This week I attended a talk by an environmental consultant on the carbon footprint of publishing. The talk was mostly on the ways in which industry in general is trying to become more green and environmentally conscious, but there was a section on traditional print vs. eReaders which I found quite interesting and thought you would like to share.
The talk said that producing the production and lifetime energy use of an iPad 2 produces 105kg CO2 equivalent gases (no idea of the figures they used for hours spent reading). The kindle has a worse environmental profile even if you assume that it has a similar footprint (though the talk said it was slightly higher than an iPad) because it is not multifunctional in the same way as an iPad. When pressed the man giving the talk told me that the lifetime of an e reader is considered to be three years.
So where does this leave me, a diehard paper book fan? Well, the production of 100 paperback books is marginally higher at approximately 200 kg of CO2e (this figure is far from precise as paper books vary in size, production methods etc.) but the talk used the average 2 kg for the production of an individual paperback and I will go with this. So you can see that gram for carbon footprint gram the e reader appears to be the greener option.
But… and this pondering in no way represents the views of the company I work for or the man who failed to give me an adequate answers to these question… does this take reading and buying habits into account? And does it look at the bigger green picture?
Of course CO2 is a helpful indicator of environmental impact, but shouldn’t ecological factors like the impact of materials used be taken into consideration? Surely wood grown in properly managed forests (a renewable resource, creating paper a recyclable one) is preferable to the plastics (crude oil) and metal (mining, strip mining etc) involved in an e reader. Can you recycle an eReader?
On to the reading habits. Ideally publishers would like everyone who reads a book to buy a copy of that book, but when it comes to fiction, how many people actually do that? Books are transferable products which can be passed around the family or friendship group or bought second-hand (second-hand being a key word in green). eBooks have DRM encryption to prevent people transferring them, not making them single use, but effectively restricting their ownership to one individual.
“Not an individual!” The adverts cry, “eReaders can be shared among the family!” A beautiful vision, but I think everyone knows how possessive children and teenagers can be. They will all want their own e reader and fair enough really, if you can’t read at the same time.
I’d also like the general populace surveyed so that we got a more accurate impression of the nation’s reading habits. I know that a lot of my friends bought a kindle because it was the latest gadget (not multifunctional, the i pad less of an issue) and I know that they don’t read more that the 17.5 books per year that you would need to buy to make the i pad the greener choice- let alone the higher numbers required for the kindle.
I am aware that I am hopelessly biased. But it does irritate me that people are lead to think of the e reader as a greener choice without thinking of the wider issues.
The shamelessly biased bottom line is that for me it’s about the lifetime and history of the book. I have books that I read in my first year at university (seven years ago), during my GCSEs (ten or more) and during my childhood. I have books that are older than my father (53 years) and a treasured copy of Wuthering Heights from 1897 (114 years old). They are beautiful works of art and pieces of history that I will treasure and hand on to people who will one day love them as much as I do. And for me no gadget has that staying power. An eReader will be in landfill (not rotting) while those books are still read and enjoyed.