Home / Lead Story / Ebooks and Environmental Impact

Ebooks and Environmental Impact

In the interesting and heated discussion in the post about the future of ebooks, it was raised that the environmental benefits of ebooks are one of its major advantages. While there’s not a great argument to be made that reading a book on an e-reader is preferable to reading a printed book, the environmental impact is something that does make ebooks superior to the printed word. Some do argue that it’s easier to hold an ebook reader in one hand and searchability is something they can’t do without – but generally it’s a more pleasant experience to read, and to own, a printed book.

Because of this, the lower carbon footprint for ebooks is an enormously important component and one that could potentially help promote the widespread use of ebooks. Even though ebooks may not be aesthetically preferable to printed books, we’re entering a time where some of these aesthetic conveniences may need to be pushed aside in order to – literally – save the planet. Not to long ago, there was one model of hybrid car and people smirked at the prospect. Now there are dozens of models with better models being developed yearly. In short, tree hugging is now mainstream.


One of the best sites about ebooks and the environment is Eco-Libris. The site inspires people to plant a tree for every book they read, in an effort to offset the environmental impact of printing books. The site has a great selection of articles about the environmental impact of book printing.

Sustainablog has a good summation of printed books’ environmental impact:

Reducing paper use does more than save trees. Pulp and paper mills are also a major source of pollution. They release into the air CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), carbon monoxide, and particulates, which contribute to global warming, smog, acid rain, and respiratory problems. In addition, bleaching paper with chlorine can produce dioxin, which is known to cause cancer. Paper mills also produce large amounts of solid waste and require a lot of water. The industry is trying to clean up, but anyone who’s driven past a paper mill has smelled the challenge.

The trouble with trying to aid the environment is that if you fix one problem, you start another. Recycling is great, but the energy it takes for behemoth trucks to pick up recycled trash and then factories to actually recycle that trash can actually come out a wash. It’s frustrating. So does using ebooks actually have as deep an impact as printing?

On Salon, there’s a highly technical summary of the amount of energy it takes to read on a computer vs. printing out an article to read it. The verdict: “The contrast is quite convincing, one-tenth of a pound of greenhouse gas emissions from reading the document on the computer, versus almost one-quarter of a pound of greenhouse gas emissions for printing it out!”

Another article lays out the environmental impact of reading a newspaper on a reader and reading the New York Times on an ebook. Their conclusion: “Reading the physical version of the NY Times for a year uses 7,300 MJ of energy and emits 700 kg of co2. Reading it on a Kindle uses 100 MJ of energy and emits 10 kg of co2.”

Though it’s sad to see the demise of the newspaper and the number of people it will put out of work, it does seem altogether necessary. Perhaps in 100 years we’ll look back and lament the decadence of all the paper that went wasted to newspapers, junk mail and the like. Because much of what goes into a newspaper is wasted, as subscribers don’t read every article. E-reading makes a lot more sense, as readers can choose what they want to read, without discarding superfluous material.

E-readers and Books

So far, this has covered printing out a book on your desktop or reading a newspaper versus reading an e-newspaper.  Conclusively, ebooks have a superior environmental stamp.  The general footprint for manufacturing an e-reader (for this example, the Kindle) is thought to be 200 MJ and 12 kg of co2. The impact of running the Kindle is minimal. The impact of shipping is minimal as well – you’re talking the footprint of shipping one e-reader and surfing online vs. the impact of shipping separate books via truck, train, or plane.

The Kindle vs. New York Times article concludes:

The Kindle therefore saves 6,500 MJ and 690 kg of co2 a year. A gallon of gasoline has 131 MJ of energy and emits 8.8 kg of CO2, so switching to an e-book would be like saving 50 gallons of energy and 78 gallons of co2 emissions. A reduction of 690 kg of co2 is 3.5% of the average American’s 20 metric tons of yearly emissions.

Though less paper goes into printing a book, the minimal energy expended by manufacturing and charging a Kindle make it preferable. Put simply: ebooks are better for the environment, whatever you’re reading.  As concerns about global warming grow, and the price of e-readers comes down, this could be a major issue that brings ebooks into the publishing mainstream.

