Friday, December 26, 2008

Amazon is doing well this holiday season. Is it also good news for the environment?

 announced yesterday that the 2008 holiday season finished as its best ever, with record sales of 108 million products from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25. The company did not report holiday sales figures last year.

Many books were purchased on the holiday season (although don't disclose figures), and it got me to think if the fact that Amazon is doing well is good not only for its bottom line but also to the environment, or in other words - is it more eco-friendly to purchase a book online?

Firstly, let's take a look on what the top sellers were on the holiday season - well, according to the press release "top sellers in books included "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling (standard edition, hardcover), "Eclipse" by Stephenie Meyer (The Twilight Saga, book 3, hardcover) and "Breaking Dawn" by Stephenie Meyer (The Twilight Saga, book 4, hardcover)."

One bit of information Amazon did release was that " sold enough "Breaking Dawn" books that stacked end to end they would reach the summit of Mt. Everest eight times." You're welcome to do the math and figure out how many copies were sold..

And back to our question - are online purchases of books as well as other items on greener than driving to a local store and making the purchase there? well, it depends.. yes, it seems it's very difficult to give here an unambiguous answer. But we'll do our best :)

One good source I found on this question is 'Ask Umbra' of Grist. On her column last year "Mall me: on online shopping" she explains that "driving alone to a faraway place to buy very little is worse than having a few things shipped". But what about driving to a nearby local store? well, that's more complicated, especially when you add to the green equation the "local economy factor", which is the support your dollars provide to the local economy and to your community when you buy local. With Amazon it might work out if you live in Seattle but not otherwise.

Umbra's bottom line back then was "The jury is out. Follow your common sense until the jury comes back in. Don't take long, single-occupancy, single-purpose car trips for lightweight consumer items. (I leave you an out for picking up a potter's wheel or an anvil.) Avoid shipping by air -- plan ahead and don't be impatient when online shopping. And bundle shopping, shipping, and driving with others when possible."

This year Umbra was asked again about this issue ('The Click and the Dread', Nov 19, 2008). Umbra mentions a new research prepared the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which basically says that (and this is a quote of the ORNL's environmental scientist Jesse Miller) that "using several assumptions and data from several authoritative sources, we can reasonably estimate that nearly half a billion kilograms of carbon dioxide are kept out of the atmosphere by shopping on-line."

Another source I found is AskPablo of Triple Pundit. On his column "Online Shopping", Pablo is also trying to solve this riddle. He is examining a Digital Europe Project study entitled "The Environmental and Social Impacts of Digital Music," which published in July 2003, as well as some other studies.

His conclustion? "My conclusion is that dematerializing services that were previously delivered through the purchase of a physical good (CD's, books, movies, etc.) is less materials intensive. Additionally, delivery of purchased items in fully loaded semi trailers is much more efficient than driving to a store with an otherwise empty personal vehicle." So Pablo is leaning more towards online purchasing but also for him it's still not a clear cut.

Our conclusion? it looks like in general buying online is making more sense in terms of the purchase's footprint, especially if the alternative is driving by yourself for a relatively faraway store. But buying local is also important and therefore our advice would be to check local bookstores for books, see what they have to offer on their websites, compare prices and then make your decision.

This process might take a little bit longer but it will give you a much better chance to make the decision you will be the best fit for you and what you believe in.

And what about the sales of e-Books this year?? about that we'll talk tomorrow..

Raz @ Eco-Libris