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E-Readers vs. Old-Fashioned Books—Which Is More Eco Friendly?


Jennifer Schwab and Sam Champion explore E-Readers vs. Real books.  Good Morning America (GMA).

A relatively new phenomenon is the E-Reader, be it Kindle, iPad, or a number of other new competitors coming into the marketplace.  When you think about it, these devices would seem to be more environmentally friendly than your typical paper and cardboard book, even a paperback.  Should we be buying our loved ones e-readers or traditional books this holiday season?

There is a certain tactile value to “real” books, just feeling the paper, turning the pages.  I find that I miss this when using an e-reader.  But on the surface, the e-reader would seem to be much more green.  In fact, my colleague “Mr. Green” at Sierra Magazine recently explored this dilemma and came to a surprising conclusion, which I will reveal momentarily.

E-reader vs. paper book is a provocative question, one that could just as easily have been “do your prefer flying cars or conventional road going cars” a few short years ago.  The key to the answer is that basic tenet of sustainability, life cycle analysis.  We must consider not only the trees needed to make paper versus the manufacturing of electronics products, but the shipping costs, fuel, and ultimately, the energy needed to recycle these materials at the end of their days.  Not to mention, what ultimately happens to e-waste?   Where do the non-recyclable remains end up?

Mr. Green’s conclusion – as well as a recent New York Times piece on the same subject — was that unless you’re a fast and furious reader, the energy required to manufacture and then dispose of an e-reader is probably greater than what’s needed to make a traditional book.  If you’re reading 40 or more books per year on your e-reader, that would be the right choice.  But if you use it only occasionally, probably better to stick to a “regular” book.  This conclusion is reinforced by a study referenced on the website of TerraPass, a carbon offset business.  Unfortunately, the study itself is not available for publication but its authors said e-readers are the more environmentally responsible choice only if you are reading in excess of 23 books per year  (http://www.terrapass.com/blog/posts/digital-books-greener-than-real-books).

The New York  Times article also explored this subject, with a slightly different conclusion (http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/are-e-readers-greener-than-books/).  Using similar data, an outfit called Cleantech did a study which looked at the question sort of in reverse, saying if you were to read three books a month over four years, the e-reader would significantly outperform conventional paper books in carbon emitted.

Clearly, like many green subjects, ours is a young industry, and as such, definitive answers are hard to come by.  At least, subject to interpretation.  Either way, I hope that today’s generation will read more and watch less, be it through paper or electronic means.

Here’s the best answer, though:  go to the public library next time you are downtown.  Borrow three or four books, finish them all, then return ‘em next time you’re near the library.  This is truly the most sustainable way to read:  the good old fashioned public library.  At Sierra Club Green Home, we preach “reduce, reuse, and recycle” and library books can be read by dozens of people over their lifetime.  And once they are finally too dog-eared and beaten up to grace library shelves, they can be easily recycled since they are generally all paper (even the leather on deluxe bound editions can be recycled).


256 Responses to “E-Readers vs. Old-Fashioned Books—Which Is More Eco Friendly?”

  1. Linda Perry Says:

    My Public Library offers e-books. One also needs consider that not every ‘paper’ book comes in large print. With e-readers, a person can enlarge the font size. Just two more reasons that make owning an e-reader valuable.

  2. Carol Myers Says:

    I have been curious about the e-readers and thanks for the information. I will continue to buy my yardsale and fleamarket books. I am a avid reader of mostly mystery novels. Once I finish with a book, it is either donated to a library book sale or recycled in a garage sale.

    Thanks

    Carol

  3. Marsha Smith Says:

    I have an Amazon Kindle with about 250 books, including fiction, non-fiction, reference and text books. I have arthritis in both hands (exacerbated by the way I’ve held books over the years) and the much lighter weight is more comfortable. I use public transport a lot of the time, so if I’m not in the mood for one type of read, I’ve got the other with me. It’s been a wonderful, helpful purchase.

  4. Laura Says:

    As a library director, all I can say is THANK YOU!

  5. Tonya Says:

    Yay! Thank you, for the information on this topic. I love to read and I recycle every week. I do still buy books and visit the library, so that’s an improvement from buying all my own books. My husband is trying to push this as a Christmas gift. I just love to read a BOOK! I like to read magazines. Holding it in your hands, recalling what page you’re on, all of it. I just don’t feel the same passion about an e-reader. blah

  6. Karen De Shazer Says:

    Thank you so much for reminding everyone that libraries allow you to borrow books for free! So many people forget this!

  7. David Says:

    There is only one big problem with this analysis it is based on the assumption that CO2 is bad. Review the science -> CO2 does not cause global warming (in the historical ice core record CO2 increased 800 years after the warming). Plants and trees need CO2 to live and they produce the O2 we breathe.

  8. Susan Baldwin Says:

    Interesting article…as a public librarian, I feel the greenest alternative at this point in time is borrowing from the public library. These books get “recycled” over and over before ultimately ending their useful life as recycled paper!

  9. Heidi Says:

    Being an avid reader who reads 25+ books a month, I bought an e-reader 2 years ago. I have PLENTY of *real* books — the Kindle has allowed me to be choosy about what I keep in that format. Of course I still buy hardcovers (my prefered *real* book) but this way, I don’t have to read the tiny print of a tight paperback that I have to crack the spine on just so I can read it. I can also travel with a selection with me, and change the font size if I’m tired and my eyes need a little help. If you haven’t TRIED an e-reader, then you can’t judge whether or not you will like one. I love books; I worked in the publishing industry for 15+ years making real books. The e-reader is a viable alternative for someone who reads a lot and likes to have a book convenient at hand all the time.

  10. John D Says:

    I dabble in selling used books on the internet. The e-reader phenom is of great interest to me because of the potential for impacting the future of used book sales. My present thinking is that a book that might be collectable for someone will likely increase in value, while hard cover or paper back best sellers, and mass market books will be worthless.
    The observations about large print as well as weight are important but may only impact a small number of readers. As to the future of text books – it is my belief that they could eventually be eliminated completely, much to the relief of backpack lugging students everywhere.
    And as to my dabbling in used book sales – well it is more of a non-profit recycling business than a money making activity. But I now have a lot of book stories and have learned a good deal about the value of various types of books, and generally enjoyed the experience.

  11. Mike J Says:

    I am both an avid reader (mysteries and historical novels) and a frequent flyer. Wouldn’t a Kindle-type device work well for me?

  12. Julian Hook Says:

    The analysis of the “greenness” of an e-reader takes into account the manufacture and disposal of the device. But it’s important to remember that many of these devices, such as the iPad, can be used for many other purposes besides reading books. An iPad can in principle replace not only a bunch of books but also newspapers, calendars, notepads, phone books, and more. It stands to reason that the more extensively you use it–for all its purposes, not just for reading–the more likely it is to be greener than the alternatives in the long run.

  13. Quinn Eurich Says:

    I am an avid reader and love my Nook not only because I can “pick-up” a book whenever I want, but also because I get to select from a lot of free books that are not always available on paper. I also love it because I can read PDF files on it – ones that I create myself as well as from some of the classes I take. In fact, on my Nook, I can listen to the instructor while reading along with the text! I agree that ebooks are not for everyone, but they are so much more than replacements for regular books.

  14. Barbara Says:

    I just love reading of all kinds!
    I haven’t tried a dedicated e-reader yet but I have got one “book” on my Blackberry, although I’m disappointed with the range of selections available “free” in that format.
    I love books but due to some arthritis and myofascial issues combined with poor eyesight, need to find a balance between a light-enough book and large-enough type. So far, I don’t require the really large-type books, but if it gets to that, I might prefer an e-reader.
    And I love the library!

  15. Mark P Says:

    These are not just for books.

    since getting my iPad, I have converted 6 magazine and three subscriptions to digital format — including two UK based magazines. So now they don’t have to be printed or flown to the US to be mailed, and the newspapers don’t have to be driven to my house each morning.

    if the e-readers (at least the ones with color screens) get their act together, a lot of paper and fuel could be saved by dramatically cutting back on newspaper and magazine printing and distribution

  16. Brian Flaherty Says:

    It’s a no-brainer. . .REAL books are “greener!” Especially when you consider the millions of books that are already “here” on the planet! And, the pleasures (and, “friendliness”) of holding the book in your hand; smelling the ink; turning the page after licking your thumb; the list of that sort of thing is endless. . .and, the electronic “marvel” will NEVER provide that sort of “friendship!”

    One of the wonderful memories I cherish is sitting in my grandfather’s lap as he read to me. . .Never would’ve been the same with Kindle!

    I am a book junkie. . .buying hundreds of REAL books each year. . .at local used book shops; “Friends of the Library” sales; thrift stores; etc etc. . .I also buy onine from used book dealers. . .Over the years, I have developed a personal library of over 10,000 volumes. . .And, I’m not through yet. . .

    You can have your Googles and Bings and WikiPedia’s with quick access to superficial information. . .I’ll stick with walking over to the shelf and pulling out a book; leafing through for what I’m looking for; then, going over to grab another book for more information; or, maybe something entirely different suggested by the previous perusal. . .

    Sometimes I feel like Guy Montag, the fireman in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″. . .That I am saving the books from incineration and oblivion!

    I’m rambling. . .So, I’ll close with a final thought for all you “Greenies:” I place most of my bookshelves on “outside” walls. . .Because, there is no better insulation against heat AND cold than 10 inches of tightly-bound paper enclosed between sheets of cardboard! It’s equivalent to at least R-50 insulation (ask any engineer!). . I’ll even bet Owens-Corning Fibreglas will back me up!

  17. Nancy Baker Kurtz Says:

    I can understand the convenience factor and if I had vision issues I would have one. But, I too love the feel of a book and enjoy donating my used ones. Usually to the Canton Mi Library Friend that my dad helped start years ago but on vacations I have purposely left books in Costa Rica, ship off Galapaos Islands and Zimbabwe. With a real book you can share.

  18. Barbara Sena Says:

    I bought an iPad when they were first released and love it. I am an avid reader and can read a book on my iPad in bed with the light out and without my glasses. As convenient this is the ebook will never replace ‘real’ books for me, there is just something about holding a book in your hands. But I also have arthritis in my hands and holding a book for long periods of time can become painful and I don’t have this problem with my iPad. I exchange books with one of my nephews and he finally exchanges them at a used book store. So our books gets read until the pages fall out ( I hope).

  19. Brian Flaherty Says:

    Almost forgot:
    1) the books look great on your walls and save a bundle on paint or wallpaper!
    2) Yur neighbours will KNOW you’re smart! [I had a B&B for a number of years and my 22-room home was overflowing with books in EVERY room. . .And, guests ALWAYS commented: "Have you read ALL those books? You must be VERY smart!"]

  20. Stargazer0413 Says:

    Got my Kindle 3rd generation the first week of September 2010. Have zipped through more than half the 23 books needed to be “green.” So I guess I’ve done my part. BTW, when I inadvertently let the battery run down and had to go back to a paperback, I found I didn’t like the “real” book as much as the e-book. Arthritic hands hurt more w/paperback, and I can’t adjust the font size, nor the space between lines as I can on my K3. Also, if for some reason I want to “hear” the book I can do so as well. Can’t do that with a paperback… or even a hard back. Also, e-books are much cheaper. Will soon be able to “lend” my e-books to another reader… once the software is available.

  21. Howard Hoffman Says:

    There are other benefits to ereaders that are hard to duplicate on paper. If you are doing any kind of research, you can carry your entire library to a meeting, conference, etc. The library, book by book, or in its entirety, can be searched for a single word. On the other hand, a real book can be loaned to a friend and it can be inscribed by an author.

  22. Michelle Says:

    I used to think I wouldn’t like an e-book. I was wrong! It is so much more convenient than a paper book, less weight, I can take it along anywhere and download a book when I’m done with one without having to go to the bookstore or library. I used to think e-books were like reading on a computer…I was mistaken. You can take an e-book to bed. You turn the pages one at a time… no scrolling involved. You can bookmark pages for later reading, look up words you don’t know on the spot with a built-in dictionary. Some books even have an audio feature. The books are not backlit, so they don’t hurt your eyes like computers do. I am glad my son bought me an e-book reader for Christmas last year. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

  23. Bruce Says:

    The video and the article don’t say the same thing, it seems. The video says if you read 40 books total on an e-reader, you will have saved CO2 emissions vs buying the books. The article says 40 books _per_year_. Looks like the 40 books total makes the most sense given the data I can see. But an interesting point is raised, relavent to all technical gadgets: if we hold onto our gadgets for as long as possible, not succumbing to the constant lure of the latest model, there is far less impact.

    I am, by the way, a Kindle user (for several years so far), and love it. It allows me to read newly released books (mostly, I must confess, about energy issues) rather than waiting till the prices come down. And I just enjoy reading on it.

  24. Joan Stockinger Says:

    I would like to see the analysis for those of us that read newspapers on the e book. I shifted my NY Times subscription to the Kindle. Now that’s a lot of paper saved!

  25. Jim P Says:

    I would like to see how these tests were conducted, because the materials and energy used is vastly different on different models. A ipad for example uses far more energy and materials than a Kindle or Nook from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, because it has a LCD touch screen vs. the Pearl Ink screens of the others. So if you do get one, I recommend a Nook or a Kindle for a smaller carbon footprint (and I love Apple products but in this case they are less green).
    Also there is a huge advantage to the Nook and some other ink based readers (but NOT the Kindle), in that you can check out books at the library on your Nook! You get them for a set period of time, then they disappear. To all the Librarians out there, it is the way the market is moving (my partner is a Library Director), so make sure your library is ready!

  26. rapdup Says:

    The environmental costs of warehousing and distributing thousands/millions of physical books is considerably more than the infrastructure/energy to provide electronic books. The more people use electronic books the more this is true, too.

    This is an provocative article, but I often feel these kinds of comparisons are largely detached from reality as there are usually numerous other considerations, so many as to render the original assessment limp.