  • http://www.magick.co.za Keith Rowley

    Interesting figures which I cannot dispute as you have done the research and I haven’t. The equation is not complete though without an environmental impact assessment on the production of electronics and batteries. Electronics is a little cleaner since lead based solder was abolished (except for military products), but printed circuit boards used to be (still are?) replete with CFCs and toxins. Semiconductors often contain highly toxic elements such as molybdenum and the disposal of televisions, cell phones and the whole plethora of electronic devices is causing environmental poisoning. Also, of course gold and other metals are used extensively in electronics, and mining in some instances causes massive pollution, as when cyanide is used in processing gold. Add then we have plastics that won’t break down for millennia and which also poison our earth.

    As I said, I’m not disputing your figures, but we do need to balance the equation with an assessment of the impact of electronic goods which possibly pose a greater threat than paper. More numbers are needed!

  • anon

    I don’t think the environmental superiority of e-books (although I resent even calling them books) has ever been questioned. What many green publishing advocates don’t seem to realize is that reading information on computer screens for a lengthy period of time causes health issues for many people, such as migraines and blurred vision. For these people, it is extremely inconvenient to use an e-book.

2.5 mg cialis reviews 20 mg of propranolol venta xenical online buying cialis sydney buy strattera adhd medicinale generico viagra buy xenical aus cialis 20 mg comprimidos order canadian cialis generic propranolol er viagra information 25mg viagra order pills clomid dose 25 mg xenical 120mg turkey xenical drug buy 50c generic viagra taking lexapro 20mg buy nexium medication kamagra generic cialis lexapro 15 mg reviews viagra 100 mg dosis viagra donne online levitra pills 10mg lisinopril 2.5 mg prices viagra online brisbane mailorder cialis cheap cialis daily generic wellbutrin xl 450 10 mg brand levitra cialis 10 mg erfahrungsberichte buy 50 mg clomid clomid dosage 150mg prednisone 10 mg usage wellbutrin 150 mg dosage generic kamagra 100mg wholesale viagra buyer buy 5 mg prednisone indian viagra 50mg online viagra order online generic cialis lexapro 2.5 mg dose generic lisinopril safe buy cialis philippines doxycycline buy india buying colombian viagra generic wellbutrin pharmacy npr wellbutrin generic buspar 15 mg dosage buying diflucan online doxycycline 500mg use cipro 500mg india 800 mg viagra zovirax 800 mg tablet buy viagra trusted generic viagra availablity amoxil 875 mg dosage nexium packets 10mg nexium 40mg 14 comprimidos mg viagra 325lb xenical 120 mg gelule 84 40 mg sublingual cialis cialis 5 mg comprar half 20mg levitra lisinopril ct 10 mg gen viagra 150 mg exist cialis generic lisinopril 20 mg uk cialis soft cheap cipro 500mg buy generic levitra ranbaxy cialis online worldwide buy propecia 12 months buy cheapest propecia viagra bijsluiter 100mg buy clomid legal medicamento nexium 10 mg cheap viagra thread nexium 60 mg prescription levitra 20 mg tesco buy viagra viagra india online lisinopril 10 mg pink cipro 500mg bid cheapest generic propecia levitra 20 mg prezzo lexapro 10mg ejaculation nexium 40 mg nebenwirkungen nolvadex 60mg foros cialis generico cialis generic ranbaxy viagra 25 mg nebenwirkungen nexium 40 mg eksi synthroid 0.1mg co online clinic cialis metformin 850 mg tablets indikasi celebrex 100 mg malaysian order viagra generic viagra trusted free online cialis 10mg lexapro reviews koop kamagra online clomid malaysia online cialis 50mg shop hydrochlorothiazide 50 mg dosage kamagra tablets 100mg lexapro 5mg weightloss online women viagra vrai cialis 