Printing News
E-readers or print books-Which is greener?

Dilemma: When it comes to reading, what's kinder to the environment - an e-reader or books?

Of course I'll: Stick with traditional books. Yes, they use paper and ink, but at least I don't need to plug them in.

Trade-off: There are carbon emissions in the production of books too, not to mention the loss of carbon-gobbling trees felled for paper.

Then I'll: Use the e-reader; as much as I read, it's bound to be a better choice over the long run.

Trade-off: At the rate technology evolves, the e-reader I buy today will probably be obsolete within a few years.

Experts say: The heart of this dilemma is how to compare the ecological impact of printing books with that using an e-reader, and figure out based on your own reading habits which is a greener option. But doing so isn't always easy.

"There's still not a wide consensus on how to measure the carbon impact related to paper," says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. As a general indication, a March 2008 report by the Book Industry Study Group found that the U.S. publishing industry uses more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year, and a 2006 figure estimated carbon emissions at 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide per book.

On the other side of the equation, few e-reader manufacturers disclose the environmental impact of manufacturing and running their devices. Raz Godelnik, co-founder of Eco-Libris (, which promotes the adoption of green practices in the book industry, says, "Apple is the only company being transparent about their devices (the iPad and iPad2)."

From Eco-Libris' analysis of the iPad2, the break-even point at which the device has a lower carbon impact than an equivalent production of print books is 14. A widely cited study by research firm Cleantech Group found that the carbon emitted in the life cycle of an Amazon Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use, as long as the owner downloads more than 22 books in a year, and additional years of use result in net carbon savings equivalent to an average of 168 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Verdict: While pinpointing the exact number of books one must read to rationalize the switch to an e-reader is tricky, it's safe to say that someone who reads fewer than 10 books each year is better off with physical books, printed on paper with recycled content, if possible.

But if you are an avid reader, says Hoover, "consider purchasing a device that will let you do other things, like Web surfing or e-mailing, to bring down your overall carbon footprint."

And of course, because it represents one of the most proven models of "reuse" around, the greenest option of all is still your local public library.


? 1999-2015 All rights reserved.