Environmental impacts from digital solutions as an alternative to conventional paper-based solutions

Posted by Benjamin Canaguier
File: 
Type: 
Full LCA not available on the web
Comparative: 
yes
Publication year: 
2009
Language: 
English
Code: 
Electronics/TIC
Code: 
Services
Product: 
E-books
Quality and sources
Is the study a: 
Detailed LCA
Is the study compliant with ISO 14044?: 
Yes
Sponsor name(s): 
e-Boks
Sponsor type: 
Company
Practitioner(s): 
FORCE Technology
Practitioner(s) type: 
Consultant
Summary
Functional unit: 
98.5 million documents distributed
Goal and scope of the summary: 
This study examines the environmental consequences of changing from conventional distribution of automatically generated documents by ordinary mail to electronic distribution using the e-Boks system. If not distributed by e-Boks, the documents would have been produced in paper format (average 1.8 pages plus an envelope) and distributed as an integral part of the postal services provided by Post Danmark. For the e-Boks system, the most important assumptions are that the users of e-Boks do not purchase a computer for this specific task alone and therefore environmental impacts from computer production have not been included. It is also assumed that it takes 3.25 minutes of computer use to view each document, and finally it is assumed that 15% of the documents are printed by the users.

With the results from the baseline scenario and the sensitivity analysis it is concluded that changing from conventional distribution to the e-Boks system has positive consequences for the environment.
Benefits are observed for all environmental impacts examined, both at the global level (reduced contribution to climate change), the regional level (contribution to e.g. acidification and nutrification) and with respect to total consumption of energy. It is remarked in this context that potential local impacts on human health or ecosystems have not been addressed to any significant extent.
The benefits (reduction in environmental impacts) are significant, corresponding in the best case (global warming) to the yearly impacts caused by 190 average Danish citizens and at least to the impacts caused by 52 average citizens (smog formation). It is, however, also evident that the use of e-Boks is only a small step towards reaching a political goal of a 20% decrease in emission of climate gases by 2020. This decrease corresponds in crude terms to the emission from one million Danish citizens.
The results are judged to be very robust. A series of sensitivity analysis has been applied in order to investigate worst case with respect to selected elements. Even when worst-case assumptions are applied to these elements there are still benefits from changing to the e- Boks system. The e-Boks system as it is outlined in the system description is thus inherently associated with smaller environmental impacts than the conventional system.



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