Ebooks Better for Environment than Printed Books

Ebooks Better for Environment than Printed Books

posted by Paul Fiddian | 01.09.2009

A new study states eBooks are better for the environment than paper books, whose carbon footprint exceeds those of all other published materials...

According to a new study, eBooks are better for the environment than traditional paper books.  Focusing on Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader, the study was produced by Cleantech Group and stated that after 12 months of using it, the emissions it creates will have been offset. 

“The new study finds that e-readers could have a major impact on improving the sustainability and environmental impact on the publishing industry, one of the world’s most polluting sectors”, Cleantech asserted in a statement published online, which added: “In 2008, the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined resulted in the harvesting of 125 million trees, not to mention wastewater that was produced or its massive carbon footprint.”

Ebooks: Impact on the Environment

The report wrote that the carbon footprint of traditional printed books (covering manufacture, distribution and disposal) exceeded those of all other published materials.  However, as a percentage of overall sales within the publishing industry, Ebooks for the period January-March 2009 constituted a mere 1.6 per cent, suggesting that a significant shift in how we read text is needed for them to really impact on the environment.

According to the Association of American Publishers, eBook sales had gained 150 per cent on April 30th 2009.  This contrasted with overall book sales, which dropped over four per cent.  Overall, $112 million worth of eBooks were purchased last year – a figure predicted to rise to $400 million in three years time.

Book Emissions

The study carried out by Cleantech looked at comparable four-year scenarios for printed books and eBooks.  Over the four years, it wrote, a total of 144 printed books (based on an average of three books each month) would have generated over 1,000 kilograms of associated CO2 book emissions.  EBooks, by comparison, would have generated approximately 168.  Obviously, then, EBooks still have a carbon footprint, albeit a much reduced one compared to older books.

Greenpeace representative Casey Harrell told the New York Times that the precise impact on the environment of eBook readers like Kindle was not fully understood. “In terms of the Kindle or other similar e-book gadgets, I don’t know what chemicals are in or out”, he said.

“Companies will want to brag about their eco-credentials, so if you don’t see any mention, they’ve probably not been eliminated.”

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