Calculating the Carbon Footprint of Electronic Media

medium_Laurel.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Does this sound like an impossible task? Of course it does, but it has to be done if the media industry wants to be able to benchmark and monitor its carbon footprint. We have managed to develop an ISO standard for calculating the carbon footprint of print media (ISO 16759), so now all eyes are on electronic media.

The idea has been knocking around for a while within Working Group 11 (WG11) of TC130, the ISO technical committee responsible for graphics technology standards. Most of the TC130 work relates to print but some of it, for instance in PDF standards, also relates to electronic communications. The problem is that understanding electronic media’s carbon footprint depends on a different knowledge base that than of print media. It requires understanding of all the stuff related to content that happens in prepress, from content creation to colour management. But it also requires an understanding of networks, servers, archiving, data distribution and of course the devices used to view electronic media.

Quantifying the carbon footprint of all of this is hard, however it can be done if enough brainpower is thrown at the problem. A document is already under development based on the same methodology as ISO 16759. It specifies a consistent method that should provide defensible, trustworthy and above all accurate data. This document is now in the hands of a Joint Working Group (JWG) set up between ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission’s committee responsible for audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment. The IEC is already working on a quantification methodology for calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of electrical and electronic products and systems. The new JWG combines the expertise of WG11 and IEC members to develop a robust standard for calculating the carbon footprint of electronic media.

It won’t be easy because the document must specify how organisations and end users should define the parameters for calculating the carbon footprint of electronic media. The document will be published as an ISO standard, and will provide specifications for how to calculate the carbon footprint. This includes information about the carbon footprint of the viewing hardware and of the data load associated with a given electronic media product and its use. The creation, publication, distribution, storage, archiving and use of electronic media on any digital device are all to be included. This work is expected to depend on expertise sourced from the electronics and graphic arts industries and to take two years to complete. The timeline is subject to the availability of required expertise for developing the document. Experts specialised in data, server, network and content management, and publishing, are requested to express their interest to participate in this work. Experts are required to attend two one day international meetings per year, plus additional meetings with local experts.

– Laurel Brunner

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