Why the Kindle Is Good for the Planet

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.

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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?

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