by nearly 100% of the reading population, and is distributed FREE.  Sounds like a real bargain to me….

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15 responses to “Pablo knows: Lifetime of Smart Phones over 11X MORE Environmental Impact Than Lifetime of Phone Books.

  1. But Ken, you’re forgetting that the all wise Seattle leaders tell us that “nobody” uses phone books anymore! Yeah, right.

  2. “the anti-print eco nuts” ?

    Seriously? How about, the “anti dumping useless tomes of paper that I have to deal with 3x a year nuts” ? You just knocked yourselves down another 5 notches….

    • @Alvo: yes, seriously. The “nuts” are people like the local government in Seattle that figures it needs it’s own opt-out program (even thought the industry already has one) and then sends 4 TONS of junk mail to resident to remind them about the program (http://bit.ly/swTDA5). Seems no one can identify whether one ounce of that junk mail was recycled.
      Funny, I don’t remember you commenting on that item.

      If that knocks me down another 5″ in you view, does that make me the same size at you??

  3. Another teeny correction. You refer to Pablo’s article as “this blog” … Treehugger is a blog. Article are not “blogs”, they are articles, or “posts”. You can’t use the word “blog” to refer to a piece of content, a blog is an entire website.

  4. Tyrell Track Master

    I think your argument is a completely moot point. You don’t have to be an “eco nut” to be annoyed at having a phone book dumped on your door (I’ve used the opt out two years running and still get them).

    The phone book is an anachronism, plain and simple. It’s not an ecological catastrophe, but it is waste. An iPhone (or all the stuff we use) certainly has its footprint too and it’s not trivial, so if “eco” is your bag, there is certainly lots to complain about there too, fair enough point.

    • @Tyrell: “Anachronism”? From whose viewpoint? If they are such an anachronism then how could call volumes from print only tracked ads be up nearly 10% from the prior year? I think your perception is different than reality.

  5. If yellow pages opt-out actually worked, I’d have less venom for these clowns. I’ve opten out two years running and yellow pages still arrive at my door. Very annoying. Though, I have to admit, last year they came in handy to prop up a broken desk I have.

    • Well then when a pipe breaks or another emergency occurs you’ll have a great information source available to you then. Did you at least take the coupons out first??

  6. The venom being spewed here about “eco nuts” and “extremists” shows how totally out of touch the peddlers of these useless books are.

    There should be an opt-in system, not an opt-out system. The way it is now, not only does YP waste loads of paper and annoy people but they’re also being utterly dishonest with their advertisers.

    • @Steve22:
      “Venom”? Seriously? If you look thru the comments you will note I did choose to publish one of the many comments received which just simply said “f*** you”. I don’t recall any of the commentary about industry issues posted here reaching that level of discourse. You don’t find it “extreme” that the city of Seattle would complain about the level of phonebooks recycled, but then go waste 4 tons on direct mail pieces, none of which was recycled, to tell people how to opt-out of the books? Where was your concern about that effort?

      But let’s keep it civil anyway. “Useless books”? Really? Based on what? If these books are so useless, then:
      1) why have call counts to ads in those books gone up over 10% last year?
      2) why has every opt-out effort resulted in less than 10% of population saying they didn’t want a book?
      3) why do most advertisers not really follow closely how many books were distributed because at the end of the day , it’s how many leads it brings to them that matters most. That’s why 80+% of advertisers are renewing or increasing their ads each year.

      No, Steve22, I think the commentary shows exactly how a very small minority is tyring to highjack a discussion about free business commerce. Sorry, can’t let that happen.

  7. I would MUCH rather recieve a phone directory than all the junk mail. Not to mention, those living in rural areas still NEED the phone directory either because they do not have access to the internet, or have a poor internet connection. My bet is most of the complaints are from people living in or near larger cities and take haveing internet for granted. Power goes out – where’s your internet then?

    • They are useless:
      1) Can’t explain why “call counts” would go up… how in the world would you track that anyway?
      2) Because people are lazy. Opt-in would be better for everyone. You could raise your ad rates 10x on 1/10th the books and save big money on printing costs.
      3) Also, they’re lazy and clearly don’t yet understand technology. I have 2 small businesses. A website is free. Listings in Yelp are free. It never even crossed my mind to advertise in the yellow pages, never would.

      There is still gas in the tank, but it’s running out. Plenty of people and businesses who don’t get it. You can run on that for a while, but the days of phone books are numbered, regardless of what “eco nuts” do.

      And yes, Seattle was dumb to send loads of flyers out, but that’s bureaucracy for you.

      • 1) many ads have unique call tracking phone numbers which only appear in that ad, not on their business cards, flyers, or website. As calls come in a computer tracks them. Reports are then provided to the advertisers to show them exactly how much business is being brought to their door by that print ad.

        2) I’m not sure i disagree about the lazy part, but it still comes back to your view that opt-out is “better for everyone”. Not sure how you come up with that result.

        3) I’m not sure how many small businesses you have talked to, but my observation from being on many sales calls is that these business owners are busy running their businesses. And their clients are not necessarily people who will look on a website or want to be clicking around Yelp for some partial answers. If you’re not in the print phonebook, that’s your loss, and I’m sure your competitors thank you for making that decision.

        I’m glad you acknowledged that there still is “gas in the tank”, but 5 years ago the much heralded Bill Gates said phonebooks would be done in 5 years. Well, here we are 5 years lateer and they are still delivering storng ROI to advertisers. I think if you talk with most advertisers they are worried about what their business will look like in the next 6 months, not what may/may not happen in 5 years.

        Peace be with you.

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