20mg teva doxycycline 100mg woman generic viagra order propecia bosley generic research viagra nolvadex buy uk diflucan 100 mg iv buy nexium uk viagra condom online tablete nexium 20 mg doxycycline 20 mg teva online viagra perscriptions levitra generico orosolubile celebrex mg ireland viagra online metformin 1500 mg daily acheter cytotec online doxycycline 100mg online mexico generic viagra viagra 25 mg costo buy priligy 30mg buy cialis us zithromax buy generic lisinopril 40 mg manufacturer 0.5mg propecia eod diflucan capsules 150mg 5mg cialis daily cialis 10 mg experience nexium goi 10mg 05 mg cialis viagra online american buy valtrex walgreens generic viagra nz generic viagra phillipines diflucan philippines buy amoxil online strattera 15mg online drugs viagra buy levitra strips 25 vs 50 mg zoloft clomid 150mg bfp generic viagra walmart zoloft 100mg pill buy viagra shipping viagra 100mg de cheap levitra australia levitra cheap uk generico viagra curitiba cialis 20 mg tb nexium 20mg price lisinopril 20 mg wheezing hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 mg tb cialis 2,5mg price cialis tadalafil 10 mg metformin 500 mg brand prednisone taper 50 mg buying lisinopril walgreens generic levitra bactrim online buy propecia generico ecuador generic viagra box cialis 10 mg halbieren cialis 5 mg ulotka buy diflucan overnight cialis 5 mg funziona buy wellbutrin generic buy overseas viagra cialis everyday online synthroid 112 mg generic doxycycline 50 mg zoloft 50 mg nebenwirkungen wellbutrin generic hives viagra generic lozenge viagra prescription buy cheapest lasix online cheap cialis information 25 mgs of cialis celebrex 10 mg online viagra test sheep cialis 20mg amoxil online cats generic strattera uk cialis online accessrx viagra generica farmacias doxycycline 200 mg prednisone generic deltasone prednisone 20mg direction 20mg strattera overdose viagra 50 mg packungsbeilage vendo generico viagra viagra online kolkata lexapro dosage 70 mg cialis 20 mg works generic viagra facts cialis 10 mg. cost 50mg zoloft pregnancy triamterene hydrochlorothiazide 50 25 mg order brand zithromax buy amoxil online diflucan 100 mg pret generic propecia 2013 buy levitra 1.84 generic telmisartan hydrochlorothiazide lisinopril 20 mg online generic options nexium medicijn nexium 40mg preisvergleich levitra 20 mg 12 propecia 1 mg costco prednisone 80 mg dosage 50 mg zoloft reviews zoloft 0.25 mg cialis de 05mg prednisone arrow 5 mg zithromax trockensaft 1200 mg prednisone galepharm 20 mg buy propecia brazil lisinopril 10 mg sale generic viagra opinie taper prednisone 50mg levitra tablet 60 mg viagra pil 100mg order lisinopril online propranolol 20 mg pliva celebrex 200 mg posologia prednisone 15 mg dosage cialis 100 mg 20mg buying real nolvadex viagra online prescription augmentin vs generic metformin 500 mg biverkningar hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 mg watson generic valtrex alcohol nolvadex 20 mg buy viagra fiyatlari 100 mg cheapest cialis Washington glucophage 500 mg posologie lexapro 20 mg wikipedia nexium pediatrico 10 mg liquid nolvadex online strattera 25mg reviews viagra online istanbul cialis 5 mg wirkungsdauer buy lasix 500mg online cialis ankara cytotec 200mg prospecto women viagra 500mg 60 mg of cialis generic levitra name cipro tabs online buy prednisone pet canada cialis 2.5 mg buy clomid legally orlistat cheap xenical prospecto cialis 40 mg lisinopril 20 mg infarmed depression wellbutrin generic prednisone 10 mg pill viagra online rating stopping 50 mg zoloft 100mg clomid unprescribed zovirax tablets generic 100mg viagra street strattera mg dosage buy xenical philippines cipro brand generic clomid twins 50mg nexium 40 mg online prednisone dog mg pricing lisinopril 20mg order bactrim overnight online cialis tadalafil levitra 20mg tab buy astrazeneca nolvadex