Lack of a Print Stylesheet Damages the Earth

Well, as Adobe Muse has slowly improved (and made it harder to for Graphic Designers to make print-like, high-carbon-footprint web designs), the new enemy on the block to web sustainability becomes lousy CSS strategy.

In particular, websites, especially blogging sites, that don’t support a proper print stylesheet damage the Earth.

Case in point. I was looking for interesting recipes and went to

The recipe looked like a great alternative to the heavy egg + cheese version, so I tried to print it. The result, 25 paged boiled out of the printer. I had several dozen comments before the actual recipe appeared.

Now, this site is much better than most, since there is a ‘printer-friendly’ way to print the recipe. If you select the print icon in the box with the recipe, you get a compact printout.

However…that icon is not very obvious. If you do what many distracted Web users will do, and just select ‘print’ then you get waste.

Bad Printing From the Web is a Universal Experience

Admit it, you’ve had this experience with websites that don’t property supported printed versions. Consider that printing is mostly local, on personal printers which work in full color. Modern printers use special paper and lots of ‘ink’ for their printing in full color – consider how often you go to the store for new cartridges. This adds up to a high carbon footprint per printed page (note: would love to find a calculation for this).

So, imagine you start a print job on your website of a single page of instructions, and leave for a few minutes to grab some coffee. You come back and you have 50 pages, and your ink is zapped. You’ve wasted paper and ink to a far greater extent, and any savings in the web page’s carbon footprint have been blown away by the embodied energy of wasted print.

What Badly Printing Websites are Bad for Web Sustainability

Over the years, some groups have pooh-poohed the idea that we have to worry about web design sustainability, in particular because of the small amount of electricity used to deliver and render a web page.  It’s true that the Internet, at present, is probably taking only about 5% of the world’s energy to run, and bigger gains are available in physical (e.g. Industrial) design. However, the rise of mobile means that mobile carbon footprints will contribute much more in the future.

…However, printing from websites is a clear and present danger.

The Usual Suspects Aren’t Helping

Now, dang it, but you think that Graphic Designers without web training (or Interaction Design, User Experience, etc.) would at least be finicky about the print versions of their site, but nope. Printing anything from recipes to health tips, when factoring in the externality of unecessary printing, results in a ‘true’ carbon footprint much higher than the web page itself.

Here are some examples. Full disclosure:I’m NOT a vegan or vegetarian; but recipes like the ones in the links below are EXACTLY the ones people will tend to search for in online sources, since they aren’t in traditional cookbooks:

Hmmmm….as usual, Treehugger isn’t exactly hugging trees, but enabling people to think they’re green when in fact they are killing them enabling the printing dozens of useless pages on their printers. The site is full of pages that encourage paper waste, like this one…

But Treehugger has lots of company, big, and small.

As usual, those who are “greenie” in attitude end up with worse carbon footprints than average. This is no surprise to anyone who prints from the web.

Support in CMS and Boilerplates?

WordPress, used by almost 20% of all websites on the Earth, doesn’t have special print stylesheet support, though some individual themes do. Since WordPress scores so high on other features (like text-reader accessibility) this is really unfortunate. Time to make a suggestion for new features in WordPress Trac?

Bad Web Printing is Also a Ux Issue

The problems here aren’t just with print stylesheets. Even if a print stylesheet has been implemented, people have to use it. In the site example above, the icon was available, but you have to hunt for it a bit. Why?

  • One reason is inadequate testing of the “Customer Journey” of printing.
  • A second, less wholesome reason might be that web advertisers hope you print the whole page so you see the ads in print

In either case, any Ux analysis of a website should include the process of printing information to meet its customer-friendly goals.

What to Do

Implement window.print() javascript on the page, with an obvious print icon

Design print-specific stylesheets that remove extra advertising and images. It isn’t hard…


How can we test sites? One possibility is scanning pages for printer-specific CSS styles with a web crawler like EcoGrader.



  1. Great feature suggestion for Ecograder, Pete. We currently don’t test for that but it seems an obvious inclusion. Adding it to the list for version 3.0. Great post!

    1. Another thing that would be nice – access logs always set up to show how many times a page was printed. Could be done with some JS in google analytics on a case by case basis, but a more general solution would be nice.

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