I’ve been under the impression that ebook readers are environmentally friendly. After all, my thinking ran, a printed book has a pretty big carbon footprint, although it turns out actually discovering how big is not as easy to find as it might be.
There is an academic paper called Carbon Footprint Assessment of a Paperback Book from Wiley’s Journal of Industrial Ecology. If I understood the abstract and the conclusion they aren’t sure because there are so many variables from paper, through ink and on to transportation.
One of the more interesting statements there is Put in absolute terms, the number of books — regardless of format — produced and sold across the globe increases each year. ‘Regardless of format’ is key here – after all Amazon had sold something like three million Kindles by the end of last year according to some reports and as near as I can tell there’s no evidence the sale of ebook readers will slow down one whit.
TreeHugger quotes Apple as reporting Usage figures are an important element in the estimation of a book’s environmental impact. According to Apple, an iPad is responsible for 2.5 grams of CO2e per hour of use. A single print book, on the other hand, is responsible for “a net 8.85 pounds.”
But that’s not the whole story apparently.
The conclusion I drew from reading the TreeHugger article and chasing its links is that the problem with ebook readers from the environmental side is their technology coupled with the fact that people tend to replace that sort of tech every two years or so. The same thing is true of our smart phones. TreeHugger links to an excellent and scary article about the real cost of our tech called The Price of the Paperless Revolution.
Of course, as many point out, checking books out from the library may be the most environmentally friendly although I wonder about transportation issues and carbon footprints of libraries, etc. etc. etc.
There’s no easy answer to any of this stuff. It helps a bit when we drive less, use fewer plastic bags, compost and use the library. But I believe that some sort of paradigm shift will have to happen world around if we are to deal effectively with climate change. I don’t pretend to know yet what that shift might be.
Meanwhile ebook readers aren’t going away. Writers will find their work appearing on them and on smart phones too.
Knowing, however, that replacing an ebook reader before I’ve used it three or four years, or a smart phone or my iPad or my desktop is better for the environment than giving into the notion that everything needs upgrading every five minutes, may be a tiny part of the shift that’s needed. It wouldn’t hurt either for us to start asking for tech appliances… heck any appliance to last longer than a couple of years.
Awareness has to be part of the answer I think.
What’s your take on ebook readers and environmental paradigm shifts?
Write well and often,