Scales of Sustainability: Spatial and Temporal Definitions of Sustainability in a Case Study of Media Consumption

Our project set out to compare the environmental footprint of digital and paper media. Through investigating the relative footprints of each, we discovered that what is “better” is a reflection of the definition of sustainability used. We conducted three case studies that viewed sustainability as a by-product of self-interest and context. The supply chain of a major monthly magazine was investigated, revealing corporate perceptions of sustainability. A survey of consumers in Canada and the United States detailed the environmental concerns of the general population, as well as their media consumption habits. We examined academic research that used the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology to compare digital and paper media. Our key finding was that the LCA is weakened by complex comparisons, particularly comparisons that include digital products. Each of these case studies demonstrated that the private sector, consumers, and academia function with different spatial and temporal understandings of sustainability. The final chapter will develop a theory of sustainability that embraces varying definitions, while offering a framework for holistic thinking about the environmental impact of industrial systems. This work has been funded in part by: an NSERC PGS grant, the Value Chain Optimization Network, the B.C. Market Outreach Network, the Forest Products Association of Canada, and the American Forest & Paper Association.

Justin Bull  →