  27. Gayle D Says:

    My reasons for enjoying e-books have little to do with recycling, sorry to say. I just love the ease of getting a book through “whispernet” in one minute or less, and having the size type I need for my old eyes. Economically, it’s not the best if one does not have a healthy book budget, but reading is just about my main “entertainment” these days since I neither go out to movies or restaurants. I am hoping these studies will be repeated 10 years from now when there is more historical data to peruse, because I would love feeling it is a green activity!

  28. Stewart Lindenberger Says:

    a big factor you overlooked: a multipurpose tool that does a great job for reading books, AND a bout a zillion other very useful things – like being a phone, and a GPS and a music player and a camera & photo displayer and a news reader and a point & learn star gazing referece, and so many more interesting, worthwhile things: an iPhone! With this item, the amount of value/usage one gets from the product far outweighs the benefits of a one function ereader – and thus the equation for greenness vs a paper book is massivly shifted.

  29. Joe Says:

    Naturally, there has to be one comment from the whacko who still maintains that all the hoo-hah about CO2 emissions is all scientific bullplop– Congrats, David, shouldn’t you be getting back to that Flat Earth Society meeting now?

  30. Tony Says:

    I love libraries but also love the flexibility given to me by an E-reader, especially when it comes to having a large collection of reference books wherever I happen to be. Searching for text is much easier with an E-reader. I also like the possibilities of making reading easier by changing the colors or shading for the text and background. As a writer, I’m always excited when new media become available–each new media brings in a new excited audience. Oh yes, one more advantage with E-readers–you can download your books from the Internet instead of driving your SUV to a bookstore to pick up one or two books. My library is within walking distance but the nearest bookstore (a small one at that) is a couple miles away. Larger bookstores are many miles away.

  31. JohnG Says:

    Always someone (David) that needs to throw in hearsy science. By the way, did you know that there are smokers who live to be 100 and never get lung cancer. Want to try it David?

  32. Charlie T Says:

    If you already have an iPad or some other tablet device which you use for other things as well as reading books, the carbon cost of manufacturing the device should not be taken into account. Reading books on the device is just a matter of better using a device you already have. I would like to see the analysis take into account the impact of the electricity used by the device as well as of the servers that store the eBooks. That would show the real environmental impact of eBooks vs paper ones for people who will be reading the books on a device they already own.

  33. Jon Q Says:

    I buy ebooks (Kindle) when they save me money and the book is not something I would save on a book shelf.

    I read a lot, over 50 books a year, and buy bestsellers for 9.95 from BOMC2, if Kindle is more money.

    I take most books of mine to either a used book store after I read them, or give them to the library.

  34. Lynda Says:

    I read many,many books on my computer or iphone, no problem. I pack light and have many choices wherever I go.

  35. Kathy Haranzo Says:

    Libraries are a valuable resource, of course. But bookstores, publishing houses, editors and authors would all go broke without the support of readers who are willing to spend money on personal copies of books.

  36. Don M. Says:

    This is a very complex issue, and the information provided is useful and important. I personally like having a good library, not just a book to read, but a reference library in subjects that I need to go to frequently. Nothing like a real paper book you can pull and flip through. The greatest value is often finding information you don’t know about so couldn’t look up. Hard to ask a question if you don’t know it exists. But the real issue may be the power of demographics, an aging population with increasing sight impairment. For us, I’m 79, the e-books are a real God-send. I have a neighbor, 98, who loves to read but is nearly blind. The Kindle has been a blessing to him, adding great value and pleasure to the winter of his life.

  37. Lauren Says:

    I’m getting a Color Nook next month, which I think will be the greenest option. It allows you to read newspapers and magazines on it, and saves the paper from buying an issue of people and then recycling it 5 minutes later.

  38. Ken Says:

    Don’t forget – most people have to drive to the library. Surely this should be part of the equation.

  39. Thamina Says:

    I like the feel of books in my hand. If I like it I keep it and re-read often. I have had some paperbacks for over 30 years. If I don’t like it I sell to a used book store or donate it to the library. A lot of the books I buy used online. I always have a book with me. I haven’t tried an e reader yet.

  40. Barbara F Says:

    I used to pack up at least 3 or more substantial books when visiting. Very anoying. Now I take my Kindle with enough “books” if Real to load a trunk.
    See an ebook you want – it’s available pronto. Amazing.
    BUT – when I want to study a topic, scientific, cultural, reference – A REAL book is essential because you can underline things, refer to it long past the return deadline from the library, find Page numbers (non-existant on kindle). So I would vote for all formats in their purpose.

  41. Steve Says:

    While I don’t read alot of books in a year’s time, but I am an avid newspaper reader and receive a print copy of a major city daily at my doorstep 7 days a week. Would switching to e-delivery reduce my carbon footprint?

  42. George Says:

    Interesting article and studies, but while some people may not be reading 3 or 4 books a month, it is quite possible that they’ve canceled their NY Times or other newspaper subscription for the e-version, and maybe a few magazines as well. Add in the occasional e-book, and I bet we’re looking at a more favorable cost-savings, don’t you think?

  43. S.B. Says:

    Personally, I like REAL books. “Old fashioned books” could just be made outta recycled papers for them to be greener. Gimme a paper-back anyday!

  44. Tom Says:

    The analysis neglects the Kindle versoin of the daily paper or magazines. I have been a Washington Post subscriber for over 30 years. Thats a lot of paper; with my Kindle WaPo, not only is my recycling stack way less, I have no ads to destract me. The paper was printed, hauled to distribution centers and droppped on my driveway – thats alot of energy not being spent now.

  45. Perry Stahlsis Says:

    I have an iPad. It is a great tool. I am reading this right now on the stationary bike at the gym. Try plugging your headphones into a hardback you are reading. I email a lot of electronic newsletters and articles to myself as saved PDF’s and read them here. This is not an either/or issue, i. e., eReader vs. Books is a false dichotomy. We don’t need to sacrifice the Boreal Forest for tables of mass-market junk books at Costco or Borders, which IMNSHO are the functional equivalent of “brideoplasty”.

    My unlcle and great-grandfather were famous public librarians. The library is a wonderful resource and should be supported. But we have had public libraries for a long time and they are like carpooling, dutifully acknowledged and very under-utilized. Witness the rise of Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble.

    Books are way over-produced, like everything else in this consume-the-planet society. One should have an articulatable rational for buying one, e. g., it’s a collectible, it has special meaning, it’s a reference, the tactile experience is important in this particular case. Absolutely, textbooks should become, for the most part,
    obsolete.

    And what is the carbon footprint of cutting, milling, bleaching, transporting and displaying 100,000 mass market hardbacks?

    And of course, as with all electronics, eReaders need to be “cradle-to-grave.

  46. Homeslice Says:

    The problem with library books is that they’re always caked with boogers that fall onto the reader’s lap or, worse yet, get lost in the sheets and blankets. The best feature of e-readers is booger avoidance. This is way more important than environmental benefits or the ability to enlarge fonts. At least if a booger falls out of a book you own, you can be pretty sure it’s your booger. I think libraries need to devote more effort to booger-cleansing their books. Otherwise, they don’t stand a chance in our modern, booger-free society. How can I take seriously any analysis that entirely disregards the booger variable?

  47. Char Says:

    I don’t think I would like the e-readers.There’s just something about holding a book in your hands and turning the pages when you read.My husband likes anything electronic and the few things he bought me [i pod, mp3 player,etc] eventually gets lost or I simply lose interest in it .When I re-find the item, I end up giving it to my sister or brother.[They love that idea] My parents always took us to the library growing up and to save myself money, I rarely buy a book new or used unless I have read it from the library first. I also will not buy a book unless I know it is something I will re-read over and over.

  48. Chakra Sue Says:

    We go through 55,000, yes, 55,000 acres of trees per day! Our earth can not sustain this much paper use.
    It is easy to recycle e-waste at any local Staples, Salvation Army or municipal special collection location.
    There is a huge carbon footprint for transporting heavy books, mostly printed overseas with toxic inks.
    This doesn’t even begin to account for the economic trade imbalance and loss of American jobs.
    Move ahead and protect the planet…use your eBook. And yes, you can
    “checkout” eBooks from libraries also. Fortunately, many out-of-print books are now available as well…for FREE.
    I find this article lacking in vision and care for the earth.

  49. Maryelizmc Says:

    Three cheers for advocating the public library! I am a frequent reader of public library books who buys only specialty books not available through the library on the shelf or through inter-library loan!

  50. Victoria Nichols Says:

    I have yet to try my new e-book–it is charging as I write this. I read between 20-30 books per month and (these days) get most of them from the library.
    For the past month, I have been dealing with 40+ boxes of books that have been in storage for the past nine years, due to lack of space. Some were sold (and paid for my e-book) and many were donated to various libraries in my area. I wish I had been able to transfer some of my accumulation before I passed them on as I would have enjoyed re-reading many of my “treasures”.
    I don’t plan on using the e-book exclusively as I think curling up with the “real” (vs “virtual”) thing is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I do travel a lot though and am looking forward to literally lightening my load thanks to this device.
    I guess this member of the jury is still out. Time will tell.

  51. dovi Says:

    I read nearly everything now on my phone- books, newspapers and magazines. It’s also my phone (obviously), gps, internet, email, etc.
    I think consolidation may be a bit as important as recycling, etc.

  52. Scott Jones Says:

    Not sure why the “green” solution is always the nostalgic one, but it often seems to prevent an unbiased analysis of the matter. This always seems to be the case when this particular issue—or any in the digital era—is examined.

    The big question here is whether you’re talking about a dedicated e-reading device, or whether you’re not. It’s quite likely that there won’t be many single-purpose ebook readers in the future, but there will be a large number of devices. If you already own such a device—whether it’s a smartphone, ipad or computer—then the added footprint of an ebook is barely measurable, whether it’s a single book or thousands. Even so, I’d argue that the analysis that the library is the best option may not necessarily correct (and yes, I’m a big fan of the library); what are the costs of heating, cooling, and maintaining collections of thousands and thousands of books that may not be read more than once or twice by patrons?

    Instead of just pushing sometimes dogmatic nostalgia of things like printed books, I say it’s more effective to embrace the positive aspects of technological change and ensure that those processes work the best for us as a society. Transitioning from paper pages to electronic bits seems like a generally smart thing to do for our planet. Let’s do what we can to make sure that it’s a positive change.

  53. Catherine Alderman Says:

    Unfortunately our public library has a horrible selection of non-fiction reading. I agree with the article. I know a lot of people like their new toys and will defend it but the article basically sums the truth up quite well. I also buy mostly used books so they are being recyled anyway.

  54. Joe Peraino Says:

    Maybe the greenest of all is downloading a book to an MP3 device from a library or other service (granted it’s not reading but listening).

  55. Jim B Says:

    “There is only one big problem with this analysis it is based on the assumption that CO2 is bad.”

    It’s not an assumption, it’s a scientific conclusion, which is why 97% of climate scientists, and all reputable science organizations, accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming.

    “Review the science”

    I have; you clearly haven’t, you’re just repeating something you read on some denier site.

    “CO2 does not cause global warming (in the historical ice core record CO2 increased 800 years after the warming).”

    Irrelevant. a) CO2 levels fluctuate; they come both before and after warm periods. b) There’s a lag time between increase of CO2 and resulting warming. c) Not all warming is a result of CO2, but the warming of the present day is.

    “Plants and trees need CO2 to live and they produce the O2 we breathe.”

    True but irrelevant to the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and so overly high levels cause the planet to warm. We can bring the levels down to 350 ppm, stop the increasing warming, and have plenty for plants.

  56. Abby Says:

    Cuddling up with a computer isn’t my idea of reading. Getting books from the library is free. Turning pages and flipping them back is fun. bookmarks help getting back to special pages. Maybe you can do all that with an e-reader, but I doubt if its as tactily and personally satisfying.

  57. Joli Says:

    I was resistant about getting an e-reader, and have become a convert sonce purchasing one. Though I still buy certain books in a paper based format, those that are not available as e-books or those that I think will be collectible or are designed to show off their art content, I am purchasing as many e-books as my budget will allow. I am a very quick reader, and if finances permitted, could easily polish off a novel, (sometimes two) a night. (A buy-product of my chronic insomnia.) For me the e-reader has been a blessing. My arthritic hands no longer need to fumble with holding heavy hardcover books, or manipulating the pages on a paperback. Sure I miss the tactile feel of paper in my hands and the smell of the paper and ink, but I don’t miss having to find a place to keep those books I wish to hold on to rather than pass along. I still troll library sales, and exchange books with co-workers and friends, but I can wholeheartedly say that I love my Nook.

  58. Katie may Says:

    I am disabled and unable to hold a book open any longer for great lengths. I have a Sony Reader and have been very happy with it except for its weight. I am debating between a Kindle and an IPad. I have scleraderma and my fingers are disintegrating, which makes scsrolling difficult as it works with heat-my fingers have very little if any heat to work my iphone. Love the Kindle I recently saw but in comparison (other than price) is the ipad better?
    I realize ipad works with heat also, but i f in ho,me OK

  59. Steve Seitz Says:

    I believe there are issues to consider beyond carbon emissions when thinking about the impact of e-readers vs. paper books. We should consider the impact of the entire proliferation of digital devices of all types, the e-reader being only the newest addition to the inventory. A few of these impacts are:

    Resource depletion:
    Pollution generated by mining of rare earths and other non-renewables:
    Social justice issues such as the devastating living conditions of 3rd world people engaged in extraction of minerals and the recycling of our old gadgets;
    Long term geo-political and economic issues that threaten U.S. stability and security, i.e. all of these devices being produced in other countries along with the extraction of basic materials to manufacture them rather than having that capacity on our own.

    We should also consider the total impact of our digital devices from desktops to e-readers: collectively these devices dramatically speed up humanity’s ability to purchase, use, and trash virtually everything produced on earth as well as our consequent drain on all non-renewable and renewable resources across the planet, not to mention the resulting pollution, species extinction, etc. all this produces.

