Is iTunes Inadvertently Saving the Environment?

iTunes Globe

A few posts ago I mentioned our PDF invoice system for Detailed Image, one of the main benefits of which is that it brings us a step closer to being a paperless company. Every PDF I’ve opened since we began working on that has reminded me that I’m saving paper by reading it on my screen.This afternoon I had the same thought while “flipping” through a digital booklet that came with an album I recently purchased on iTunes. At first I thought “isn’t it nice that I’m saving a little paper by viewing this on my computer”. Then I thought “I buy like 5 albums a month…I’m saving quite a bit of paper”. Which of course led me to think “oh crap, how much waste is being saved each time a CD is downloaded instead of purchased?”

Let’s break this down. Each time you download a CD on iTunes (and back it up electronically as opposed to printing the album cover and burning the CD) you save:

  • Paper and ink from the album cover and backing.
  • Plastic for the album case.
  • A CD and the ink used to print on the face.
  • Shrink wrap to seal the album.
  • Gas and other costs associated in transporting the CD…more than once (from manufacturer to distributor to consumer).
  • Electricity and other resources consumed in manufacturing and assembly.

Like most people, I love iTunes for the convenience. Turns out it might be having a larger impact than we realize.

5 comments on Is iTunes Inadvertently Saving the Environment?

  1. Anthony says:

    Then again, it’s encouraging the proliferation of computer use – and I think keeping the computer on longer because you’re organizing your music, listening to it, etc, is much worse for the environment, over the long-term, than the production and shipping of 1 physical album. One thing that bothers me a little about Americans’ mindsets is that many think that anything that takes an obvious physical waste (ie, gasoline or, in this case, paper) and transfers it to power grid waste (in this case, electric cars or computers) automatically makes it more environmentally friendly. The problem is, grid power needs to come from somewhere, and more often than not, the sources are either horrible for the environment or unsafe for people.

    And environmentally friendly or not, I’d never buy from iTunes. Best Buy sells physical albums for the same price when they first come out. And by buying a physical album, you not only own all the original artwork and media, but you can also transfer it to your computer and get the same benefits out of it. And on top of that, you won’t be tied down to iTunes, since their format is proprietary. At least when I buy a CD, I know that if the game changes in 2 years and Microsoft/SanDisk/whoever has a better music manager/player, I can easily move all of my music over. I feel like buying from iTunes is very short-sighted (kind of like buying 8-tracks or Sony Betamax tapes, just because you need to have the most convenient format at the time without thinking more long-term).

  2. Great article, Adam! I never thought of itunes that way and what you say makes sense. We’re definitely saving plenty of paper (trees) and gas from itune.

    Anthony, that was one of the most bleak and pessimistic responses to such a positive posting. The purpose of the article was to bring light to alternative ways to help our environment, not aggressively promote itunes. I think that you’re totally missing the point and also venturing way outside of the scope of the posting with your diatribe on purchasing CDs rather than on itunes.

  3. Anthony says:


    Yes, the second paragraph was outside the scope, but so what? It’s just an opinion about iTunes in general, which the blog post was centered around.

    I think the point of a blog & related comments is to be able to express an opinion. And I don’t think that Adam had any intention of beginning to change the world with his post – he, just like I, was expressing a passing thought, not creating a movement. And if you read back in Adam’s archives, you’d see many more times than not where I provide positive support and feedback.

    What it comes down to is this – I’m not trying to be pessimistic; but I am being realistic. Yes, iTunes saves plenty of paper and gas. It also promotes extra power usage, which in turn, causes a greater reliance on gas/coal/nuclear power. And my point was that many American consumers seem to overlook the fact that grid power is as much of a problem as gasoline, paper, etc, simply because it’s not as visible and obvious.

    How many times do you see “green” promotions encouraging you to switch out light bulbs with ones which require less power? Why do you think that is? Because grid power still originates from non-renewable (or extremely dangerous) energy sources. And what you’re essentially doing by buying an album on iTunes is adding another light bulb into your home.

    And all of that is not even factoring the iPod, which goes hand-in-hand with iTunes. Do you know how many lithium batteries are sitting in landfills throughout the world and leaking into our environment thanks to the iPod?

    If this is pessimistic, then I’m sorry, but I’d rather look at angles of a subject. I’m not going to use or agree with iTunes as a tool for environmental friendliness just because it’s a good concept in theory.

  4. Adam McFarland says:

    Wow guys, love the discussion. I was just throwing it out there – obviously there is the counter-argument that increased use of energy could offset the savings…or even be worse.

    As far as iTunes, I personally love it. I dld my albums in a few seconds, and if I want to I can print out the artwork and burn a CD. And you get around DRM if you rip the CD, so if the format changes years from now I’m fine…but that’s just me. Plus I love all of the original video on iTunes, particularly old sporting events I couldn’t get anywhere else.

  5. […] paying for my music (you know, since it’s legally and morally the right thing to do), so I fell in love with iTunes and to date haven’t looked back.  Amazon’s affordable DRM free store is a great start, […]

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