E-readers vs. books? Which are the better option?

With the recent technological boom of e-reader devices over the last couple of years, we have all heard the question being asked: “Which is the better option? E-readers or books?” We have listened to the pro-book population speak in favor of the sentimental value, the economic feasibility, and, in some cases, the simplicity and carefree nature with which books can be handled.  There is no fear of dropping a book, getting a little sand on it, or even wrinkling a page or two.  E-reader supporters, on the other hand, advocate the convenience of being able to carry around thousands of books in a small device that is virtually weightless. With the internet, almost any e-book becomes accessible within seconds and there is no hassle in having to actually go to the store to buy a book. Consequently, both parties provide good reasons that make the choice of adopting an e-reader over a book a difficult one. However, for those of us who still cannot decide, there is an important difference between both options that makes the decision a simple one: carbon emissions.

With the paper and publishing industry together producing more than 35.2 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year (more than 9% of the carbon emissions for the manufacturing industry) and responsible for the harvesting of 125 million trees in 2008, e-readers offer a more energy-friendly alternative to books, magazines and newspapers.  According to a study carried out by Cleantech Group on the Amazon Kindle, the “carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use”. In addition, the report indicated that “any additional years of use result in net carbon savings, equivalent to an average of 168 kg of CO2 per year (the emissions produced in the manufacture and distribution of 22.5 books). The Cleantech Group forecasts that e-readers purchased from 2009 to 2012 could prevent 5.3 billion kg of carbon dioxide in 2012, or 9.9 billion kg during the four-year time period.”

Overall, e-readers seem to be better option when evaluated from an energy efficiency perspective. And if the previous data wasn’t enough to convince us, there are more and more energy efficient devices hitting the market, such as LG’s solar powered e-reader. With this device, a solar panel less than a millimeter thick placed on the front of the inside cover provides enhanced battery efficiency. If exposed to the sun for 5 hours the solar panel will provide a day’s worth of charge.

All in all, it still seems like the conversion to e-readers will take some time and an actual impact on decreasing carbon emissions will depend heavily on a decreasing market demand for the amount of physical books published.  However, if the decision still lies between the sentimentality of books versus the efficiency of e-readers, we must ask ourselves, at a cost of 5.3 billion kg of carbon emissions that could be saved over three years, couldn’t we just learn to hug a teddy bear instead of a book?










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2 responses to “E-readers vs. books? Which are the better option?

  1. bhgully

    Great post! Pleasantly surprised at the carbon savings…

    I also remembering reading a study recently commenting on the average “lifespan” of digitally stored data versus that stored in printed literature – with the digital being significantly shorter. But that seems to be a solvable problem which would be worthwhile, in my opinion, given the savings indicated here. Apologies for not being able to recall, I will look around for it…

    Maybe someone else is familiar with the study I was talking about..?

  2. I’ve read similar things about the lifespan of digital content. I don’t know where I read it though, but it was along the lines of CDs, DVDs, and hard drives last about 100 years. Still, the convenience of an e-book reader is appealing. I just think of all the long trips and flights that you take a bunch of books on. It would be nice to cut down on the clutter, and even better that the lifecycle impacts aren’t too bad.

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