21 Comments

Summary:

For the emergence of the e-Book over the past three years, we can thank breakthroughs in electronic paper display technology and the buildout of high-speed wireless networks. But as use of these gadgets continues to grow, we’ll be able to thank the e-Book itself for some […]

kindleimage1For the emergence of the e-Book over the past three years, we can thank breakthroughs in electronic paper display technology and the buildout of high-speed wireless networks. But as use of these gadgets continues to grow, we’ll be able to thank the e-Book itself for some significant reductions in carbon emissions. According to a fascinating report from the Cleantech Group, called The Environmental Impact of Amazon’s Kindle, one e-Book device on average can displace the buying of about 22.5 physical books per year, and thus deliver an estimated savings of 168 kg of CO2 per year.

As Emma Ritch, author of the report put it:

Multiplied by millions of units and increased sales of e-books, e-readers will have a staggering impact on improving the sustainability and environmental impact on one of the world’s most polluting industries: the publishing of books, newspapers and magazines.

The report takes a look at the effect of the book and magazine publishing industries on both trees and carbon emissions: the U.S. book and magazine sectors accounted for the harvesting of 125 million trees in 2008, and an average book has a carbon footprint of 7.46 kilograms of CO2 over its lifetime. A book’s carbon footprint also can double if you drive to the store and buy it, versus having it shipped in the mail. So in a similar way to how downloading digital music and listening to it on your computer has a much better carbon footprint than driving to the store and purchasing a CD, the savings for e-Books are about both dematerialization and eliminating the need for transportation.

kindleenvironmentalreport2

If a Kindle-user uses the device for the full storage capacity, Ritch says it can “prevent the emission of nearly 11,185 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent,” and for the Kindle DX, that can jump to a savings of 26,098 kg of carbon emissions. But a more average user, who probably won’t use the full storage capacity, will buy about three e-books per Kindle per month, and the report predicts that average consumer would displace closer to 168 kg of CO2 per year.

Considering all of the projected e-Book devices sold between 2009 and 2012 in the U.S., (and taking into account that e-Books don’t often replace books in a 1 to 1 ratio) the report says that e-Books could save 9.9 billion kg of CO2 from being emitted. That’s some serious savings — who knew the Kindle was such a do-gooder?

  1. I just had a similar conversation with a friend this week. But I’m curious if the report noted what the carbon footprint is based on the manufacturing of the Kindle – and how much power is consumed in actually powering the Kindle? How does it compare to the carbon saved by the reduction of books being published? My other question relates to the fact that we all know people will want to buy the upgraded Kindle in a few years, and then they’ll want to get rid of the old Kindle. What kind of environmental impact will all of this old hardware have on the environment?

    Share
  2. @C.H. Thanks for the questions.

    The report said it would take about one year of using the Kindle to offset the carbon emissions from producing and distributing it. So if the Kindle saves about 168 kg of CO2 per year, that’s about how much carbon was emitted in the manufacture and shipping process.

    In terms of the electricity used, the report says:

    “the longer one reads on a computer or e-reader, the greater the emissions due to electricity use. The emissions that result from a newspaper subscription are constant at about 28 kg of CO2 per year, according to the KTH Centre for Sustainable Communications in Stockholm. That estimate is in line with the emissions due to 30 minutes of reading a newspaper online (35 kg CO2/year). In this case, the e-reader comes out best with about 13 kg of CO2 per year, but the advantage all but disappears when the user spends just 10 minutes reading online each day. Factoring in the energy use as well as the manufacturing and disposal of the computer, 10 minutes of online reading produces just 14 kg of CO2 a year.”

    The report didn’t go into many details about the effects of buying the latest versions of the Kindle on the environment, but notes that Amazon “says it has established a recycling
    program by mail for Kindle and its batteries to prevent the improper disposal of e-waste.”

    Share
    1. Thanks Katie for the additional information. It’s still somewhat of a toss-up, but they provided some good data on the topic. I really appreciate the feedback.

      Share
    2. Where did you actually get a copy of this report? I can only find the PR about the report. I suspect that there are very dubious assumptions that reading the real report carefully will quickly disclose.

      For instance, did the report assume that the book was purchased read once and discarded?

      Share
  3. For college and even High School and lower, devices like Kindle should replace textbooks in the next decade. The advantages far outweigh any downsides.

    Share
  4. [...] reported by earth2tech, the report’s author, Emma Ritch, writes, “Multiplied by millions of units and [...]

    Share
  5. [...] Debate: A new study found that e-books can significantly reduce CO2 emissions associated with the production and purchase of the [...]

    Share
  6. The argument is missing one key attribute of books – they can be re-used. If people were to purchase more used books, or go to the library, then the offset there is even greater. Overall book production would drop, and no need to build electronics.

    Also, the production of a book uses entirely renewable resources (ink, paper). The production of an e-reader uses mostly un-renewable (ergo un-sustainable) resources (plastic, silicon, etc).

    I think the point CH raised regarding people replacing outdated devices is also key. Especially the demographic of those buying Kindles…

    Share
  7. [...] Why the Kindle Is Good for the Planet [...]

    Share
  8. Katie,thanks for the important update!

    From what I understand from the report the 168 kg of CO2 figure is calculated based on the paper-books emissions that are saved while using the Kindle (in average). I am not sure if this is a net figure that also takes into consideration the manufacturing and disposal impacts (in terms of emissions) of the kindle. I’ll be happy if you can clarify it.

    Best,
    Raz Godelnik
    Eco-Libris

    Share
  9. [...] Is Kindle really greener than books? [...]

    Share
  10. [...] Is Kindle really greener than books? [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post