Are e-Readers Really Green?

By Leah Kaminsky

On the surface, it would seem that using an e-reader would be a sure-fire way to up your green factor. After all, they’re pretty much the Superman of the tree world, saving innocent victims from the paper mill. But as an electronic device, e-readers aren’t without their footprint. There are the carbon emissions that result from powering the device, and the consumer electronics industry is infamous for using toxic materials.

So given these considerations, are e-readers actually greener than paper books?

The answer is a resounding yes. Between the paper consumption and the carbon emissions associated with production, printing, shipping and disposal of paper books, there is no doubting the environmental impact of traditional publishing. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this powerful infographic, which explores the full impact of the two billion printed books produced every year. A few key facts:

  1. Printed books require 3 times more raw materials to produce books than e-readers and 7 times more water
  2. The 125 million trees cut down every year for the newspaper and book industries result in the emission of 44 million tons of CO2 each year versus just 7.3 million from cars.

In fact, the research this infographic cites estimates that e-readers will prevent the emission of 10 million tons of CO2 between 2009 and the end of 2012, which is the equivalent of the yearly emissions from roughly 800,000 cars. What’s more, when we leave more trees standing to absorb more CO2, our e-reading habit can help offset emissions from other high footprint technologies.

When considering the eco-credentials of e-readers, it’s important to take a look at the full supply chain as well as the raw materials. Fortunately for us book lovers, e-readers allow us to feed our book addiction while also doing something good for the environment. Though (sorry, I have to say it!) there’s nothing quite like the weight and smell of a good old-fashioned book…

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