Do wikis save trees?

Do wikis save trees, and do we even want to save trees? Global warming, carbon-trading, green politics — where do wikis fit in, and are they even relevant?

I’ve worked in an office environment for quite a few years. Recently, I’ve started using a wiki to write, review, update and read documents and to share ideas. My desk is definitely more paper-free than ever before, largely due to the use of the wiki.

So my gut-feeling is to say, ‘Hey, wikis save trees!’ Being a tree-hugger and a wiki-hugger both, this feels like a good place to be.

But take a look at this article by Chris Anderson, which seems to prove that my good place is an illusion. Printed documents have a lower carbon footprint than online documents! So even if wikis save trees (which is debatable in itself) perhaps we don’t want to save trees. The paper industry puts them back in the ground, whereas a wiki doesn’t.

Chris Anderson’s article has a very long, heated and interesting comment trail. After reading it, I’d like to take a slightly different tack. He is concentrating on articles which are written once, and then read by many people. Websites are viewer-intensive.

How is a wiki different to a web page?

Many wikis are used for short-term collaboration rather than, or as well as, longer-term information storage. You might put an idea up on a wiki. A number of people would then review it, add their comments, and update the page. At the end of the process, an idea has been formed and is out there in the noosphere. People probably won’t go back to the wiki often to look at that particular idea. You could say the wiki is scribble-intensive.
The key thing is: In the review and refinement process, if we use a wiki then we aren’t passing around and scribbling on pieces of paper. We aren’t even exchanging long and confusing email chains which eventually force you to print them out just to keep track of who said what in reply to whom. Nor are we using Word documents, where the change-tracking is just as confusing :mrgreen: Nor even any backs of envelopes or matchboxes.

Instead, the wiki page distills and merges all updates so that it shows the latest aggregation at any one time. And if you need to, you can go back and examine the change history to see who did what.

We’re online anyway. Given that the bad effects of the technology exist whether you use a wiki or some other form of website or computer technology, perhaps wikis are a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

Does anyone have any figures which go to prove this question either way? Maybe someone in the publishing industry has some experience of using a wiki for pre-publication drafting and review. Or perhaps there are some other industry-specific stories out there. Do you have anecdotal evidence, or even some documented statistics?

Ozzie tree shedding its bark

Here’s a tree in our garden. In early summer (that’s December on this side of the world, when I took this picture) the tree chucks all its bark on the ground. The new ‘skin’ underneath is a lovely mixture of salmon pinks, oranges and greys.

The story goes that early visitors to Australia were amazed by trees like this, because they shed their bark in summer rather than their leaves in winter.

Do wikis save trees?

Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata) aka smooth-barked apple.


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 12 January 2008, in environment, trees, wiki and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I agree and i believe that using a wiki or other form of computer technology in this direction will help save trees.But it will be hard to change some things and also the paper industry will fight against this idea cuz will lose money this way.Though nice article!

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