    It seems to me much better to live far more simply, using less of everything including digital devices and save ourselves and the planet. We really do not need more toys. Using paper books and libraries, then, makes more sense to me if we are to survive.

  60. Lesa Browning Says:

    In my house a lot of books are read, about 10 per week. I read almost exclusively on my Kindle and my husband reads paperbacks. I collect his books and take a full box to whatever charity will accept them every month. Our local Goodwill store will no longer accept them. I travel a lot and it is so much easier now that I use a Kindle. Even with production and disposal of e-readers, my large volume of reading is surely more environmentally friendly with the Kindle. I cringe every time I have to find a home for my husband’s read books. (all those trees!!! LOL)

  61. M. Says:

    RE: David

    CO2 is only valuable as a food source for plant life if it isn’t propogated in over-abundance. That is our problems as humans. We are cutting down the trees that would turn it into breathable air, and we are producing more and more of it with each new “gadget” we buy.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am just as guilty as everyone else…I do not live off the grid. However, for now, I will stick to the feeling of the good old fashioned book. And visiting the library, putting books on request/hold, and watching videos and listening to CD’s from there all cut down my carbon footprint. And that, after all, is the ultimate goal. :)

  62. Helen D Says:

    As an ex antiquarian bookseller, I am concerned with both throw-away technologies: the digital reader and the cheap paperback. What will happen to our primary source material?
    Books have been printed on tree pulp paper for only 125 years. Paper has only been made out of trees for 125 years. I hope that some books will be printed in the future.

    I’m glued to a computer screen all day, laptop, desktop, iPad and 1Phone.

    But, there is nothing like flipping through a real book. Or, a beautifully printed book.

  63. Lorraine Says:

    Just an addition to the comments about libraries. Discarded library books are not always sent to the recycler. They are given to used book sales run by groups such as Friends of the Library if they are only moderately worn or simply not checked out much anymore. Then the book may be purchased at the book sale and who knows how many may read it after that? Maybe they then get donated to another book sale or loaned to a friend or put out for a garage sale.

  64. Rebecca Says:

    I live on two continents and must do research (i.e., read a lot) for my job. At first, I shipped several boxes of books (a small portion of my private library) from one continent to the other. Shipping by air cost over $1,200 the first time. If I were to keep paying that cost twice a year, I would be buying my own books a dozen times over. So, my best bet is an electronic library, and I’m hoping my new Kindle will meet my professional and recreational needs.

  65. Rob Hill Says:

    I love my kindle. The main reason I got it was so I could read books I’ve downloaded from the internet for FREE without having to print them out or use a computer to read them.

  66. Trip K Says:

    One thing that was not mentioned here was e-readers such as the kindle app on smart phones. The phones are being used to do all kinds of things, and can also act as e-book readers. I have both a droid and an I-phone and have the kindle app on both. I don’t have to waste gas driving to the library, I don’t need to cut down trees for the paper, and the phone was already manufactured as smartphone, so none of the energy used to create the phone can be directly attributed to the e-reader apps. Is this the best solution?

  67. Gerald Anderson Says:

    A major factor ignored in the “efficiency analysis” is the availability of the electronic device for multiple uses. I read books very comfortably on an iPod touch. Counting the number of books read per year leaves out my use of my iPod for email, NY Times,
    NPR, etc., for shopping (I’m pretty housebound) keeping financial records etc.

  68. Elle Says:

    One thing this article doesn’t consider is the fact that many of us who read e-books do not use separate e-readers. I would have a computer regardless of whether or not I used it for reading, so I saw no need to purchase an e-reader at this time and increase my carbon footprint (and the hole in my wallet). I use the free software from Amazon and get books right on the screen. True, it is not as convenient to carry around my laptop as it would be a tiny Kindle, but since I do the majority of my reading at home or at a coffee shop, it works for me.

  69. Kevin Says:

    This is about CO2 emissions. What happens to the equation if we take into account how many trees are killed when books are printed? How does this compare with the cost to the environment of the materials used/manufactured to create an e-reader?

  70. Deborah Says:

    The only problem with relying on libraries is that the book publishing industry would die if only libraries bought books. Enough of us have to buy books, in some form, to keep publishing a profitable industry.

  71. Stina P Says:

    Hopefully your library is recycling its books to betterworldbooks.com so that if you want your own copy you can buy it there. They recycle library books and contribute to literacy projects.

  72. Christopher Schiebel Says:

    Karen, libraries allow you to borrow “e-books” for free, so the library comment is irrelevant. I can, in fact, from home borrow a book from the Boston Library for instance or many other libraries and load it onto my e-reader without ever starting my car. Does this article take into account the fuel savings? No, of course not, because as usual they are only looking at the cons in a very deep way and looking at the pros in a very shallow way.

    In fact, you could take this device and substitute this for any other “high tech” device and the article would be correct. Environmentalists have been at war with the tech industry (and rightfully so) for decades now, but the tune never changes. They always find more reasons to heat the tech than love it. The only way it’s going to change however is if we humans make it change.

    I hated the idea of an e-reader, until my husband bought one because he was tired of lugging an extra 10 pounds of books with him on every trip. I have to say that an e-reader is unbeatable for travelers. After seeing my husband’s Nook, I bought one for myself. Now here is one aspect this article completely ignored, which is convenience. Free e-books from the library from home, consolidating an entire ROOM full of books to e-books and still having room for an other entire room’s worth on the device. I honestly don’t miss turning the pages like I thought I would. When you add convenience to the reasons, for many, an e-reader will come out on top of classic books. It’s simply an alternative, not an outright replacement. Libraries will still be around, but they should ignore lending to e-readers at their peril!

  73. Evita Says:

    I purchased the E Reader for myself primarily because of the ability to increase the font size. I cannot read small print anymore and there are not many current books in large print. I also favor the compact size and convenience.

  74. Chuck Byrd Says:

    This is an important issue that will take a while to resolve, as you point out. As a retired academic, my bias was against e-readers but I am a convert. The light weight and portability are very big advantages for travelers and aging boomers whose eyes rebel at tiny print. Other factors: built-in dictionaries that define words like ‘hustings’ and ‘eponomous’ for those of us who need to verify a meaning or usage; footnotes embedded in the text as links; the ability to ‘clip’ highlighted quotes that appear in a special section under ‘my notes and clippings’; text sizing and orientation (landscape vs. portrait) with the ability to examine photos in the text and enlarge sections of interest; huge collections of ‘classics’ available for free (anything for which the copyright has expired). The true value of e-readers may be revealed as students convert to e-textbooks (a currently wasteful and very expensive industry) and as the public converts to e-magazines. It’s a brave new world and the carbon footprint is only one of several it will make in the future.

  75. Leslie Spaiser Says:

    I don’t own a Kindle but use the Kindle app for the PC. I have read about 4 books so far and I love it. Not only can I change the font size, and line length, but I can also select WHITE ON BLACK background. This is amazingly easier to read than the reverse and reduces eyestrain from staring at a WHITE screen especially at night.

    Apparently the actual Kindle cannot do this and I think it is a shame.

  76. Ray Says:

    David, You have been bamboozled about CO2 gas. CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Sure, plants use CO2 but in the long run the excess CO2 that plants use creates short term growth which levels off over time at the expense of warming the atmosphere.
    Methinks you are more than likely an avid Beck, Hannity, FOX not news watcher who is fed a steady diet of misinformationm and outright lies.
    I’m not sure which is best, e books or paper books. Although I read books, they are not the bulk of my reading. I rarely read fiction, preferring to read non-fiction and science and reason based books, including science journals and learning about logic using syllogisms and knowledge based thinking. The internet blogs and newssources I peruse are more along the lines of my entertainment in reading.

  77. diane darrow Says:

    Not all e-books need to be read on the e-reader. Most public libraries are also checking out digital books. This makes more titles available. What would the carbon footprint look like if you added in the energy saved not only in book production but included energy saved with a virtual checkout system that operates right from home?

  78. MalikTous Says:

    My experience gives both electronic books and paper books top rating. For myself, the pleasure of a medium that needs no more external support than a good light source and a comfy place to sit and read makes paper books the winner. For some of my friends, their problems with or absence of vision make electronic readers that they can listen to mandatory. While I’ll use either ordinary paper books or audio media and electronic visual literature, I prefer the paper books in most cases; I’m just as quick to demand audio books for my blind friends and room-mate.

  79. Doug Says:

    There are alot of vintage and out of print books that are not available as e-readers. Plus, the e-readers usually can’t handle some of the outstanding graphics, photos and maps found in regular books, so I think that books and e-readers will be around for years to come.

  80. Weezie Says:

    I have not yet tried an e-reader, so I can’t speak against them. Another viable method of procuring books is to buy them from Goodwill or other resale shop. You might be surprised at the titles that turn up there. After reading the books, you can donate them back. So you can accomplish several goals by doing this : reuse, recycle, experience a good read for a low price, provide job opportunities, and if you donate enough books (along with any other items you may have and are not using), a tax deduction.

  81. TJ Cormack Says:

    Why do we need a dedicated e reader? what is wrong with using your phone? The more we multitask our high tech gadgets the more resources we can save right? I’ve had ebooks on my old treo and it was great! I always had a book with me. I’d like to hear some thoughts on that.

  82. JEL Says:

    Well you can’t exactly lay on the messy beach with a Kindle, nor can you soak in your jetted tub. I just can’t see myself ever going to an ereader.

  83. Paula Says:

    I disagree with David re: CO2 and global warming being the only ecological problem considered.Trees do more for our biosphere than act as carbon sinks. Also about the life cycle of e-books: Since they are petroleum-based and synthetic, there are many eco problems involved, such as plastic’s not being biodegradable, and creating pollution along its entire lifespan.

  84. Brian H. Says:

    As an architect by profession, allow me to say a bit about
    the “library’s place” in the home. … The elite collected vast
    collections of literature. ..either as an earnest anthology of
    one’s passionate curiosities or of contrived intent to shape
    opinions “the reading of the will”. Libraries, whether public
    or within one’s home do require the resources to properly
    maintain the environment (temperature and humidity).
    Lest we forget, in my part of the USA…construction costs
    for new residential space exceeds $110 per sf. Factor into
    that expence the ‘opportunity-cost’ of housing REAL BOOKS
    against the tininess of an e-library on an e-reader …
    add this idea into your ‘green-ness’ thoughts….

  85. Andrea Guazzo Says:

    I love the library. Definitely the greenest and most economical choice of all!

  86. Paul Noeldner Says:

    In general the more an ereader is used to replace paper media, the greener, so the comparision should go beyond just replacement of paper books. Most ‘dedicated’ ereaders like the kindle and nook also allow some use for more than book reading, browsing newspapers for example, which replaces additional paper. The greenest ereaders are probably the full-function lightweight color touch tablets (like the ipad and similar windows and google android based tablets). These can access kindle, nook, and public library epub gooks, and they are also a full-function pc for some folks because they do everything a pc can do, in a small footprint that is very energy efficient compared to using a laptop or desktop pc.

  87. Sue Says:

    This is the second article I’ve read on the relative green-ness of real books vs e-readers. Neither article has addressed the issue of the raw materials used, to my mind a glaring omission. The environmental impact of mining the raw materials, transporting, manufacturing, assembling and delivering books vs e-readers should be included in these types of analyses.

    For the time being I’m sticking to real books; thanks to this article those books will be coming from my local library more often! My niece can keep her Kindle, she prefers it because she can put it in a waterproof plastic bag and read while floating in the pool. I think her carbon footprint is a tad larger than mine.

  88. sycamore Says:

    David,

    CO2 is not the only thing that can cause global warming. In the past, it was other processes that started the reaction, and the release of CO2 was an effect of the warming, not the other way around, causing a feedback effect. This time human-produced CO2 is kickstarting the warming, and if that leads to a feedback loop as additional carbon dioxide is released from places like the oceans, things could be even more dire than we thought.

  89. Robert Says:

    The capability to increase font is huge. I always employ this necessary option.

  90. Tamara M Says:

    All three options offer various benefits. I have a Nook e-reader, which I love. I just took a 10-day vacation to Mexico and was able to take along several books which I would otherwise would not have been able to carry. I love the black-and-white Nook because it views like paper without transmitting light as a color display does, but obviously there is no way to have juicy full-page full-color photographs or illustrations on a tiny black-and-white display. So for picture books, nature books, cookbooks, etc. print media is best. I love my local library, but since I live in a relatively small rural area that doesn’t fund the library adequately, books available are extremely limited and old. I have checked out a few, but for those of us in small towns, the library doesn’t offer very exciting or extensive options. when I lived in a large metropolitan area, I rarely bought books because the library had everything I wanted. Garage sales are mostly worthless unless you like romance novels or kids books, though I do have a neighbor who sells books online and has an annual clearance yard sale that is a real boon. Finally, I’m planning to move soon and getting rid of any of my books that are available as e-books so I don’t have to lug boxes and boxes of heavy books along. That alone will save quite a bit on my carbon footprint by saving the gas required to move several hundred pounds of books!

