12 August 2010

Is feel-good environmentalism bad for the environment?

An interesting exchange from a few months back between some colleagues and me on Yammer; identifying information removed (other than mine!). My comments are :
Colleague 1 (C1): ...when you do move, get new business cards. as part of...sustainability, have you thought about using only digital business cards?

Me in reply to C1: Is this really a realistic suggestion? "No I don't have a business card, but I sure do have a digital one!"

Colleague 2 (C2) in reply to C1: You mean just give out a URL?

C1 in reply to C2: no, provide your current...office number and when you do move, get new cards when you get to another location. Or option 2 is provide only digital cards, I give out my information via email. it takes some planning to have my blackberry ready but saves on the environment. I just wish more people used a standard "beaming" technology for digital business cards.

Me in reply to C1: What exactly is environmentally friendly about making more Blackberries?

C2 in reply to C1: So when somebody Hands you a business card, you send them your info via email on the spot?

C1 in reply to Me: lol, not making more blackberries but using them to send digital cards

Me in reply to C1: I think you're missing the point; your method still requires Blackberries to be made and manufactured. I suspect the environmental impact of producing even just one Blackberry is more than a box of business cards.

C1 in reply to C2: not on the spot but when i get a chance later on
That was the end of the thread; he replied to C2 but not to me. In all honesty I couldn't find anything reliable on the environmental impact or so-called "carbon footprint" to make/manufacture/use a Blackberry or similar device; but we are told of the toxic metals associated with such electronic devices, and likewise the cautions associated with disposing them, so I feel safe making the claim I did. Again, my suggestion was partly tongue in cheek, but also half serious because he is thinking "business card vs. no business card" when I want him to think "Blackberry vs. business card".

In this case, is his feel-good environmentalism actually bad for the environment? His argument assumes that the Blackberry already exists so he's not even considering its impact on the environment; my argument is that if more people decide to use Blackberries (and more Blackberries are made for those users), then that environmental impact is probably greater than those people deciding to forgo the use of paper business cards. I know it's not cut and dry as that, but I think you can understand my point.
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