A big part of your household environmental impact comes from the day-to-day activities that happen inside your home. Even simple pleasures like reading a book have an eco-footprint — but despite the energy involved in manufacturing, an e-reader can actually help you enjoy a greener story time.
E-readers have continued to gain popularity with consumers, and by the time the holidays roll around they will certainly be a hot gift idea. In fact, e-books currently account for nearly 15% of all book sales, and media blogger David Houle predicts that more than half of all books will be read electronically within a decade.
The three leading e-readers are the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Apple iPad (which obviously does a lot of other stuff too besides displaying text on the page). Sony recently rejoined the game as well, introducing its WiFi PRS-T1 reader. Amazon has upped the ante with its color Kindle Fire, and Apple’s iPad 2 is flying off the shelves. Each one is a well-designed product with its own features and advantages depending on users’ preferences. But are they truly “green” as well as convenient? It seems they are.
A recent Slate.com article examined how an e-reader could compare to a traditional paper-page book in terms of environmental friendliness. We’ve added in some additional info as well, so here’s how the numbers stack up:
Carbon emissions from producing an average book: 7.5 kg
(estimate from consulting firm Cleantech)
Carbon emissions from producing an iPad: 130 kg
Carbon emissions from producing an iPad 2: 105 kg
(data from Apple)
Carbon emissions from producing a Kindle: 168 kg
(estimate from industry analysts)
(Carbon footprint estimates for the Barnes & Noble Nook, the new Kindle Fire, and the Sony WiFi e-reader are harder to come by, but they’re probably in the same general ballpark.)
So based on these numbers, a Kindle user who electronically reads 23 books (that would have otherwise been purchased as physical books) will have offset the manufacture of the device. Note that this figure is based on independent industry analysis for the original Kindle, since Amazon doesn’t disclose its carbon footprint as Apple has for its iPad line; and while the Kindle Fire probably requires more complex manufacturing than the original, the production process has also likely been refined to make the overall impact similar.
Reading on an iPad would balance the equation after 18 books, and an iPad 2 reader would break even after just 14 books. It’s also worth considering that an iPad performs tasks like sending email and viewing photos, which may further reduce owners’ printed paper usage and overall environmental footprint.
There are other indirect environmental advantages to e-readers too. Since e-books are downloaded directly to the devices, people aren’t driving their cars to a bookstore or having a delivery truck drive to their homes. So the bottom line seems to be that regular readers who like the convenience of e-books can feel OK about their environmental impact too.
Recycling any product at the end of its life cycle makes it a greener option, and e-readers are no exception. Amazon offers a Kindle recycling program; Apple accepts used products for recycling or disposal, and even offers gift cards for items of value.
Learn more about the specs and features of each e-reader here:
Amazon Kindle / Kindle Fire
Amazon Kindle models range from the $79 touch-screen version to the color screen Kindle Fire for $199.
Apple iPad 2 models come in a range of specs, starting at $499.
Barnes & Noble Nook
Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader comes in a black-and-white and color versions; prices start at $139.
Sony WiFi PRS-T1E-Reader
The $149 Sony WiFi PRS-T1 uses a black-and-white e-ink screen (as opposed to the backlit displays of the iPad, color Nook, and Kindle Fire). Available in a variety of colors.
Via Slate.com’s Green Lantern (which, by the way, is an excellent and entertaining source for practical information about day-to-day environmental issues).