  91. Gene D Says:

    I buy books and e-books for different reasons. I donate most of my paper books to the library so that others can enjoy them (sustainably), but some I save as a reference collection. My e-books get deleted if I find them un-interesting, or saved (at least for now) so that I can reference them later.
    There are several holes in the review/analysis.
    1) I use my e-book reader to read my newspaper subscriptions, though really only the articles I find interesting, thus avoiding printing and transporting newspaper pages that I would not otherwise read. How does that compute in my carbon emission balance for my e-book reader?
    2) Shockingly, I do not always finish every book I choose to purchase. Some just turn out to not catch my attention, while others eventually turn out to be less than what I choose to accept for my time commitment. I feel my e-book reader allows me to better sample the literary world (and thus better understanding my world) without feeling that I now have to recycle (donate) something that I don’t really care to encourage others to read. In a similar way, I would add, this sampling is part of the reason that I still go to book stores and libraries, because at those locations it is easier to focus on the content of the books rather than the content of my life popping up in e-mails and messages. How does that compute in my carbon emission balance for my e-book reader?
    3) I believe libraries are important and will evolve because the Internet exposes the failure of truthful information. We need our libraries to provide a critical oversight of learning within our community, simply by enabling the critical thinking within our community to have weight against the malleable knowledge from blogs and websites. As a society, sometimes we need to focus on communal issues that require decision making based on a common understanding of the issues, the discourse searchable on the Internet does not provide that perspective. Our library is the one place where we can learn what the issues are that are confronting our community, be able to research the issues, and determine what others in our community value (as revealed in the books donated to/requested for purchase/check out of our library). What factor is given in the analysis to the value of community knowledge building provided by libraries?
    4) Now that the full life cycle of an e-book reader is implicated, we must then request that the full life cycle of the complete publishing of the paper book associated with a title. Yes, using an e-book reader purchases books by title, but only one download of that title is possible without any implication of wasted resources from the readers perspective (equating the authors/editors efforts as equal regardless both delivery modes), but a paper book title only becomes printable based on a baseline number of copies, with no requirement that every printed book offers value to at least one reader. So the relevant equation is not simply a paper book to an e-book download, but the total environmental cost of publishing a paper book per reader versus per electronic reader. Thus not every book is equal in its environmental costs (as alluded to with the library advantage of multiple readers of each paper book). I would accept that any book that goes into second printing has an acceptable environmental impact, but for the majority of books (which don’t get a second printing) this is an issue not factor into the analysis presented. What metrics were used?

  92. Marcia Kolb Says:

    If we all get our books at the library, how will writers and publishers be able to make a living? I suggest buying books at your local bookstore and then donating them to the library after you’ve read them.

  93. Eric Brooks Says:

    Including mobile computing devices like the iPad in the analysis above is very problematic. And were newspapers and phone books properly included in the analysis?

    If, instead of buying paper books, a person reads ebooks on an iPad, laptop, or other portable computer (which he or she was going to purchase and use anyway for myriad purposes other than reading books) it is clearly a lot better for the environment. And using an ebook reader to also read newspapers doesn’t appear to have been fully factored in at all. Newspapers waste huge amounts of paper and energy.

    I personally read a lot of ebooks, newspapers, and voluminous reports on my home computer as well as on my laptop, and also no longer use phone books (looking up phone numbers on the web instead). Since I did not buy my computers to read books or newspapers, or to look up phone numbers, the paper and energy savings is 100% per document read. The more we switch to reading on computers, the more paper and energy we save.

  94. Rob Says:

    This is a very well-thought our position on e-readers versus traditional books. I own a Kindle but am not an avid reader. Since I’ve already bought it I presume it’s best to buy e-books whenever possible. However, if I did not already own a Kindle, I doubt I would buy one.

    Well done.

  95. Sarah R Says:

    I’m afraid that the electronic book industry will be another example of planned obsolescence, in which you will be urged every few years to replace your e-reader with a new version with more features. Then soon they will replace the e-books with a new format, such as 78s, LP’s, cassettes and CD’s. That won’t be sustainable.

  96. Audrey Says:

    The e-readers, like all electronic devices, are designed for obsolecence, while paper books can be used as long as people are capable of turning pages and reading print (with corrective lenses, if needed). For those who have difficulty turning pages, the readers would be a good device.

    As an educator, I would like to see a study exploring whether reading comprehension and information retention are as good with an e-reader as with a paper book. With a book, the reader also involves his/her tactile sense of context (where in the book X material falls). He or she can also fiip through pages while holding a particular place, to compare concepts. I suspect that the ‘fingering’ of a book page plays a role in the cognitive processing during the reading of a book.

    Another concern is safety for our eyes–the effects of staring into a light for hours…

    I will continue to use the public library and buy only used books.

  97. LJ Says:

    Production of electronic devices involves more pollution than simply carbon dioxide. Cadmium and other necessary toxic metals are mined and refined (causing environmental disturbance and often water pollution), the device is manufactured (using more resources, producing more pollutants), and at the end of the “life” of the device (and its batteries), recycling e-waste is a notoriously under-regulated activity that exposes many Third World poor people to lead fumes and toxic byproducts. While book production involves its own set of pollutants and environmental degradation, increasing use of alternate fibers (cotton, bamboo, recycled paper, etc.) has reduced many of the worst problems. I own a few books that are more than 100 years old–how long will an electronic reader last?

  98. Susan G. Rives-Denight Says:

    Thanks for the article (and others’ comments.) I’ve been intrigued by, and considered buying an e-reader, but I tend to read/collect books on semi-esoteric subjects or reference materials that I can’t find in our library, and haven’t yet researched their availability for e-books. However, since I keep my books forever, I don’t feel too guilty. I can see how convenient it would be for travel and for popular titles, and valuable for the iPhone generation who is so comfortable with anything electronic. Just keep them reading, whatever the format! However, after reading others’ comments, I conclude I can do without one, at least for the time being.

  99. Dale Oster Says:

    I absolutely love my kindle. I have been a voratious reader since I was 6 years old. If I lived in a home with solar power, my choice of E reader would (of course) be ideal, however I have to believe that E books are still more green than paper books even when their source is regular electricity. There are still books
    I want to own in hardcover (such as the Mark Twain autobiography), however I find myself looking for good homes for my hundreds of hardcover and paperback books collected over the last 35 years. E books are definitely the future, and they last forever!

    -Dale Weatherly-Oster

  100. Robin Says:

    thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I just want to comment on David’s post above re: CO2. I do believe that it has been identified as a major contributor to climate change since it is a “greenhouse gas” and creates increased heat in the atmosphere, etc.

  101. Kathie Says:

    I bought my Kindle more than two years ago. Love it! I can read whatever I want, whenever I want. Plus, I can download the Kindle books onto my Mac! It’s the best book I have ever had. No more paper for me!

  102. Ryan Says:

    With the iPad—and possibly with the new NookColor—you are getting so much more than an e-reader. I think it is important to keep in mind how complicated this comparison is: tablets with ebook apps are potential laptop replacements for many people, which could mean fewer natural resources consumed in manufacturing each device. Sure, if someone buys a new laptop and a kindle then we’re talking about an extra device. But if someone has an iPad and continues to use their slightly older desktop, they not only have access to all the major ebook stores, they are consuming fewer material goods.

    Also, I’m pretty sure many ebook loaning libraries don’t work with the kindle, as it does not support the ePub format that most use. I don’t know if the iPad can ‘borrow’ snooks yet, but it is at least technically feasible.

    And yes, borrowing physical books from the library will continue to be the greenest option until existing books wear out. Printing new books, even for libraries, will eventually not compare to the material and energy efficiency of ebooks.

  103. Hank Millstein Says:

    The studies in question seem to overlook one important fact: most people now have computers connected to the Internet that can be used as readers. If one limits one’s e-reading to a computer, the issue of the environmental cost of a dedicated e-reader doesn’t come up. I get books from a library whenever possible; but when I can’t get what I want from a library, I always choose to get a book in electronic form if it’s available. Granted, even a laptop is not as portable as a Kindle; but the environmental value of e-reading on computer (given that computers are now an all but essential part of our life) seems uncontestable.

  104. Karen Says:

    I used to ship boxes of books to my summer vacation destination, then also borrow from the local library. My e reader makes it so-o-o much easier to travel. I also can keep up with newspaper reading. I still have regular books, both hardcover and paperback, and frequent used bookstores and my city library.

  105. Peter Converse Says:

    Our library director in Marion (MA) has an on-going discussion on one of the library’s blog re e-books vs. the real thing, and recently the library began offering an e-reader for patrons to borrow. The jury’s still out on which is best, but I know she’s going to love the Sierra Club’s stance: a library card — what a concept!

    I’m up in the air still too. I haven’t bought an e-reader yet (leaning toward the iPad), but have used them. I can see their usefulness for travelers, commuters, campers, and sailors, certainly, and I like the lower price of e-books, and the ability to change font size. I certainly like reducing my carbon footprint (I read 4-5 books a month).

    On the other hand, I also like the smell, touch, look, and heft of a book, as well as the sound of a turning page. I like to be able to lend my books to friends and borrow from them. And I do enjoy going to the library to browse, talk with the librarians and other patrons about what we’re all reading, and of course borrow books and other materials. For me at least, all of these attributes give books life. I think of them as friends.

    It’s hard to imagine an e-reader being anything but a utilitarian electronic device, at times useful and convenient.

    That said, I suspect in the end I will have my own e-reader — and continue to read books made from paper (i.e., trees, which are, after all, a renewable resource), and I’ll bet society will, in time, find the same balance.

  106. DIANE HOWARD Says:

    Since I am both a reader and a writer I wonder where this new technology will lead us. What kind of profit will us writers make? Have you heard about the book stores being unable to sale children’s picture books? I love my computer but if we are going to this instead of going beneath the shade tree to read a book and turn each page; take away my computer and every electornic gadget I have and give me back the old fashion book. I donate books to everyone except my books on writing and crafts.
    Diane

  107. Andre Says:

    does that mean I can finally get rid of the stack of books on my coffee table and replace them with a slick new slim electronic device?

  108. Dr. David E. Hill Says:

    I am certain that, once you consider the comparison between electronic documents and paper ones available at a library, the conclusions will be obvious here. You don’t want to simply take into account the material associated with each medium. It takes gasoline and oil to make a round trip to the public library, both to obtain and to return books. It also take energy to build, maintain, and heat libraries and other book repositories. Also, you don’t need to purchase a specialized e-reader, any computer will do. Books also have many inherent technological limitations when compared to electronic documents. The inevitable decision to eliminate paper books will be based on cost, convenience and functionality, not simply on energy economics. The great majority of people who go to our local libraries now do it to access the internet from terminals available there. Virtually all new academic literature is now electronic.

  109. Etienne Says:

    There are more dimensions to this than first thought. I own an iPad which has displaced my need to print .pdfs for my study. I now download movies to it – I don’t remember the last time I drove down to the video store. I have no need now to print photos, I carry them all on my ‘pad’. I don’t buy CDs anymore. This past semester at school, I have downloaded nearly 20 textbooks and other relevent ‘books’, no need now even to drive to the library (no public transport here in rural Australia). It all adds up, and it’s all backed up to my computer.
    The versatility of the iPad means that the equation used to calculate CO2 emissions must extend beyond just those that relate to book displacement.
    Digitising my life has been one of the most effective ways I have reduced my carbon footprint. I only hope more of us start thinking of ways to expand the use of existing technology beyond what might first have been its purpose.

  110. Holly Says:

    The last comment jumped out at me. Imagine the current crop of students with their bookbags and their poor backs, subject to injury from bad posture. Then think of them each with an e-reader, filled with the textbooks they need for the year. Their backs would be saved from permanent damage.

    That said, I worry about the landfill potential of e-readers as well as books. And the other thing is that libraries fill a huge service, but if only libraries bought books, who could afford to publish? The question has complex answers.

  111. Jan HH Says:

    Yes, support your public libraries! We move around frequently do to work and as I’m a big reader one of the first things I do is join the local public library. What a fantastic assett, better than lugging arounds boxes of books. Particularly in the US, people don’t realize how great the US library system is. My husband is from the west of Ireland and he’s continually amazed at the fantastic resource of our libraries, no such animal exists where he grew up!

  112. Zarrakan Says:

    Are you kidding? Sales of E-Books is on demand which means the “environmental destruction” they cause is no where near as constant, or as devastating as regular books. Why? Because a E-Book is just Data. You don’t have to kill a tree to make it, and this brings up the second point. E-readers are also used to read newspapers, magazines, pdf files, and various other documents. Once e-readers are fully adopted we may (finally) even begin receiving our junk mail on it too with some kind of opt in incentive (thus saving more trees). The true purpose of e-readers is to obsolete the need for paper documents in all their forms (not just books), and this will have a dramatic effect on saving the environment.

  113. Mike Says:

    There’s something that is missing in all of these discussions – we are reading and contributing to a blog using a computer. That computer is capable of reading electronic books using downloadable software without purchasing additional hardware; those software readers are more powerful (full color and larger font size, for example) than many of the standalone e-readers and don’t have the proprietary issues, since you can download a reader for each vendor/format. So the issue is portability. If you already have a netbook or notebook for other purposes (I am a disabled student and need those to take notes with in class), then that is probably less footprint than all of the other solutions, including going to the library unless you walk or bike, since utilizing something you already have a bit more is almost free (a few extra watts, slightly earlier retirement).

  114. Frank Gould Says:

    This is an interesting article but it only focuses on the use of a product for reading. The iPad has many other features besides just reading a book. I use mine for taking notes in class, inputting data into spreadsheets, carrying documents like scripts for making a movie, looking up information on the internet, reading Power Point slide presentations, and studying for tests. What it does for me is reduces the use of pen and ink, weight of carrying a laptop, and printing out documents to carry.

    It might be worth a study to see how much paper and ink the iPad reduces for students and businesses instead of using paper documents, a laptop, or desktop computer, as well as reading and carrying manuals and books. Case in point, I used the iPad to load a manual that allowed me to search and find information in it. In the printed version, I had to use the table of content and index to find topics. That works fine as long as the author indexed all the words I was looking for. Indices are not always accurate in all books and manuals.

  115. Marian Van Eyk McCain Says:

    My partner and I live in England and like go on vacation (by train, bus and ferry) to places like Italy, Spain and Greece. But since we are hikers we like to travel light, with small backpacks. Both being voracious readers, we used to take 4 paperbacks each and try to eke them out. Now we can take dozens of e-books instead, so for us the ereader is brilliant. At home, we read library books at the rate of four or five a week. Best of both worlds.

  116. JP Says:

    My local library is 10 miles away. If I go once a month, that’s 240 miles per year or about 12 gallons of gas burned just to get the books. There is nothing around it that I need to do, so each trip is just for the library. In my case, the e-book wins.

    For travelers – e-books win because of the amount of books a reader/traveler reads in a year, plus the extra jet fuel consumed for the weight of the books.

