Friends lament that no one reads anymore, an exaggeration, certainly, but one that reflects a very real concern. Many people don’t read anymore. A world of electronic communication has shortened our attention spans and dulled our critical thinking skills. That is indeed worrisome. The relatively recent revolution of e-readers offers hope that reading books will continue in some form or another into the future.
Still, reading on a device leaves many of us cold. Without the visual, tactile, auditory and even olfactory pleasure of pages and ink, it somehow no longer feels like reading. On the other hand, I doubt many of us would want to see old-growth forests felled to fill our bookshelves.
Where should a person with a concern for the environment stand, then, on reading books? That’s what the Sierra Club set out to discover, and the results surprised them. Though they had expected to find that e-readers were a greener alternative, they found that unless a person is a voracious book buyer, the opposite is true. According to their report and a recent New York Times article, “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.” The report indicated that if you read 40 or more books a year on your e-reader, it’s probably the better choice environmentally. Otherwise, you should stick with traditional books.
Regardless of these findings, the U.S. book industry could do much to green up its act. Many Canadian and European publishers use a combination of recycled paper and that from sustainably harvested wood, but U.S. publishers have been slower to catch on. Though many are signatories to the Green Press Initiative, an organization dedicated to greening the print industry, most have been slow to make substantive changes. Consumer pressure will be needed to turn the tide. An e-mail to the publisher of the latest book you enjoyed wouldn’t hurt.
In the meantime, another organization, EcoLibris, has made a way for publishers, authors and readers alike to mitigate the impact of print books. Publishers and authors can purchase credits for each book printed, and that money will be sent to cooperatives planting trees in forests in third-world countries around the globe.
Readers, too, can purchase their own sticker online or from their local book-seller. Lawrence’s own Raven Book Store is a participating EcoLibris store, to affix to the book cover that indicates that one tree was planted with the purchase of the book.
Of course, another alternative — perhaps the greenest of all — is to check out books from the public library.
After initial purchase, physical books can be read, donated, traded and resold, then live many lives on many shelves without causing an iota of damage. Another great thing about them is that, once they have been read to tatters, every part of them, even the leather from covers, is 100 percent recyclable.
No matter what our individual choice from the interesting mix, may we all read more rather than less.