Saturday, January 9, 2010

Are ebooks greener than paper books?

To tell you the truth, we don't know yet. Really!

The debate is still going on and we believe the final word haven't been said yet. As we're very interested in the answer, we follow the discussion very closely, looking for articles, researches and other sources of information that address this issue.

If you want to look at the data we collected so far, you're welcome to visit our website at

Here are some examples of the materials you will find there:

New report finds Kindle greener than physical books - is that really so?, Eco-Libris blog, September 5, 2009 - I was hoping this report is the final word on the debate on how green the Kindle is. Unfortunately I am afraid it's not. The two main issues that bothered me mostly in the report are the calculation of the carbon footprint of a single Kindle and the assumption about the number of e-books the average user is reading.

Are E-Readers Greener Than Books?, Green Inc. Blog (, Joe Hutsko,, August 31, 2009 - Green Inc. blog is taking a look at the Cleantech Group's report and is also focusing on one of its weaknesses - the measurement of the Kindle's carbon footprint. They quote for example Casey Harrell, an international campaign coordinator for Greenpeace, which monitors the environmental impact of consumer electronics, who said e-readers remain something of an unknown variable.

Are ebooks really more environmentally friendly?, Brad's Reader, July 13, 2009 - Brad's Reader's conclusion is that ebooks are very much more friendly to our earth than print books. "Are ebooks perfect? No. There are still problems with energy consumption, raw materials used to make the ebook reading devices, properly disposing of old devices and so forth."

Are e-books an environmental choice?, Green Living, Christopher Mims, March 2, 2009 - Christopher Mims is also doing the comparison. His conclusion? "The short answer is almost certainly yes but only if you're comparing e-books to new books".

It's Easy Being Green: How to Be a Greener Reader, Center for American Progress, February 25, 2009 - "With the proliferation of e-book readers and online news, it seems an appropriate time to ask: What’s greenest way to read? In short: we’re not sure, and it depends."

Dear Science, The Stranger, Jonathan Golob, February 3, 2009 - Jonathan Golob is checking if reading The Stranger online actually is any greener than reading the printed-in-Yakima hard copy. His conclusion: "Still, on the whole, online is probably greener. (If 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper were used, print would be greener.)"

Ask Pablo: I've heard reading online uses more energy than printing documents. Can that be true?,, Pablo Päster , September 8, 2008 - Pablo is replying to the following question: My parents are from the typewriter generation and insist on printing every document before they read it. Their argument is that reading it on the computer uses more energy than printing it out and turning the computer off. Is this true?

Would you like that book in paper or plastic?, Environmental Science & Technology, Erika Engelhaupt , May 7, 2008 - E-book readers save paper, but can a piece of plastic really be better for the environment? ES&T reporter Erika Engelhaupt is determined - very determined - to find out.

Screening environmental life cycle assessment of printed, web based and tablet e-paper newspaper, Center for Sustainable Communications at the Royal Institute of Technology, Asa Moberg, Martin Johansson, Goran Finnveden and Alex Jonsson, 2007 - Reading the newspaper 30 minutes a day on e-paper instead of a regular newspaper is environmentally preferable. If you read a Web-based newspaper instead, you can only read for ten minutes to produce the same load on the environment. This has been calculated in a study at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

Printed Scholarly Books and E-book Reading Devices: A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Two Book Options, Center for Sustainable Systems University of Michigan, Greg Kozak , August 24, 2003 - This paper presents the findings of a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of two different book options - electronic and print. It compared the life-cycle burdens and impacts of a college student reading 40 scholarly books and the equivalent amount of digitalized information using dedicated e-book reading device.

We invite you to check out the full list of materials on, and of course if you're aware of an important article or research we somehow missed, please let us know!

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting green reading!


martyn said...

Firstly I must explain from the start that I manage an organisation called Two Sides, which has been set up by all sectors of the UK print and publishing industries to explore the Myths and set out the Facts about the Paper, Print and Publishing industries who actually have a great environmental story to tell. Of course, like in any large industry, there are problems from time to time, but these have been allowed to set the agenda and paper, a natural, recyclable and renewable material has been the victim of some very misinformed press.

The IT sectors is the fastest growing user of energy and there is increasing evidence that electronic communication represents far more energy intensity than is commonly supposed.

To understand the issues it is necessary to understand the facts behind paper.

For a long time now the industry has tolerated misinformation about its environmental record without firm response. European forests, where 94% of our paper is sourced from, have grown by 30% since 1950 and are expanding by 1.5 million football pitches every year. The paper industry is Europe’s largest user of biomass renewable energy and recycling rates for paper are running at record levels. So where’s the story for a wasteful and destructive industry!

Of course tropical forests are under threat but this is largely due to land clearance for agriculture or fuel as indigenous peoples aspire to the affluence of the west. The paper industry has little to do with this and, by adhering to certification schemes, responsible buyers will be able to ensure that they only buy from sustainable sources.

So who perpetuates the myths about the industry? It’s not hard to find well meaning but misinformed culprits. Corporates, particularly the utility companies, often in an effort to reduce costs, unwittingly or cynically perpetuate untruths by stating that e-billing or other forms of e-communication are better for the environment and that, by switching to online documents, we will ‘save forests’ and be more environmentally responsible.

E-readers are another manifestation of electronic communication purporting to deliver unsupported environmental benefits.

With European forests covering 44% of the land area and growing by an area four times the size of London every year, ‘saving forests’ is clearly disingenuous and these myth perpetuators conveniently avoid the fact the electronic alternative, represented by the IT industry, is the fastest growing user of energy and has been predicted, if current rates of growth are maintained, to consume over 50% of the country’s energy requirements in the next ten years. So where’s the evidence that the e-bill, the on-line catalogue or the e-book is more environmentally friendly?

In reality the challenge for Books and Print Media generally may not be so great as may at first be supposed. The environmental arguments can be won and from a marketing and user perspective the effectiveness of Print Media, and pleasure from traditional books can be demonstrated, proved by data, and justify a continuing place in our lives.

Despite all the benefits which e-readers bring, there's nothing like a book and it may still be the environmentally friendly way to read!

The Hermit said...

I suspect there's also a benefit to reading blogs on a kindle, over reading them on a computer... the kindle certainly would use less electricity than a desktop computer, or even a laptop computer.

Speaking of, of course I'll plug my own Kindle-available blog, at , or for those reading on the computer.