    I agree that for the casual reader, this is an expensive and unnecessary toy.

  117. Pete R Says:

    I read a LOT. Mostly library books but I also have a lot of my own. some books I read more than once. I am at my library multiple tims a week. Never used an e-reader. to me, there’s nothing like turning the pages. In addition to recycling, I might recommend donating your books to a nursing home, the people there generally have a limited selection of very old books and do appreciate something new to read.

  118. Joy Says:

    maybe there is no certain conclusion on what pamper green dresser or books but I know I never have to get in my car to get a new book. In addition my local library is not on the way to anywhere I go regularly so that would be another car trip.

  119. mclarkri Says:

    I use all forms of books, including the library and many used books which I pass along or trade in, along with new books and e-books. Most of the e-book formats have applications for use on regular computers as well as e-readers, so can be used without buying a new device. Some of the classics are free, so there is always a selection if I run out of books new to me. As I read several books a week, I think I fall into the e-reader ok category.
    John D says weight and font size only affect a small portion of readers–but don’t forget that with the graying of America (including me) that segment that has arthritis, has trouble carrying the weight of several books at once, and/or may have trouble reading small print is growing rapidly.

  120. mclarkri Says:

    Forgot to say–most e-readers can also use PDF files. I print out hundreds fewer pages now for reports I have to read for work (those I don’t actually have to mark up), because I can have them with me for perusing whenever I have a spare moment, instead of carrying extra weight and paper with me.

  121. Robert Harris Says:

    I have been a passionate reader since the first grade. I probably read 50-60 books per year. My collection is a mix of purchased books, (usually from Ebay or similar site) and the public library. I purchase a new book only when it is one I have to have in my library and I cannot get if from Ebay.

    Regarding the e-reader, it is like washing your feet with your shoes and socks on.

  122. Ken K Says:

    Let’s not forget about the fossil fuels burned by driving to the library. This should be in the equation somewhere.

  123. Jeanne Says:

    I just got the Nook color reader. When traveling, I’ve always found people to trade books with when I finished mine – great way to re-use books and meet people. E-Readers are great for travelers who don’t want to carry a bag full of books. I chose the Nook because with it I can download books from my public library. One green advantage of this is I don’t have to make a trip to the library to return the books – so there’s some gas/CO2 saved there. I also teach and the future of texts is e-books. I get many sample textbooks shipped to my office, but recently publishers have invited me to view sample books on line. So I think eventually there will be green advantages from the elimination of having to ship books.

  124. Rebecca Says:

    I wonder if those studies have taken into account the e-readers that also allow internet usage. This would significantly impact the study as one can purchase a daily subscription to the New York Times or the Post with a much less significant impact on the trees. As others also alluded to, is there any trade off in these studies for the convenience of always having reading accessible? Now we need to make sure all that accessibility actually promotes WORTHWHILE reading!

  125. Cindy L Says:

    I need ideas for recyling books – we’ve had an abundane of old encyclopedias, text books, etc. Typcial recycling bins for paper, magazines, cardboard do not accept bound books.

    My husband uses a Kindle and loves it. He wasn’t too excited when he first received it but once he started downloading books, magazines & recipes the Kindle has been in constant use. I’m still a traditional book person and appreciate the reminder to use the library!

  126. Danika Says:

    I agree with Heidi. I usually read a book a day and resisted getting an ereader because it wouldn’t have the same feel as a real book. I finally got one so I wouldn’t have to pack a dozen books to take with me on vacation. I love it. It reads just like a book. I can stand on the metro and turn pages one handed and it is not as balky as a real book. My only complaint is that ebooks cost as much as a real book but the expenses for the publisher are much less. I’d like to savings passed on to the buyer.

  127. Beth in Asheville Says:

    Having books on my iPad is wonderful, especially when traveling or when my eyes get tired at night. I’m a first-year baby boomer, age 64, born in 1946. I’m active but I have worn-down knee cartilage and the start of cataracts. The ability to enlarge font size and the choice of carrying a 1 and 1/2 lb. iPad, with dozens of ebooks, onto a plane or into a hotel sure beats lugging several books and magazines.
    Admittedly, iPad screens are hard to view on sunny days outdoors. A Nook or Kindle is far better for that, but the iPad wins indoors with its outstanding display for movies, TV shows, YouTube, Internet, email, and more and more iPad apps – plus almost all the iPhone apps work for the iPad. Playing Sudoku, Freecell, Bejeweled, Blocks, and other games apps is a great option, especially when traveling or standing in line or sitting in a waiting room.
    I still prefer reading hardbacks because they do feel better and still are my preference for page-flipping. I buy ones by my favorite authors – sometimes both a hardback and an ebook vision of the same book. Highlighting works well on my iPad with its iBook and Nook apps.
    My brother, a retired oil co. exec who is on the board of an international oil consulting firm, reads a lot of ebooks on his long plane flights, using his smart phones, reading a paragraph at a time. His main complaint is that he can’t transfer ones bought on his original Sony phone onto his iPhone.
    I detect some prejudice against ebooks. I feel there’s a time and a place for most things. Don’t turn your backs on the advantages of our modern age! (I’m an early retiree who was a system progammer for IBM.)

  128. Jabez Van Cleef Says:

    Re: “I find that I miss this (tactile feel) when using an e-reader…” I have never heard this remark from anyone who has truly taken time to acclimate to the Kindle, rather than just trying a brief encounter. It took me about three books, but now I would say the same thing (about “missing” the tactile feel) in reference to the Kindle, if I were to go back to a paper book.

    Why is the energy payback recurrent annually? That is, why does a person have to read 24 books PER YEAR on a Kindle to offset the cost of its manufacture? It seems to me that after the first year it is paid off for good and after that you are truly saving trees every time you read an e-book. Somebody didn’t do their homework here…

  129. christine Says:

    The library is the only way for me!!!

  130. James Mays Says:

    I use my B&N Nook mostly for newspapers, [less paper to recycle or drive to the recycling center, etc.] although we have downloaded a number of out of print classics available from the Google book project [and these often aren't available from libraries.] Library books are more sustainable, and good to work with, of course, but… we live in a rural area so have to drive to our local. At least they are now offering e-books and a wider circle of allied institutions from which to draw so we aren’t limited to their in-house collection.

  131. Laura Says:

    I understand the convience of a Kindle but I will stick to paper books as long as I can. (i still listen to CD’s…the sound quality is better, plus I enjoy the art/smell of fresh print)Plus, I don’t know how you would take a 150 dollar device to read on a windy day at the beach! SAND!!!

  132. Carol Clevenger Says:

    I’ve actually read more sice purchasing my Kindle two years ago. After finding it difficult to give away my personal library when I finished reading, I opted for an electronic reader as a way of eliminating “stuff” that piles up on my shelves and floors for me trip over. I can also toss it in my bag when I leave for the day and I have a library in hand that is light weight (a consideration for people with arthritis) and convenient. My real books are slowly finding new homes. I live in a remote area and our library service is limmited so an e-reader has been a godsend. One drawback: To lend a book to my neighbor, we trade Kindles. Overall, I feel that it has been a good choice despite the green considerations.

  133. carly Says:

    I, too, am an avid reader, and will consume as many as 5 or 6 books a month, mostly in the mystery/adventure genres. I am also a “scatty” reader; I don’t necessarily read one book completely through before picking up another, reading it for awhile, maybe going back to the first, moving to a third, etc…My Kindle allows me to do this with the greatest of ease, and, if I am traveling, I don’t have to tote along a variety of books.

    BUT….all that said, I do like the feel and smell of “real books, and the fact that they can be loaned out/traded, whereas I have yet to figure out how to share books on my e-reader with friends. As well, to recharge an actual book, all one has to do is open it and turn the page! Sometimes, I like to have a soak in the tub with a good book, and I daren’t subject my Kindle to such treatment for fear of dropping in the water!

    The pro/con debate over book vs. e-reader is a tough one.

  134. Jonathan Green Says:

    Amen to all of the above. If you really, really want to have a book for keeps, however, buy a used copy from one of the many websites specializing in them, e.g. American Book Exchange.

  135. Marcia Says:

    May I first state that I love & use often public libraries and I just bought a Kindle for it’s flexibility in font size for afflicted eyes and for convenience during travel. What about the impact of the car trip to go to the public library? What about the “recycling” of books when friends share & pass around a favorite?

  136. Mike Says:

    I would agree that buying an ipad just to read books would be a waste. But most magazines and newspapers are making ipad versions as well. These analyses would be more accurate if they took into account 4 or 5 monthly magazine subscriptions and a daily newspaper. The newspaper itself is equivalent to 30 books a month. Plus an ipad also handles email, web surfing, and other computing needs so it isn’t something you would buy just for reading books.

    Anyone worried about overuse of paper probably doesn’t get a daily newspaper, but a significant number of people do. Electronic solutions are threatening to put the entire news publishing industry out of business (or at least force them online).

    Also reading online material saves you the gas you would use going to the library.

  137. Michael Fisher Says:

    With an e-reader I can carry an entire library with me. Hell, the one I’m getting comes with a hundred classics from the Gutenberg project pre-loaded – a good number of which have been on my TBR list for way too long. And the memory can be expanded to where it will hold my entire music collection in addition to enough books – in the public domain – to fill a fair sized library.

    I’m looking forward to catching up a LOT of reading.

  138. Barbara Says:

    If Ii buy a book it is usually from a yard sale or the used book section of a local bookstore. But my favorite place to browse is the public library where I can get hard cover, paperback, or spoken books. I can’t imagine being more inclined to put an e-book in my purse than whatever paperback I’m reading at the time.

  139. Bert Latamore Says:

    I own more than 300 e-books and have been reading e-books for more than a decade. I have NEVER OWNED AN E-READER and have no use for them. Instead I read them on my handheld, which I own and use constantly for many other important things. Originally that was a Palm PDA, and my first e-books came from Peanut Press, which later changed its name to eReader, and now is owned by Barnes & Noble. For the last three years I have read my books on my Sony Vaio UX, a handheld sized Vista tablet that is also my production computer. I am a freelance writer working from my home. without my computer I would have to commute to an office (probably two hours a day), so figure that into the “is this greener” computation. For me e-books are very convenient. For one thing I never lose the book I am reading, and I always have it with me, along with the rest of my library. And it is much greener, since I would own the computer even if I had never looked at an e-book.
    Single use e-readers are certainly bad for the environment and a general waste of money. I am considering getting a tablet computer to supplement the Vaio since the larger screen is useful at times, particularly for e-magazines. But I will only do that if I am convinced I can get enough use out of it. For now the Vaio does most of what I need, including reading books.

  140. Ken Says:

    David – Raw materials and energy (primarily fossil fuels) are required to produce a book or an eReader. Since these resources are becoming scarcer and more expensive, it is helpful to know which one is better. Whether you do or don’t believe the overwhelming evidence for climate change is completely irrelevant.

  141. VMullins Says:

    call me cautious, but i’m a little worried that e-readers will be followed by firemen…

  142. Karen U Says:

    I have an e-reader, and have to agree with a previous poster about having a variety of books on hand depending on mood, I’ve always been one to have 3 or 4 books in my bag at any given time, and I love it for it’s portability. That said, I do still check books from the library, my kids and I will have up to 60 or so books at any given time.
    The things I would never buy on an e-reader would be reference books (I know e-readers have search options, but there’s nothing like paging through a good reference book when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, and cook books. There is no good way to feel comfortable with an e-reader when you are trying to cook.
    That being said, I do love my e-reader, but nothing will stop me or mine from falling into a real book on a regular basis.
    My thirteen year old daughter by the way, she would rather have a book in her hand any day.
    One last note, having the e-reader does make a lot of classics (free) available to people, books that people may never consider buying or checking at the library.
    People should also be aware that the e-reader app can be downloaded for free off the internet onto a laptop or computer, so really, an e-reader isn’t necessary to have free access to some of the great classics.

  143. Rob Brinkman Says:

    Count me as a fan of the public library, besides being the greenest option we already pay for libraries with out taxes, might as well take advantage of the service. The only possible argument against libraries is the fact that since the Patriot Act the government can find out what you read (which they can also doubtlessly do if you buy books with a credit card). Here in Gainesville Florida our public library system solved that problem by erasing all record of a book being borrowed once it is returned. That way there simply are no records to turn over if you have returned the book. For many years we also did not have any fines for overdue books, however recently too many books were being lost to non-return so a fairly significant fine schedule has been imposed.

  144. Rebecca Migdal Says:

    One of the most significant aspects of “greenness” in real books is that they are not device dependent. E-books are really licenses to access content from a web site. They can only be read on a device, one that requires energy to run, as does that website the electronic “books” are hosted on. A device that will eventually break or become obsolete and have to be replaced.
    A real book can be borrowed, sold, donated or given as a gift– for perhaps hundreds of years to come. There are still books around that were made in the Gutenburg days. Will your e-books be that lasting? Hardly! A real book will never become obsolete and it will never use electricity. It may help build muscle in the reader though!
    Most important of all is something we in our affluent society easily forget. All over the world there are billions of people who cannot afford computers or internet access at all. These are the people whose literacy, or lack thereof, is one of the most significant factors in anti-poverty work, global social and environmental justice and the very future of the earth. Let’s not leave out the rest of the world when we say things like “textbooks will be eliminated completely.” Books are very much alive and should be kept alive if we value our planet.

  145. Mack Says:

    I like reading books but was interested in getting an e-reader so I researched them before last summer. I bought a Nook from B&N and one of the reasons why is it can do several different things (.pdf, web search, play music, change font size). When I found out it could read .pdf files I was very impressed, since my work manuals are printed on .pdf. It is great to have a Nook because when I went to work away from home this year I could just take it. Carrying one book is great, since I can read several books and also have my work information on it, instead of carrying an extra bag with books and manuals in there.
    It is different than having a book to share with other people or keeping Librarians employed but it is great to have. I have several books at home that I have not had time to read but put them on my Nook so I can read them when traveling now. Now, I can get a book signed by an author and save it while still being able to read it without damaging it now.

