How Green are E-Books and E-Book Readers?

By Alanna Brown, a LuxEco Living Advocate, creator of Brown House Online, and author of Moonpennies

Green-E-Readers. Photo credit E-Readers

Green-E-Readers. Photo credit E-Readers

 

We all love the feel of a new paperback or hardcover book in our hands, fresh off the press. The crisp feel of the pages, the smell of the ink. Many avid readers find it a shame that the future of books is electronic. I can empathize, even having just published my first e-novel. I, too, love a shelf of books lining the wall as little trophies to highlight my reading accomplishments and adventures. I will lament the day when brick and mortar bookstores no longer exist and even Barnes & Noble stands only as a web property.

But we must take heart and accept that e-books are becoming increasingly popular with every passing year. They are changing the way of print and publishing, and resetting the stage for writers like me. My recent e-book success ushered me back to familiar non-fiction musings of the green persuasion–to the question, is the e-way the green way?

The world has gone digital for many reasons. Convenience. Efficiency. Shareability. Conservation (of documents, photos, and videos). But what about the conservation of energy? We know e-books unquestionably save paper and therefore trees. But what about the massive global consumption of electricity, which is encouraged by e-reading devices? Is the tree-to-kilowatt exchange ratio better for our planet in the long run?

Delving deeper into these inquiries, I came across an eco-inspired site that specializes in planting trees for books. An article on the Eco-Libris website provides some interesting facts and figures comparing the consumption of e-books to paper. From the numbers provided, we can glean some insight into this rapidly evolving platform. For example, electronic book sales increased by $60 million from 2011 to 2012. And during the first quarter of 2012, adult e-books beat out their paper counterparts by approximately $50 million. In 2011, only 15% of all books sold were e-books. At the rate e-book sales are increasing, this percentage will increase to 75% by 2025.

Furthermore, it seems the iPad is reducing its carbon footprint. From the first model to the second model released, Apple’s device reduced its carbon emissions by 25 kg. iPad 2 emits 105 kg of CO2 in manufacture. iPad Mini even less, at 74 kg. (Unfortunately, iPad 4 is back up to 131 kg.)

As for powering the device, an article at Shrink That Footprint tells us that the Mini only uses 16 kg per 10,000 hours of use. iPad 4 uses 32 kg for this same duration. A handy infographic breaks it down for us, with the Kindle included. It shows us that the manufacture of a paper book produces 7.5 kg of CO2, followed by the numbers for iPad and Kindle (168 kg). Thus, downloading approximately 20 books to your e-reading device balances out the carbon footprint. Add a few more books to that number to account for the hours you’re using the device.

In sum, avid readers actually help planet Earth by using their iPads or Kindles rather than buying paper books. So after convenience, efficiency, shareability, and conservation, you can now add eco-friendly to the list of digital advantages. While we will dearly miss the wisp of a turning page, it is safe to say that e-books and e-book readers are the green way after all.

Moon pennies photo credit Alanna Brown

Moon pennies photo credit Alanna Brown

 

Alanna’s novel. One of

many emitting less CO2

than a print book.

 

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