Spreading sustainable Christmas cheer: printed cards or e-cards?

Left it too late to send paper Christmas cards this year? Good news! Our comparative Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) study shows that an e-card has a much lower carbon footprint than a paper card.  

Not ready to give up on paper Christmas cards? We share our tips to keep your carbon footprint down. (We’ve a soft spot for a card-you-can-touch too, and there are good social sustainability reasons to send one.)

Here’s the comparative PCF study we carried out for our client, Ms Candy Kane. She wanted our advice on the most sustainable way to spread some Yuletide cheer. We hope the results will help you too!

View our festive study as a PDF

Case study

Client project: comparative Product Carbon Footprint for paper and electronic Christmas cards

thinkstep-anz service: Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)

Client: Ms Candy Kane

Peer review: Blitzen (reindeer #8)

Date: December 2022


Dear Candy

Thanks for engaging thinkstep-anz to measure the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) of Christmas cards. We’re glad you love Christmas and it’s great that you want to celebrate responsibly. Understanding the carbon footprint of the products you use to celebrate is a good way to do this.

To measure carbon footprints and understand your options you need data. You’ve come to the right place! Our thinkstep-anz team loves data.

We’ve run the numbers to help you celebrate sustainably. As practical folk with a soft spot for Christmas ourselves, we share some tips for sending your Christmas message more sustainably, whichever type of card you choose.

Our executive summary

What we did

Our functional unit: one greeting card (paper and electronic)

Our methodology: product carbon footprint

We’ve looked at every stage of the cards’ lifecycles and compared the two options.



Our data: we sourced our data from existing studies.

The environmental impact we calculated: Global Warming Potential (GWP), a technical term for carbon footprint. GWP is measured in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). It sums the total greenhouse gases (GHGs) that the cards emit into the atmosphere during their life cycles.

Our quality assurer: Blitzen. Since last year’s Christmas study (It’s a reprieve for Santa’s reindeer!), our friends from the North Pole have been busy. Blitzen (reindeer #8) has qualified as a Certified LCA Practitioner. We’re delighted that she’s reviewed this study. 

View our festive study as a PDF

What we found

1. The carbon footprints differ a lot. The paper card has a much bigger carbon footprint than the e-card.

2. The carbon ‘hotspots’ are different. A hotspot is a major source of GHG emissions. With the paper card, transport’s the culprit. For the e-card, it’s the electricity needed to create the card and use it.

3. Location matters for both cards – for different reasons. Sending a paper card? The ‘from and to’ spots on the globe decide the air miles your card will travel.

Pressing the send button on an e-card? How the electricity is generated at both ends is what matters most. Aotearoa New Zealand has a national grid that produces mostly renewable electricity. In Australia, the USA, and the UK, different states or regions generate electricity in different ways, so the amount of renewable electricity varies. Singapore produces only a tiny amount of renewable electricity.


Our recommendations

1. Celebrate Christmas – sustainably!

Far be it from us to play the Christmas Grinch. In fact, many in our thinkstep-anz team can’t wait for Christmas. So if you want to celebrate Christmas with a paper card, go right ahead!

2. Remember that sustainability is about people too

Half of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are about being socially sustainable. They include SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing. Sending and receiving physical seasons’ greetings may be important to you, your family and friends for social reasons. For example, some people love receiving a card they can display. For creative types, making paper Christmas cards is a cherished tradition.

3. Choose the type of card based on the situation

If your card is destined for a letterbox far away on the globe, consider sending an e-card. If it’s travelling a short distance, you don’t have an electronic device to hand, or you can’t use one, a paper card may be the way to go.

4. Follow our tips to reduce your carbon footprint (whichever card you send)

Sending a paper card Sending an e-card
1. Keep the card small and simple. Look for small, light cards. (Sometimes less really is more!) Stick to simple designs. Chose a glitter-free Star of Bethlehem and avoid plastic stick-on Santas.

1. Keep the attachment small. More MB means more data to transfer and store, and more GHG emissions.

2. Buy responsibly. Shop with local producers. You’ll back local jobs and keep supplier-to-store transport down. Check out cards that support charities. Look for FSC®-certified paper. It’s harvested in a socially and environmentally responsible way. 2. Wise up on electricity. Understand your electricity grid. How renewable is it?
3. Avoid air freight. Post early. You’ll save emissions and keep your postage costs down. 3. Buy responsibly. Choose a renewable electricity supplier. For example, if you live in Australia, using solar power can reduce the carbon footprint of your card by 97%.
4. Reduce waste to landfill. Encourage friends and family to recycle your card.  
5. Go circular. Sign your cards with a reusable pen.  

 5. Have a happy, safe and relaxing Christmas

Our thinkstep-anz team looks forward to helping you succeed sustainably in 2023.


Please contact us if you would like to learn more and see our sources.