  146. Sean S Says:

    One factor to consider, beyond the obvious, is that the eBook craze is getting people to read again — particularly young people.

    It isn’t always the case, but a by-product of reading is the gaining of, and thirst for, knowledge. This can lead to an increased social consciousness, which in turn can increase the sensitivity to environmental and humanitarian issues.

    If a little extra CO2 production, via eBooks, could lead to sweeping changes in the future and a shift in the mindset of a population, then it may be worth it.

  147. Boris Says:

    Did the studies include the transporation emissions of acquiring a paper book?
    Went I go to a local book store I rarely purchase more than 1 book at a time, so for each paper book I drive my car over a distance of about ~5 miles; however when I downlaod a book to my iPad, there is no additional travel or additional physical shipping.

  148. kate Says:

    You can’t have two books lying open to cross reference if they’re both on an e-reader.

    And David, read the science. From Wikipedia:
    Most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century has been caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, which result from human activity such as the burning of fossil fuel and deforestation.

    The major greenhouse gases are water vapor, which causes about 36–70 percent of the greenhouse effect; carbon dioxide (CO2), which causes 9–26 percent; methane (CH4), which causes 4–9 percent; and ozone (O3), which causes 3–7 percent.[34][35][36]

  149. Seth Says:

    Heidi…25+ books per month? A book a day almost every day? Reading is great and all…I just think you’re exaggerating. Or you’re jobless and independently wealthy. Or you’re reading large print and kids books exclusively.

  150. Debby Siegel Says:

    Also worthy of noting, books can be shared. I pass my books on. I don’t dispose of them. You can not share an e-book. One of my book-sharing friends got the Kindle and now it will cause me to buy more books.

  151. Carol Says:

    I do used book stores — the slow (but local business) version of the public library!

  152. rob Says:

    i am curious to know why my comment made yesterday on the use of newspapers and magazines was removed and not addressed. i think it is a legitimiate question and i certainly bought a kindle with that in mind. can someone comment on whether ereaders are more energy efficient vs. buying a newspaper that is printed everyday and trucked in and then delivered ???

  153. Heather Says:

    I’m not sure why so many people are defending the convenience of eReaders… I’m sure they are convenient- most new innovations become popular because they make life easier. But, ss we all know convenience can come at a cost. The question was- which reading option is greener.

    Just one more addition- if you prefer to own your books many libraries have very affordable book sales and used book stores are always a great place to find some treausres that came from within your community.

  154. Judy S. Says:

    My husband and I purchase our books at Goodwill and Half Price Books. Whe we are finished with them we re-donate or re-sell them. I just heard and interview on “Fresh Air” with Terri Gross the other day discussing the toxicity of techno-waste. It’s similiar to the nuclear power dilema, we just don’t know how to deal with the waste yet.

  155. Patricia Says:

    I had never thought about getting a Kindle because most of my books come from the library or Goodwill. I didn’t really see the need. However, at work I get a lot of pdfs that need to be printed and then brought to meetings. I hate printing them but could see no way around it — and I hate carrying around a big binder full. It’s heavy and hurts my back to carry it in my briefcase. On the Kindle I can carry them all, and take them to meetings in a much smaller package and no printing!

  156. Wayne Says:

    My wife received a color “Nook” and she loves it for its versatility. In addition to satisfying her appetite for reading, she does crossword puzzles, downloads recipe books, wirelessly searches the internet and most important for her, she is able to read & share interactive children books with her two young grandsons. I would be surprised if these devices don’t effect a significant change in the way people access reading material in the near future.

  157. Ann J. Says:

    What about the authors of these e-books? Do they receive royalties the same way as regular books? Won’t this put the libraries “out of business” if we have nothing but e-books? Can the two co-exist? Would like to know the answers to my questions? Thanks

  158. Steve Says:

    So, what is the environmental/energy impact of recycling the paper of a book, and it’s “leather” cover (in the case of a hardbound copy). Conversely, four years is a long time in “technology years”. Moore’s law suggests that there will be an enticingly “new and improved” e-reader, in the next year or so. Thus, the New York Times analysis may not apply in all cases. And if the library is your solution, be sure to return those books, or you might be looking at jail time…http://www.aolnews.com/2010/12/07/texas-woman-jailed-for-overdue-library-books/

    Maybe we should all just wait until media can be streamed directly into the brain ;)

  159. Jeff Ivey Says:

    I thnk the idea of using a library is a great one, but as an avid reader I enjoy owning books. Along with the research on amount of books read vs carbon used, I also believe you need to look at other factors such as space needed to store books and energy expended building bookcases. For those of us who love owning and reading books, it makes more “environmental sense” to store several hundred books on an E-reader compared to buying a house with an extra room for a library stuffed with bookshelves.

  160. Nancy Keeney Says:

    I can appreciate the E reader for all it offers. I can feel the pains of yet “another” upgrade in our world. At a time when the economy is unpredictable it seems the last thing we need to do is close down book stores and elimante jobs. Perhaps we can find a place for both. I highlight a lot for teaching purposes. I like the feel of books. I understand how E readers offer less weight in backpacks. I just can’t help but wonder if we “the human race” are becoming less human or more advanced. The sure things is reading is not being eliminated.

  161. Tristan Hubsch Says:

    Umm… Surely, one reads more than just books, no? Did these studies take into account the paper, ink and energy required to produce newspapers, for one? While one ‘paper is hardly comparable to a book, a month’s pile of ‘papers is pretty tall a stack, quite a bit more than the stack of books one might read in a month.

  162. Cheryl Says:

    I am an avid reader, so the kindle seemed a good match for me. I do not just download books on my kindle but magazines too. I do frequent the public library here in town and buy books at garage sales. I live far away from bookstores, a 25 to 50 mile trip for me, so I save up my new book buying for those long trips. I see a place in my life for both.

  163. obviousfacts Says:

    You forgot to factor in the obvious: e-readers don’t kill trees. How in the world could you have left out the fact that millions of trees are destroyed by books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements etc where an e-reader does not destroy any trees? All your analysis looked at was the CO2 emissions which trees need to survive. You left out a bunch of environmental factors: chemicals needed to produce both e-reader and paper; recycling paper, disposing of e-readers, quantifying amount of pollution etc. When you compare everything I would bet that e-readers are more environmentally friendly in the long run.

  164. Linda Says:

    I agree with many of the previous posts. I read about a book a day – I read just in the evenings. We travel a lot – ebooks have saved my husband’s back – no more lugging books around. I have both a Kindle and a Sony. At home I read library books. Occasionally, I will order a used book by mail if it is not available as either a library book or an ebook. I have a room full of books that I do not want to part with.

  165. judy nelson Says:

    I more or less grew up in public libraries, since my mom was a librarian, and I consider the library my primary source of reading material. New York City has a wonderful reservations system which allows the public to browse, search and reserve books online and pick them up at local branches. It is a fantastic resource, and allows us to continue our voracious reading without further burdening our already over-stocked bookshelves. Plus, it’s cheap!

  166. James Milligan Says:

    How much coal is used to charge this thing? Trees can be replaced, mountain tops cannot. Maybe they should come with a solar charger.

  167. Maria from Brooklyn Says:

    As an avid reader (5-6 books a month), I use our local library a lot. I “order” what I want to read and get it with a few weeks, sometimes sooner. There are some books that I love so much, I have purchased to read over & over. I can see the value of e-books, but give me paper every time. On the other hand, my children travel a lot, so for them the electronic medium such as I-pods gives them a portability that works. It all depends on life style and age.

  168. Chris U Says:

    Here’s another thing to factor into the decision making process: using an e-reader to read work documents and pdf files downloaded from the internet. I bought a Kindle primarily to get away from my work computer and to read research about climate change (long pdf documents) in a way that was easy on my eyes AND used less energy than viewing it on my computer.
    These are not documents I could check out the library (love libraries, go 2-4 times/wk), so, my thought is that reading these documents on a low-energy use e-reader instead of a computer would tip the balance for conservation towards an e-reader purchase (assuming one reads a moderate to large # of documents this way)
    Thoughts?

  169. Anita Carol Smith Says:

    My iPad comes along with me everywhere as my “book buddy” since it allows me instant access to almost anything I want to read. It’s evenly lit no matter where I am, and it’s light and handy. I can design the color of the print and the size of the font to suit my eyes. And yes, it pleases me to think of trees left to thrive in the forest as a result.

    But all the debate over paper vs ebooks is moot because, ultimately, people will do what they always do: choose whatever is most convenient and pleasing. And I think, in the long run, that’s going to mean ebooks. QED. (which translates roughly from Latin as: “get over it.”)

  170. Virginia Says:

    Please also remember that some ereaders are acceptable to libraries, at least in Connecticut. So, the Nook that I am looking at will allow me to download books FOR FREE from my library. I read at least 5-10 books a month. Much as I love the feel of real books, it’s a logical option for me at this point.

  171. Kris Says:

    I’ve been considering an e-reader for a while now. I buy used books from sales, libraries, Amazon, etc. because I read so much and can’t afford to buy them all new. I have nearly exhausted my interests at our local public library, but am now getting books through interlibrary loan. My thought is that for vacations, travel, etc. an e-reader would be easier than lugging a stack of books along.
    I’d like to have a device that does more than simply read (ipad or min), though. Not sure what device is best for that purpose (email, facebook, ereading, surfing web)?

  172. Sandy Says:

    The e-book is great for travel especially on cruises. Instead of 20 books, all you need is one e-reader.

  173. John H Says:

    Yet another superficial study by talk show ‘scientists.’ I’ve read the referenced reports, and more in more well respected scientific publications. The short answer is that you can spin this issue many ways due to the complexity in getting a meaningful answer. The issue and associated arguments are analogous to the ‘electric/hybrid vehicle.’ No one attempts to quantify (and in many cases, consider) to contributing factors in the manufacturing, distribution, and recycling aspects of the device lifecycle. Why? it is fairly complicated and a lot of assumptions are made. Unfortunately the ramifications of the assumptions are either not studied or left of out the analysis.
    For example e-readers:
    How much energy goes into designing, mfg, assembling and distributing them?
    How much energy goes into recycling or the impacts when thrown into the dump?
    How much energy goes into keeping the servers running to distribute the books? (assuming also some degree of efficiency in server utilization).
    Similarly, for books:
    How much energy does it take to produce a book? to distribute a book?
    Energy spent by ppl going back n forth to libraries?
    You get the point

    And then, there is the cost aspect. All to often, the would be scientist somehow try to equate the energy required to produce something with the cost to produce something and figure that into the green aspect of the device. Energy is the green issue, cost is the economic issue.
    I just wish that some of these superficial observations and conclusions would not make it to the light of day and end up perpetrating half-truths.

  174. Martin Blasco Says:

    Thank you so much for remembering the public library. Nothing greener that this democratic institution.

  175. Ann Manheimer Says:

    Does your analysis address the growing problem of electronic waste? Regardless of the carbon cost of manufacture, does the added problem of toxic waste disposal argue further against e-books?

  176. Peter B Dudley Says:

    Does everyone live inside of a library? Probably not. So then you need to burn fuel to get there. Even if you walk you burn fuel.

    Forget worrying about the energy costs of e-books. Having a child is a much bigger contribution to green house gases. Just imagine how much resources will be used over the useful life of a human child. They are much greater contribution to the creation of wastes than any e-book.

  177. Gary Says:

    To David who believes that CO2 is not bad and is not responsible for global warming. It is true that CO2 is in fact good, but not too much of it! The world got along fine with 200 to 300 parts per mlllion for eons. But as we approach 400 parts per million, the real science (not pseudo-science) says that the earth will warm. As for the geological evidence you cite, sure there were other reasons why earth warmed before CO2 increased. The CO2 responded to the warming by being emitted by the oceans where it was dissolved in cooler times. Conversely, as the earth cooled, the oceans took up more CO2. So CO2 acts as an accelerator of climate change, since more CO2 means more heating etc. In fact the only way we can explain the ice ages is through this accelerator effect. Don’t cherry pick your evidence, and dont oversimplify earth system science! Please read the following article, which is not a polemic, just facts about Charles Keeling and his legacy.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/science/earth/22carbon.html?src=me&ref=general

  178. Sherry Says:

    I am a voracious reader, reading at least 4 to 5 books, magazines, cookbooks, etc. per week, so in my opinion, the more the merrier! I have an iPad for my e-reader, and I do love it for the all the aforementioned reasons. Especially the convenience! I recently fell in love with an author and felt that pang of wanting more after closing the book, and immediately was rewarded with several more of her options as e-books that were instantly down loadable! What a joy! Yeah, technology, yeah 2010 (soon to be 2011!)!

    Why be so choosy? Enjoy them both! I do everyday and feel like I am living the best of all worlds possible. I think closing ourselves from either market is silly and restrictive. I also buy many of my books second hand from Goodwill and then recycle them; as well I frequent at least two libraries. Of course, I have three overstuffed bookshelves in the living room and full bedside table with all my favorites within hand’s reach.

    And, did I mention that I also keep audio books? These are the best, I love those when I am cleaning or trying to rest/relax before sleep. Oh, the options are endless and my best advice is to keep recycling, keep borrowing from the library and enjoy life!

  179. Jeff Says:

    One way to evaluate impact is to look at the extremes, given the tremendous rate of growth in the amount of information generation we see today. Imagine if all information is stored and accessed on paper via books; the extinction of trees would seem eminent, leading to an alternative storage means such as digital, and the loss of a major component in the balance of CO2 levels for the planet, which sounds like we end up worse off than we are now. On the other hand, if all information is stored and accessed digitally via e-readers and other electronic devices, usage of trees for books would be eliminated, but the demands for power and resources would increase dramatically, while technological advances in power usage and carbon impact would continue to improve. The world is becoming a glutton for information because of the digital technology itself, so e-readers seem inevitable. The future e-reader may be little more than an application on a cell phone and a pair of “reading” glasses.

