Paper Books, eBooks, and the Environment II

Longtime reader and commentator, Phil, did some research and sent over some links about whether eBooks and eReaders are greener than paper books. Please feel free to post corroborating and opposing stats and links in the comment section below. It appears there's still a lot of debate on this issue. The one interesting theme I found when reading through these pages is that the greenest options seems to be having  a paper book read by as many people as possible. To be honest, I don't care which one is more environmentally friendly. Like it or not eBooks and eReaders are the way of the future. It seems pointless to get worked up over which one is greener since there's not much anyone can do to stop the digital tide.

Here's some of the links that Phil sent over:

Are e-books more environmentally friendly?

Almost two-thirds of the publishing industry’s carbon emissions are from deforestation of natural forests, according to US stats. But it’s not that simple, says Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris (a company committed to sustainable reading). The materials (such as plastic, copper and lead) from which e-readers and other reading devices (like tablets) are made are not necessarily a greener alternative – and energy consumption in manufacturing is still significant.

Toxic waste is ‘notorious in consumer electronics’, says Godelnik, and there are few recycling options (or a lack of awareness where these do exist). However, several reports suggest an LCD e-reader can offset around 40 books: if you replace five books a year, it’s going to take around eight years before you’ve offset your carbon footprint.

Source: The Fairlady Test House.


Are e-books greener than paper books?

Environmentally concerned customers may continue reading paper books. A report by the Centre for Sustainable Communications shows that there are no good reasons to claim that e-books have a better eco performance. Only if you read more than 33 e-books during the lifetime of an electronic reading device it becomes beneficial from a climate point of view.

There is a common assumption that e-books are limiting the burden on the environment. But our results indicate that there is no substantial difference between an e-book read on a reading device and a paper book. The reading device has to be used quite frequently. With the assumptions made in our study you have to read more than 33 e-books containing 360 pages on a newly purchased reading device for it to become superior from a climate perspective” says Åsa Moberg.

Source: The Centre for Sustainable Communications


Paper Vs. Electronic - The Green Reading Debate

After comparing energy and resource expenses along with transportation costs, neither seems to have the advantage. The deciding factor, then, often lies on the consumer end: personal usage. Popular opinion says that if you read a substantial amount, go ahead and buy an e-reader. The idea is that an e-reader becomes the greener choice when an owner will read a large amount of books on it – anywhere from 23 to 40, depending on the source. After a certain number of book downloads , e-readers add up to a larger ratio of books-to-environmental-footprint, and new books lose out because of their consistent production requirements. This advantage only stands to improve as e-readers become multifunctional, allowing owners to read newspapers, books, magazines, and other documents, providing positive environmental impacts across several uses.

While the e-reader provides a narrow margin of ecological benefit over new books, all participants in this argument agree on one thing: the greenest choice is a reused book. Borrowing books from a library or friends helps offset past emissions and avoids future resource use.

Source: JustMeans


Will Ebooks Jeopardize the Carbon Reduction Goals of the Book Industry?

In April 2009 the Book Industry Environmental Council(disclosure: Eco-Libris is a member of BIEC) announced a goal of reducing the U.S. book industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 (from a 2006 baseline), with the intent of achieving an 80% reduction by 2050. When the announcement was made, ebooks had less than 5% market share and weren’t considered to have a significant impact on the industry’s carbon footprint. In 2020 the picture will loom very different – some predict that ebooks will represent then as much as 50% of the market (some estimates go even higher), which means that every second book sold in 2020 will be an electronic one.

This forecast represents not just a dramatic change in the book industry, but also in its carbon footprint. The carbon footprint of the industry that BIEC’s announcement referred to was 12.4 million metric tons (carbon equivalent), or 4.01 kg CO2 per book (source: Book Industry Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts Report). The largest contributor to this footprint, according to this report, is the logging and manufacturing of paper, which constitute 87.3% of total carbon emissions.

If you eliminate the paper, one must assume, the book industry should have no trouble meeting its 2020 goal. Well, not so fast. E-reading is indeed paperless, but it doesn’t mean it is has no carbon footprint. For example, Apple’s iPad, according to the company, has a carbon footprint of 130 kg (carbon equivalent), which is equal to the footprint of 32.4 paper books.

Trying to determine how e-reading will influence the total footprint of the book industry is not an easy task. First, most device sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble do not provide any information on the footprint of their devices. Second, in the case of tablet computers like the iPad, we’re talking about multifunctional devices where reading books is just one of their functions and often not even the most popular one.

Still, the data available is enough to conduct a preliminary analysis, and thus we created various scenarios, taking into consideration different carbon footprints of e-readers and related variables such as the number of e-books read during the life time of a device.  The results we got were a bit surprising – even if the carbon footprint of all printed books sold by 2020 will be reduced by 20%, the chances the book industry will meet its goal are not very high.

Source: Triple Pundit


Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?
If your goal is to save trees or do something good for the environment, the choice to go paperless may not be as green or simple as some would like you to think.
Digital media doesn't grow on trees, but increased use of digital media is having a profoundly negative impact on our forests and the health of our rivers. Computers, cellular networks and data centers are connected to the destruction of over 600 square miles of forest in the U.S. One of the more significant direct causes of deforestation in the United States is mountaintop-removal coal mining in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.
America's adoption of networked broadband digital media and "cloud-based" alternatives to print are driving record levels of energy consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the electricity consumed by data centers in the United States doubled from 2000 to 2006, reaching more than 60 billion kilowatt hours per year, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 559,608 homes in one year. According to the EPA that number could double again by 2011.
Chances are that the electricity flowing through your digital media devices and their servers is linked to mountaintop-removal coal from the Appalachian Mountains. The Southern Appalachian forest region of the U.S. is responsible for 23% of all coal production in the United States and 57% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal -- including the rapidly growing power consumed by many U.S. data centers, networks and consumer electronic devices.

Source: PBS