I’ve been following the Financial Reporting Council’s proposed changes to reporting requirements of listed companies. One point that stood out was the proposed removal of the requirement to provide a printed annual report on the basis that this format has been left behind by the online format.
It wasn’t long before I was reading a news article citing the “obvious” environmental benefits of only publishing online. This is something I vehemently challenge. The fact is very few companies have a true grasp of the environmental impacts of their online footprint; it’s a hugely complex issue.
Just think of all the different ways an investor could read a company annual report: on a PC while at work, on a laptop or smartphone on the train home or – for the dedicated investor – on an iPad while relaxing on the beach on holiday. All are different and all have their own considerations. I’m yet to see a compelling set of data to compare these various means of distributing content.
The ICT sector as a whole has done a fantastic job of improving the energy efficiency of equipment. But other factors are significant such as equipment churn, download volumes and how people use digital devices. In many cases this can lead to an absolute increase in energy consumption.
It won’t be long before consumers begin to realise en masse that digital does not mean zero environmental impact. Companies must urgently get to grips with this ticking time-bomb.
At Two Tomorrows, we’re trying to help this process along. After hosting a roundtable for the ICT sector last year, we’re now leading a project that is looking at the environmental impacts of digital communications by media companies. We’ve brought together a number of leading publishers and ICT suppliers to work collaboratively to establish a framework for measuring the impacts of digital content delivery. If you are interested in being involved, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For companies, particularly in the media sector, the rapid growth of digital is clearly not a story of environmental consideration alone; the main driver is changes in the way people are choosing to consume content. This needs to be separated from the environmental debate.