  180. Eva Stum Says:

    Very good article…I am on Team Library!

  181. Lolie Says:

    To me the choice is clear — until the electronics industry makes a product — whether it is a plasma tv, a smart phone, or a digital book reader — that can is less toxic in landfills, then the old-fashioned library is the way to go. For such a “green world,” everyone seems to be rushing to buy everything digital without thinking about the end game of these products.

  182. Marco Says:

    I don’t understand the number. I want to agree but I feel like it should be 1 Kindle = 24 books or 24 books yearly for five years, not 24 books per year indefinitely… if the number applies to the manufacturing of the product. Newspapers? Magazines? Also, if someone buys an iPad only for reading books they should get a good shaking.

    On the plus side, the library has audiobooks for those of us who like to read with our eyes closed.

  183. CBC Says:

    When asked about the grammar rule of not ending a sentence in a prepostion Churchill said, “That is an errant bit of pedantry up with which I shall not put!” I might say the same thing about this discussion.

  184. Zoe Says:

    I’ve been reading ebooks on my 1st generation ipod nano for two years now, using the Kindle and Stanza applications. Talk about efficient! Now I no longer need to carry around a music player, several books, and a computer when traveling. And along with being able to read the latest books sold on Amazon, I have access to the classics for free. Yes, there are usually libraries wherever you travel, however, this kind of access is super convenient and time saving. And I don’t really see any reason to upgrade the device, so it’s lifespan has been considerable, especially since I bought it used to begin with.

  185. Bill Pinkham Says:

    Governments don’t even have to bring on the firemen, at least right away, because erasing a controversial or even slightly suspicious book is just a click away. If the Chinese government can so easily block websites, what do you suppose would happen if a history of Tianneman Square were available on an ebook site? From the way that Google caved in China, we have to assume that some ebook suppliers will do the same when profits trump morals, which as any attentive citizen knows, happens all the time. And what about browsing the stacks and accidentally finding a nifty book? When I was a college student in the early 60′s, I noticed a set of three books that had never been taken out. (Back then, in the Jurassic Era, books were date-stamped on a paper attached inside the cover.) I took out the first of the series to check it out, and wound up dropping my studying for that night and reading it all the way through in one sitting. That book was “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which we all now know as the first part of “The Lord of the Rings.” The next day I snagged the others and spent a week lost in Middle Earth.

  186. Sandy Thomas Says:

    I use my iPhone to read books, and I read 6 to 12 a month, some “real” from the library as well. I find the phone easy to hold, easy to read, and lovely when I’m lying in bed. I don’t need another big piece of equpment to schlep around. Now, that’s green!

  187. sammi shepherd Says:

    I have always read a lots of books and ran out of places to put them. I am a kindle convert – I love it! My hands are not as good as they used to be and I find it wonderful due it’s light eight and slim build. It is the best thing that I have bought since my poodle…

  188. Judy Cullins Says:

    Love this conversation! As a eBook author/publisher of “Write your eBook or Other Short Book–Fast, I can add you don’t have to use a Kindle to read eBooks. You can order directly from sites who offer them in a Portable Document Format (PDF).

    I”m at my library once a week because while I write how to business books, I love reading good fiction. So all the better if we can get them via eBooks.

  189. daisy swadesh Says:

    Can you reread an entire eBook because it was so good or lend it to a friend? Can you check back to a previous page and use your finger to hold your place? Can you underline important passages of a non-fiction book you’re using for research? I don’t keep many books, but when I do I go back and reread passages. I can’t imagine doing these things electronically.

  190. anne gregory Says:

    Don’t forget to LISTEN to books, too. It’s a different experience, with its own upside & downside. My iPod is my devoted book-reading slave. It reads to me while I work in the yard or kitchen, clean house, or take a walk with my dog — anytime my hands are otherwise occupied. (It’s probably not entirely safe to listen while driving, so I’m not going to admit to that, but it may not be much worse than listening to the news on the car radio.) I have several hundred books, and I’ve listened to most of them 2-3 times. The mind associates the book with the place it was listened to, so you remember places as well as voices. The basic nano is a very small device so I assume its manufacture is less environmentally costly. For those whose eyes tire or who wake up at night and need to read a little before being able to fall back to sleep, it is a great additional way to get the pleasure of a book. The accent of a good reader adds so much to a narrative that takes place in, say, Ireland or Botswana. The voice of an excellent reader (it’s a performance, after all) can make any tangled grammar clear, so you can understand and get to love those long dependent clauses that might stump you in the print version of the finest literature. And what could be better than having M. Proust read you to sleep at night?

  191. Bob Bradley Says:

    It seems like the discussion regarding “sustainability” of e-readers vs. books has missed an important point — the sustainability of the resource itself. Paper is a sustainable resource — trees, if properly managed, can provide us with paper in perpetuity. Metals can be sustainable resources as well since they can be recycled in perpetuity; however, the rare earth elements that are used in electronics are rarely recycled and are thus not sustainable in any way. What’s more is that while even a clear-cut forest can grow back (eventually), an open-pit mine — such as those dug for extracting gold, copper, nickel, platinum, and other metals — will be nothing but a scar on the surface of the earth for millenia. If you need more, coltan (columbite-tantalite), which is used in laptops, DVD players, video game consols, cellphones, and undoubtedly e-readers, helped fund the conflict in the DRC, facilitated the bush-meat trade (i.e., killing of mountain gorillas), and lead to significant deforestation.

  192. Brad Says:

    I had heard that magazines can also be downloaded to these. Did the study consider the energy involved in obtaining paper periodicals also?

  193. Beth in Asheville Says:

    The green debates sometimes seem like fretting about a buzzing gnat while swallowing a camel. Are we reading this discussion while using room lights and in warm rooms provided by coal-generated electricity or other fossil fuels?
    I sometimes use less lighting while I read ebooks – and Internet discussions. My iPad has improved my quality of life every day. I’m not going to fret over its use of resources. Instead, I try hard to minimize the number of miles that I drive, by consolidating errands, walking around downtown, etc.
    The disposal of used devices is important… I hear that some people in the 3rd world do dangerous work removing toxic chemicals when recycling our discarded computers and other handy, but rapidly obsoleted devices, such as smart phones.

  194. Bob Levy Says:

    You ignore the “greenishness” of this article and all of its comments. I don’t like to read documents on my computer screen. I’d rather sit in a comfortable chair and pass it over to my wife to read also. Everything treated thus is a savings in paper for you, and a cost of printing in paper and ink for each person who does as we do.

    Your printing process is probably less expensive in all sorts of ways for you than it is for us. But it is more expensive for you to print all articles in full. Probably much “greener” for you not to print for all of the newsletters with this extra material on the basis that not everyone will read it. But if some portion of your readers do as we do – then the process is much less green.

    The same suggestion could be made for your newsletter – mail it to libraries and let readers read it there.

  195. Nicole Says:

    I considered buying an E-Reader about two years ago but I decided against it. The big reason? I do not like having an excessive amount of electronic devices hanging around that serve only one or two purposes. If I am going to purchase an electronic device I want one that can serve several different functions. I don’t want an IPod because my cell phone has an MP3 player built in that suites my needs. I am an avid reader, but I don’t like wasting paper and I don’t usually read the same book several times. But I do use my netbook all the time. I am a full time college student but I attend online classes. While friends and coworkers are freaking out about the additional cost of gas and time to get to school, I just turn on my computer, log in, and start class. Most of my classes provide e-Books, and when they don’t I can find my textbook in e-Book format somewhere online. I can purchase e-Books on Barnes & Noble.com as well as many other sources. I didn’t have to buy a separate piece of equipment to read e-Books, and very few people that I have talked to about it knew that you could get e-Books on a computer rather than a special e-Book device. Of course, this was before the Ipad came out. But I think I will stick to my netbook until it is no longer functional, then I will see if I can have it recycled.

  196. Ellen Says:

    What are the statitics regarding eReading pdf documents vs printing them out on a home printer?

  197. Debra Says:

    My husband gave me a Kindle for the holidays last year. I did not want one and was not excited about it, but I gave it a try. I’ve never been a big reader, have trouble reading the tiny tight print of paperbacks and find hard bound books expensive and heavy. Just have never enjoyed the process of reading, until now. — I LOVE my kindle and have more than tripled the number of books I read this year. I can make the type a size that is comfortable for me, it’s super light weight (easy to read in bed, or simply lay on my lap while sitting to read). I’m sad about the news that it maybe less green, as I try hard to be gentle with the earth. But I’m grateful for a way to read that works so much better for me.

  198. Eileen Says:

    I am surprised that the article doesn’t mention the cost of paper – the cutting down of trees, the manufacturing of paper (a very messy business), the use of inks, and so on. If the topic is “green”, the destruction of trees and the pollution of rivers near paper-making plants must be a part of the equation.

  199. Jackie Says:

    This is interesting, since I just got a Kindle for Christmas. I live on a tiny island, and love to read. However, there is only one library, with very few recent books. The only bookstore has a very very small selection, and is extremely expensive. I never thought I’d switch to an e-book (same as others: like the feeling of a book, reading off a screen, etc.), but this has been the right choice for me. I’ve had it for less than 24 hours and already am on book number 2! :)

  200. brian mandabach Says:

    As an author (small press, small sales) I really appreciate the libraries that bought my book. I also support libraries personally and use mine every week. But I hope SOME people will buy books, paper or electronic, so that SOME authors can make a living writing books.

  201. Chris Says:

    Libraries are definitely the most “green” and effective answer to this situation in my opinion. Unfortunately our society is built on convienience and status symbols so it’s difficult to convince people to want to leave the comfort of their homes and spend their free time in one. I would be less paranoid about the mass production of magazines and books and their effect on deforestation if the majority of manufacterers switched to hemp instead of timber and/or recycling became common and accepted practice in our society.

  202. John Stuart Leslie Says:

    Comparing a traditional book to an ereader in terms of carbon footprints and sustainability should be compared to monoculture vs. polyculture. An Ipad type ereader is a poly-info media device compared to an edreader which is a mono-info media device. Using a digital device that accomplishes more tasks is obviously more in alignment with reduce, recycle and reuse. Its the book publishers like Amazon (Kindle device) that know the trend is going away from hard copy book sales to digital formats, but I believe the trend towards personal mobile computing devices such as the Ipad will replace single purpose ebook readers over the years once people realize that they can browse the internet, email and read personal ebooks all on a single device.

  203. Rebecca Beebe Says:

    What a discussion. Even to the point that someone compared an electronic device and its environmental impact to the environmental impact of a human child. That was a stretch for my brain.
    What is good for one person is not always good for another. I like the simplicty of going to the library. I also like using my computer. I have a cell phone. I even went out on a limb and bought a little netbook. Not being geeky enough to figure that out, I think I will leave the ebook issue to the next generation. They will be the ones to have to think their way through the environmental issues that these ebooks seem to bring with them.
    Best to think of those issues first rather than last.
    Happy Holidays. And happy reading – no matter what format.

  204. Barbara k Says:

    There are pros and cons to each, right now I prefer a paper book..some I keep, most I lend and then donate to the library..which seems very “green” to me.
    I do often buy used books at places like Alibris…
    I am sure if I had an ebook it would run out of power at an inconvenient time, when I had no access to more! LOL
    My daughter just got an ebook mainly for travel, insteda of carrying multiple books.
    But I think ebooks will have a place…our school librarian is interested in them and some of the classics are now free on ebooks

  205. Peter A. Poccia Says:

    Some things to consider:

    Distance to the library and resources used (walk/public transportation vs. drive short or long distance)
    Availability at the library – in paper – Hudson Valley library system (where I live) vs. in pixels – New York City Public Library System – one of the most extensive in the world – that is available to all NYS residents
    Aesthetics – the feel, sight, smell of a book vs. an electronic gadget
    Convenience – go to library, bookstore or online book store (and wait for arrival) vs. download anything right now, anywhere there is an internet connection.
    Also, you can carry with you, in your pocket, dozens (or thousands) of books, magazines, maps, tools, music.

    Also consider what is being replaced by pixels. Book, certainly. But the NYC Library (and others) has available to borrow: Books, periodicals, music, film, educational courses, reference materials. Think of the not so distant future when all these things will be available everywhere to buy or borrow. Not only are you eliminating paper, of many varieties, but the plastics, wrappers, merchandising, etc. used in music and movie media.

    Yes, it’s a different world. But the old world, especially with the rising populations and the exhaustion of resources, is not sustainable. I prefer the old world but, I think, the generations after me will not have a choice.

  206. Meri Lee Says:

    I got a Kindle a year ago, just to use at the gym while working out (It’s hard to hold a real book, turn the pages, and stay on the treadmill). I carry it everywhere now. I still have stacks of TBR (to be read) books in my house, plus book cases full of already read books. I belong to Paperbackswap and Book Mooch – members send out books and request books (sender pays postage) from available titles. I also use the Public Library. I read more than 25 books in an average month – some as Ebooks, some real books.

  207. Tom Says:

    The reason I got my iPad was no only to avoid getting a kindle, but also since it can do many of the time consuming functions of my laptop, I thought it would help me to use my laptop less, which uses a lot more power (and I do use it less). I can read without a light because of the backlight of the iPad, using less power than the light. I do like books but the iPad has its own advantages and good feel. Assuming a more general device like the iPad or a smart phone will only be used as a reader is unjustified at best and skews the analysis. I do not have a smart phone, so the iPad was my best choice. Books do not access the internet, so the lowest impact method is still needed for this. The iPad fit that bill for me.

  208. Kent Minault Says:

    It’s also possible (as in my case) to download a reader app onto your computer without buying a separate ereader, and then download the books. That way you’re not contributing to ewaste, since you’ve already got the computer for other reasons. Kindle offers a free app, and then lets you get some great classic literature, also for free. Can’t beat the price, and the environmental impact must be less than physical book purchases.

