Archive for Monday, March 7, 2011


Go Green: E-readers not always the environmentally friendly choice

March 7, 2011


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.

— Kelly Barth can be reached at


Agnostick 3 years, 1 month ago

In addition to the other good responses already made...

1) The article linked to in the commentary makes passing reference to a study by CleanTech, "if you were to read three books a month over four years, the e-reader would significantly outperform conventional paper books in carbon emitted." That's the only hint at how long you own and use an e-reader. I have an iPod Classic purchased in 2006, still going strong... my only real reason to upgrade is a need (want?) for more hard drive space.

2) Just as old books can be passed around, resold, etc. older e-readers can also be passed down, resold etc. once a user decides to upgrade.

3) So, when I order a book online, or even go to a retailer... something had to bring the book closer to me. Something had to bring that book from the publisher, to the warehouse, the distribution center. That's usually done with trucks and aircraft. Downloading an electronic book will use a little electricity from the nearby coal-fired plant, but I can't help but think it's a lot less than hauling all those books around.

4) Just as iTunes and mp3 files allow smaller bands and performers the chance to be heard, E-books allow a lot more writers the opportunity to publish. Most big publishers wouldn't bother with a title that might only move 50,000 copies.


Flap Doodle 3 years, 1 month ago

Will YDP finally be happy when we are all sitting in mud huts?


beatrice 3 years, 1 month ago

Going green should be all about the people -- Go Soylent Green!


Norma Jeane Baker 3 years, 1 month ago

For me, although I was already a voracious reader, I find that I am reading even more with my Kindle. I have books with me anywhere I go. Standing in line? Read. Unexpected delay? Read.


nepenthe 3 years, 1 month ago

I just purchased a Nook, mostly because I /am/ one of those voracious readers and my bookshelves really can't stand the weight of one more book less they collapse. I was afraid that it wouldn't quite feel the same as a book. But honestly, I found it to be no different. I have allergies and sneeze at the slightest thing, so the scent of the book itself is not missed. Also, I find I buy fewer kleenex boxes now, since my Nook doesn't make me sneeze.


Norma Jeane Baker 3 years, 1 month ago

"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."

You must not own a Kindle or any other e-reader. Believe me, using one still 'feels' like reading.

I love hearing about a book, checking it out online and downloading it minutes later. No need to buy more bookshelves to house my continually growing library. It makes travel much easier, too. I have all the books I could possibly want to read right at my finger tips.

Is it really greener to check out books from the library? I mean, most people won't walk or ride a bike there. So, they'll get in their car, drive to the library, pick out a book, drive home. Sounds like a larger carbon footprint to me.


thuja 3 years, 1 month ago

"On the other hand, I doubt many of us would want to see old-growth forests felled to fill our bookshelves."

The old-growth forests are mostly a memory already. No need to delude yourself.

Although, the old-growth wood is best for making toilet paper, which would you rather see?


grammaddy 3 years, 1 month ago

Love my new Literati! It came with 150 books already loaded into it. It's lighter than a paperback and can be read in the dark. Great for travel. How much are the stickers? I feel I should contribute to the cause.


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