Sunday, November 2, 2008

eBooks - A Greener Choice or Not?

Today we're happy to host Angela Wieck, co-founder of EcoBrain (, an independent eBook distributor and the only online retailer of eBooks dedicated to the environment and environmentally friendly living. We partner with EcoBrain, which offers its customers to plant trees with Eco-Libris), and today we have the pleasure to bring you an article of Angela about one of the most interesting issues in the book industry - eBooks vs. paper books: which option is greener?

eBooks - A Greener Choice or Not?

Lately there has been quite a bit of debate about whether eBooks really are greener than paper books or not. This surprised me because I thought it was obvious. However, the more I read, the more I wanted to learn. My conclusion is that yes, eBooks are greener. Read on to find out why.

One big variable is whether or not you use an eBook reader. Some companies that offer eBook readers require that you buy the eBooks from them as the file type is proprietary. So if you buy a Kindle, you must buy the associated eBook for the Kindle from Amazon. From a profit perspective this is understandable. However, as a consumer this smells of monopoly to me. It also raises the question of whether the ebook reader’s production and eventual disposal make ebooks a less green option.

The debate about eBooks being a greener choice gets radically simplified if we take eBook readers out of the equation. Let’s do that. because you don’t need one anyway. As a consumer you can choose to purchase a file type that does not require a dedicated eBook device that may be expensive and one day end up in a landfill. For example, at the majority of our files are PDFs - you can read them on whatever computer you already have. Removing eBook readers from the equation makes this much easier.

I already own a computer. Don’t you? You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. So for someone who already owns a computer, the green choice of buying and eBook over a paper book is clear. Don’t get me wrong - I love paper books and enjoy relaxing with a great novel. However, those I get from the library. For the majority of books to own, eBooks are clear winners.

Think about the following facts from Conservatree:

24 trees are required to produce a ton of printing paper for books

12 trees are harvested for a ton of newsprint

up to 35% of books printed for consumers are never read - they are returned to the publisher to be destroyed

A mature tree can produce enough oxygen in a year for 10 people to inhale in a year. Never mind that forests are a place of majesty where precious ecosystems exist. eBooks are created electronically and no trees are cut down to produce them, no ink is used, no fossil fuel to run the printing presses or to deliver them. eBooks don’t need heated or cooled warehouses to store them. eBooks are delivered to you electronically. They are disposed of by using your delete key. They will never take up landfill.

The pollution put out by the pulp and paper industry is another consideration. With the increasing trend towards overseas printing, many books are now printed in Asia, shipped to a local port, trucked to a distribution center and then shipped to a store or to your home if purchased online. Even if the paper for the book was sourced locally, pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in Canada and the United States, releasing well over 100 million kg (220 million pounds) of toxic pollution each year. While many publishers are making positive strides to produce recycled books, the bottom line is that there is still a huge environmental cost.

Now, to be completely fair, even eBooks used on your existing computer consume some energy. We should assume you run your computer longer in order to read the eBook. I found an excellent analysis of the energy consumed written up by Pablo Päster. It reads:

“My laptop uses about 30 watts (more during start-up). In the time it takes to read a page (8.5 x 11), let's say two minutes, the computer will use 0.001 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity. For a 100-page document this adds up to 0.1 kWh of electricity, costing you less than 2 cents on your electricity bill. The generation of electricity creates about 1,000 pounds of greenhouse gases per MWh (megawatt-hour), or 1 pound per kWh, depending on where your electricity comes from. This means that reading a 100-page document on your laptop causes about one-tenth of a pound of greenhouse gas emissions. Pretty small. But how does that compare to paper?”

He goes on to find that it is much better than paper. For the full details go to:

And with an eye to the future, isn’t it easier to generate renewable electrical power sources than to try to make the paper industry pollution free? Is the latter even possible?

So save trees, reduce pollution and breathe easier. I don’t see a downside. Do you?

The main obstacle left is to win over consumers. Given the clear green choice perhaps more consumers will give eBooks a try. If each of us choose to purchase 4 or 5 eBooks a year versus paper books, the impact would be huge. Americans alone buy 3 billion books a year. Imagine the trees we could save. Choosing an eBook is another conscious choice we make, much like choosing to use a canvas bag when we shop and say no to petroleum based plastic bags. Together, we can make a world of difference.

For those who haven’t tried an eBook, here are some additional considerations that focus on the eBook experience:

Portability - You can own an entire digital library of books on your laptop or computer. No space is taken up on shelves and you can take them all with you!

Convenience - eBooks download instantly. You can read them anytime, anywhere!

Ease of Use - Click to turn pages, find what you are looking for fast by searching, use the built-in dictionary, bookmark pages, and so on. Super easy to use!

Great prices - Most of our eBooks are about 30% below the MSRP.

Now until November 11, 2008 at new customers get a $5 site credit. There are lots of books for under $5, so give EcoBrain and eBooks a try. We also have a freebie (and paper free) available on the home page. So try an eBook for free. See what you think. I bet you’ll find it easier than you thought. Maybe you’ll even choose to buy one over a paper book and help green our world.

By Angela Wieck -
Vancouver, BC, Canada


Unknown said...

Nice blog !

May be also interesting to look at 'total cost of ownership'. Do you know how much toxic pollution emanates from producing a laptop and its components? Transporting it to its future owner? And how currently impossible it is to recycle such components?

A few interesting facts also about the paper & pulp industry can be found here:


Dan Oja said...

The environmental advantages of e-books can be significant, but to become successful, e-books ultimately have to offer more compelling features for the reader--they have to do something that paper books cannot do.

Simply putting a digital page on the screen is not good enough--e-books have to offer some compelling advantages to overcome the inherent disadvantage of being read on-screen.

Think Harry Potter-like books where photos come to life.

MediaTechnics Corporation has been publishing interactive digital textbooks for over a decade, with best-selling titles such as New Perspectives on Computer Concepts (11th Edition), The Practical PC (5th Edition), and Practical Computer Literacy. These titles feature photos that come to life as video, diagrams that turn into animations, interactive labs, Web links, extensive learner feedback, and assessment features.

For more information on these digital textbooks, visit

To try a non-fiction historical title where photos come to life as videos, visit and click the BookOnDownload or BookOnBrowser links.

These are examples of digital books with compelling features that paper or primitive first generation e-books cannot match.

This is what digital publishing is supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis. One of my colleagues wants to do a "what is greener" column in a local magazine. This is a great framework, and topic, for how to cover an issue.

Matt Lillard
Owner Green Savers

Anonymous said...

Wow! your article really helped. it was easy to read and i could find useful information for my school project. Thank you! >:D<

Henry Baum said...

Nice, but "getting ebook readers out of the equation" is absolutely antithetical to the propagation of ebooks. Reading a book on a computer is a pain, so the article should have covered the advantages of readers vs. printed books. The way for ebooks to be popular is to have a delivery system that's convenient and similar to a traditional book. So just saying "read it on a computer" is a bit of a fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Ebooks are the way to go I believe for lots of reasons, including the ecological reason. The only problem at the moment is that they cost too much ! You can get a laptop computer for the same price as an Ebook Reader which is absolutely nuts. The prices absolutely must come down before ebook readers really take off IMHO.