  209. ARTHUR GOLDBERG Says:

    The studies probably all assume that the reader of paper books is buying new ones. If you buy all used books or obtain books free at curbsides or buy them at garage or porch sales, I think the paper books would win out every time. Of course, if the e-reader is obtained used too, then it becomes more complicated.

  210. ARTHUR GOLDBERG Says:

    The gas used to go to the library or travel to the store where you buy the E-book will probably use more energy and create more carbon than the whole use of the item.LET’S CONCENTRATE ON THE BIG THINGS! I’ve seen too many times people driving small amounts of garbage to a recycling center, without realizing that the trip there created more pollution than they were saving by dropping their stuff off.

  211. Are e-readers eco-friendly? | Says:

    [...] of reading books, studies show that the breakeven point is between 50 and 150 books. A study by the Sierra Club claims that the e-reader is probably the better option for people who read over 40 books a year. [...]

  212. How green is your (and my) Kindle? | Top US News Today Says:

    [...] chance to see that this figure was presented last December on ABC’S Good Morning America by Sierra Club Green Home’s Jennifer Schwab in a segment of ‘Just One Thing’ that was about how green [...]

  213. Alison Tottenham Says:

    Although I am sure that many of the above comments regarding the monetary and environmental costs of E-books v Paper books, I still feel that I would rather we continued to publish copies of paper books for the following reason.

    My parental home has recently had to be emptied and though many books had to be given away, I have got quite a few dating from the late 19th and 20th centuries, that give a fascinating view of the life of the times, yet are not recognised classics and would therefore not have had digital copies made. I wonder too, whether the i-Readers of 100years time will be able to read any of the books published to-day, or whether we will still have the facillities to read them.

    Certainly I value the ability to retrieve archaeological papers and make sense of what their authors intended. Yet I am very aware that the first part of my second thesis, on a 5.5inch floppy, is now unreadable for the simple reason that the equipment to read it no longer exists! Therefore, I suspect that going fully over to the digital medium will deprive the archaeologists of the future of an understanding of our world.

  214. Bill Warner Says:

    Maybe I shouldn’t even join in this discussion because I’ve never read an e-book but have often wondered whether I would enjoy it. I kinda love my library, but is a pain when I have to move it. I’ve published two books so far, both would be non-fictional books. Therefore, most of my books are kept for reference purposes. I find it important for me to find the sources of information I’m trying to recall. I do a lot of highlighting in my books, a practice I’ve retained from my college days. I can’t imagine what it must be like trying to study for an exam with only an e-book as a reference. I find it difficult to read the dial on my cell phone outside – wouldn’t it be the same with an e-book? How can you read and enjoy a walk at the same time? When looking for biblical references I’ve tried using the computer but in the time it took to turn it on, sign onto the internet, wait for the software to load, then search for what I want, it was easier and faster to take my concordance and Bible off the shelf and I got my answer in less than a minute. While I would love to save the trees, I’m not sure I want to let go of my library. How do you highlight an e-book?

  215. The Indispensable Pixel | LiveWires Says:

    [...] that’s just way too subjective. My question is: are eReaders more green than paper books? e-Readers Vs. Old Fashioned Books – Which is Greener? (Sierra Club Green Home) – “Mr. Green’s conclusion – as well as a recent New York Times [...]

  216. Firmly Green » Blog Archive » E-Readers vs Old Fashioned books Says:

    [...] is a very provocative <a href=”http://www.sierraclubgreenhome.com/featured/e-readers-vs-old-fashioned-books%E2%80%94which-is-greene…>article by the Sierra Club</a> comparing the eco-friendliness of E-readers vs regular [...]

  217. Paper vs. Electronic – the Green Reading Debate Says:

    [...] to have the advantage. The deciding factor, then, often lies on the consumer end: personal usage. Popular opinion says that if you read a substantial amount, go ahead and buy an e-reader. The idea is that an [...]

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  219. Kevin Says:

    Libraries rule!

  220. bunsongpayat Says:

    I’m still with Books. The feeling of a book in my hand and its smell when it gets old are the things e-reader wont give me. There is this relationship you build with a book while you read it. I sometimes do doodling or underline some things. Although e-reader has the highlighting or makes the font bigger for you to read, it’s still screen with resolution (i dont know what the right word, but it’s still like a computer, you’re looking at a monitor).. if you’re reading an e-book for hours or frequent for that matter, your eyes will get tired easily. With book, your eyes might get tired but it’s lesser than with ereader.

    I think majority of book reader dont read 40 books a year. And if you are, your eyes will get swollen with e-reader for such huge number of books/year.

    But since some books that i’d love to read are only available in US, ereader can download them. Or there are books that are only available as ebooks.

    The market of ereader is small. I may not have a backup, but you have % for boorkreader and from that you have % for readers who read 40books and above in a year. How many of them?

    So, that’s my take. =)

  221. Mark Redden Says:

    eReaders or books? There is more to this than carbon footprint:

    Can someone help me with some math? And check my facts?

    On average taking home one pound of consumer product causes 100 pounds of waste. This waste includes everything from the chopping of the forests, or the digging of the metals to the disposal of the product packaging.

    On average a person in the US consumes 680 pounds of paper products each year for reading (daily newspapers, magazines, business reports, school textbooks and reports, junk mail, books, etc.). Only 1/3 of paper is recycled and of that, half is burned as ‘biofuel.’

    The iPad2 weighs 1.4 lbs and will probably last me 5 years. If my trend with the iPad2 continues I will eliminate 90% of my paper demand.

    Will the iPad cut the amount of waste I was responsible for creating? If so, by how much?

  222. Running Forward: » Paper Books, eBooks, and the Environment II Says:

    [...] to have the advantage. The deciding factor, then, often lies on the consumer end: personal usage. Popular opinion says that if you read a substantial amount, go ahead and buy an e-reader. The idea is that an [...]

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  225. Sammy King Says:

    Here some info on eReader CO2 emisssion that helps to complete the picture:

    E Ink vs LCD Why E Ink eReader is Best

    It looks like just 10 eBooks are enough to offset the emissions of an Eink ereader such as the Kindle or Nook Touch.

  226. best wineries in Napa valley Says:

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  227. YDC Says:

    For me, the e-reader is the way to go. I read a lot – maybe 20 books a year. I got my Kindle a year and a half ago and have more than 300 books on it – most free.
    I have an allergy problem and have just done some sorting in my apartment. Paper books and dust! And libraries don’t take book donations anymore. Every now and then I’ll pick up a paper book but the less, the better. To each their own but most of my friends who are frequent readers, have e-readers. Some people have told me that they like to ‘feel a book’ every one of those people hardly ever read. Paper books have been around for a very long time but things change. Some people like some changes; some don’t. But that doesn’t mean that change will not come.

  228. booooooooks (& growing things) | francofile Says:

    [...] books while I say that I’m all for saving the earth, I would just like to point out that the Sierra Club has researched e-readers. If you buy less than 40 books per year, it’s actually more sustainable to buy the book than [...]

  229. Deb H Says:

    These analyses don’t take into account all of the infrastructure that the books are stored on. Your ebooks (and streaming movies, and MP3s!) don’t live in an ACTUAL cloud – they’re in huge, redundant datacenters with massive amounts of storage, power, and cooling. And still more infrastructure has to deliver it from the datacenters to your devices.

  230. Juliet Blalack Says:

    That’s an excellent point Deb, and one we should elaborate on in future articles.
    While I don’t want to look at the issues exclusively from this angle,I am curious about how much influence consumer choices have on the amount of energy and resources used up by datacenters.
    One of our writers did write about the energy savings from cloud computing:
    http://www.sierraclubgreenhome.com/green-news/cloud-computing-energy-savings-and-carbon-reduction/

  231. Libri a impatto zero | Scrittura Digitale Says:

    [...] certi: numerose analisi comparative di qualche tempo fa (una sintesi interessante si può trovare qui e qui) dimostrerebbero che gli eBook sono in ogni caso più eco-compatibili dei volumi a stampa, a [...]

  232. Frank Says:

    Remember that you will cut down on your emissions by downloading your library books to your ereader without having to visit the library itself.

  233. amd Says:

    Under no circumstances will I ever feel the slightest guilt about buying books. Happy to use libraries, and if I want a book to keep, I will buy it, without compunction. As I re-cycle, compost, use low chemical personal products, use steam and water and microfibre cloths to clean around the house instead of chemicals – and a myriad of other things I do for the environment – I do my share. I might also, at some point, buy an e reader to supplement my reading, but when I drop my book, it doesn’t smash, I throw my book in my handbag as I leave the house and don’t have to concern myself with scratching it, or being careful with it. If I forget my book I can afford to replace it, and I loan my books to my friends, as they do me – none of which would work with an e reader.

    What was not, I think, mentioned in the article (perhaps in the comments, have not read them all) was that in addition to the footprint of making the e reader, this technology will be upgraded every few years, unlike my books which never become obsolete. I can only imagine the amount of e readers I would have had to buy to replace obsolete technology in the nearly 40 years I have been buying books. Not to mention batteries which will have to be replaced, and the carbon footprint every single time you use electricity to turn it on and load a page.

    Bottom line, people can feel free to try to make those who purchase books feel guilty, and I will feel free to ignore them.

  234. Matthew Says:

    It’d be interesting to have more information on the parameters used for the test, and whether it took into account just how many hands a conventional book might pass through. On a like-for-like basis (i.e. a new book, read once by a single individual) e-readers might come out on top in the long term, but how does that compare to libraries and thrift stores, where a single book can be read by hundreds of people?

    I’d also imagine there’s a vast difference in resource consumption between a tablet computer like an iPad or Kindle Fire, and a specialist, non-backlit e-reader like the original Kindle, which was a remarkable machine that didn’t even use power to display the words on the screen, only to turn the page.

  235. Gringo A Go-Go » The Less-Paper Classroom versus Paperless Classroom Says:

    [...] I still want them to use paper books and notebooks because there is something to be said for interacting with materials in a meaningful way. I’m not sold on eBooks being more environmentally friendly than paper books. [...]

  236. dfs Says:

    ereaders are cool:)

  237. ? Says:

    books are better

  238. SharePoint Architecture Says:

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  239. Steve1 Says:

    Books are cool

  240. Ben G Says:

    the one thing that is overlooked is that technology is always changing and if people are constantly updating there devices, it would not be as eco-friendly.

  241. Ethan Boner Says:

    ereaders are cool

  242. WHY WE WILL NEVER LOVE OUR EREADERS AS MUCH AS BOOKS | The More You Know BBlog Says:

    [...] Bonus points:  unless you are a super fast reader and are consuming more than 25 books a year, books are the more environmentally friendly choice over e-readers.  [...]

  243. Tomas Says:

    Yeah, what about all those 8 tracks, cassettes, cds, records, I bought? Also, the Atari 2600, 7800, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Master System, Turbo Grafx, Neo Geo, Sega Saturn, Genesis, Commodore 64, Vic 20, Jaguar consoles and games. Do people not learn? Technology fads change every 15 minutes. Just wait until your precious e reader, kindle isn’t made anymore. Books! Oh, and like technology, we’ll forget about global warming and move onto another issue.

  244. E-readers will be the death of print media | Hamdhan's ITGS Case Study Blog Says:

    [...] http://www.sierraclubgreenhome.com/videos/e-readers-vs-old-fashioned-books%E2%80%94which-is-greener/ [...]

  245. dj Says:

    I have never found a thorough analysis of book manufacturing vs ereader+books manufacturing — from birth to end-of-life.

    To make a book requires trees and ink. Books can be reused, loaned, passed on, and recycled. A book always works, doesn’t require anything else, there are no future surprises or tracking/privacy issues. There’s research into better inks. I’m not sure where books are actually physically printed, but computers are made in China. To make an ereader requires mining of minerals. According to the NRDC: Aluminum, Antimony, Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Gallium, Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, Palladium, Platinum, Silver, Tin, Zinc. Both production processes require a lot of water. I haven’t looked into their physical manufacturing facilities. EReaders are seldom loaned, passed on, or recycled.
    They should always work, but require maintenance, additional add-ons (electronic or physical), there may be current/future ads, and tracking/privacy issues. Unfortunately our economy does not have a true GNP. Things like environmental cleanup, pollution, depreciation of the environment, recycling are ignored — maybe they are just considered public expenses and that is what taxes are for. Trees can be replanted but what about rare earth elements.

    If one watches the weather channel, they will know there is a possibility of a long-term electrical outage from a storm or an electromagnetic pulse. Granted we’ll have larger concerns, but books will still work. ;-)

  246. Amy J Says:

    I don’t have time to read all the comments, so forgive me if this is a repeat. I love the feel of a “real” book and will continue to purchase them and borrow them from the library. However, there are three specific instances in which I feel the digital format has a distinct advantage. One: for students, who can then give up their (too-heavy) backpacks and do all their required reading from one lightweight device. If the device also has internet capabilities, papers could be composed on or uploaded to it and submitted online or emailed to the teacher/professor. Two: for travel, where weight and space are important considerations. Three: for the arthritic and vision-impaired, who can then easily get to the next page and/or increase the font size.

  247. Greener Reading | presarjr Says:

    […] http://www.scgh.com/videos/e-readers-vs-old-fashioned-books%E2%80%94which-is-greener/ […]

  248. Filomena E. Wadsworth Says:

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  255. Are E-books Green? | What's in a name? Says:

    […] SCGH. E-Readers vs. Old-Fashioned Books—Which Is More Eco Friendly? [Online]. Available from: http://www.scgh.com/videos/e-readers-vs-old-fashioned-books%E2%80%94which-is-greener/ Brown, A. (2013). Huffington Post. How Green are E-books and E-book Readers? [Online]. Available […]

  256. The Importance of an Old fashioned Book | Society's Soothsayer Says:

    […] of books. The pros really do outweigh the cons in this scenario. An article by SCGH entitled E-Readers vs. Old-Fashioned Books—Which Is More Eco Friendly? Comes to the conclusion that, “unless you’re a fast and furious reader, the energy required to […]


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