lexapro 5 mg tired cheap viagra lavitra soft cialis online reliable cheap viagra nexium 20mg pret buying cialis bangkok levitra 10mg jenapharm xenical buying doxycycline injection 100mg 50 mg viagra generic nexium 40 mg india xenical 120 mg tomar buy cheap zithromax viagra online rpsgb nexium 40 mg prospecto 300 mg viagra ivax lisinopril 40mg buying levitra mexico steroids nolvadex buy cialis farmacie online lexapro xl 1000 mg online consultation propecia viagra cheaper valtrex generic coupon doxycycline 100mg medomycin viagra online nachnahme cialis 80 mgr glucophage 1000 mg dosis generic viagra usps levitra 20mg rezeptfrei buy clomid 200mg levitra online sicuro prized viagra online candida diflucan 100 mg canada generic strattera lexapro 20 mg snort levitra 20 mg bestellen online pharmacy viagra generic name erythromycin lexapro 10 mg 14 comprimidos 5mg lexapro stopping metformin 850 mg dose diflucan epocrates online buy clomid 500mg generic metformin canada generic viagra delhi cipro online australia lisinopril 20 mg generico buy clomid medicine lek propranolol 10 mg generic propecia 1 mg buying doxycycline 100mg buy strattera atomoxetine clomid 100mg days 3 7 augmentin generico australia cheapest viagra 100 canadian celebrex online clomid 50mg aventis tadalafil cialis 5 mg cialis 20 mg information generic viagra betrouwbaar levitra 20 mg. gebrauchsanweisung cialis 5mg instead cialis prodaja online kamagra 100 mg wikipedia ordering nexium strattera online advertisements cialis compresse 5 mg purchase xenical 60mg cialis coupon 10 mg viagra 100mg fta 12 lisinopril 40 mg dizziness valtrex 1500mg day cialis cost 5 mg roche xenical 120 mg asda generic viagra 2.5 milligram generic cialis vidal prednisone 5mg glucophage 500 mg prospect generic synthroid cost viagra plus buy amoxil order online levitra 5 mg prezzi buy viagra bpay cialis 20 mg pret cialis 5mg 1 box cheapest online zovirax generic viagra cos viagra sydney buy dominican generic viagra generic levitra tablets buy levitra web cialis italia online cheapest wellbutrin online viagra 100mg online buy zithromax iv propranolol sdz 10mg apcalis generic viagra levitra buy generic cialis pills buy propranolol 40mg ansiedade xenical 42 cap 120 mg cheap lexapro order zovirax 200mg bula cialis liquid buy buy propecia shops lisinopril 30 mg use metformin denk 850 mg levitra generic discount priligy generico mexico celebrex become generic buy metformin tablets periactin comp 4 mg doxycycline 500mg buying generic cialis 10 mg cialis 35 mg metformin 500 mg 142 prezzi levitra 5 mg xenical 120 mg 42 caps viagra 25 mg dauer doxycycline 40 mg generic cialis 20mg wiki generics for celebrex augmentin 625 mg breastfeeding buy bayers levitra viagra online indiano bactrim ds 50 mg generic viagra patent lexapro 10 mg uso 15 mg lexapro equivalent buy propecia ireland buy clomid nolvadex levitra online philippines zithromax 250 mg beipackzettel nexium inj 40 mg lasix 100 mg generic viagra rosebud 20 mg cialis online zoloft and 25mg generic lexapro ingredients wellbutrin 750mg lisinopril 2.5 mg coupon cipro 500 mg tablet buy 10 mg cialis viagra online jersey generic lexapro alternative xenical 300 mg viagra buy manila viagra 100mg at. propranolol 40 mg used prednisone for cheap celebrex mims online safe generic levitra generic propecia shedding doxycycline 20 mg vet tlilly cialis 100 mg cialis 100mg preis viagra generico teuto generic india viagra buy nolvadex hcg glucophage 1000 mg overdose cheapest levitra vardenafil indicazioni diflucan 150 mg buy cheap valtrex amoxil bencard 500mg generic uk viagra cheapest lexapro online zoloft depersonalization disorder viagra buy thailand erfahrung cialis 10mg buy viagra humboldt cialis 10 mg 2013 celebrex 20 mg viagra online 24 hr two 20mg cialis generic vs levitra propecia cheap drugs lexapro alternatives generics cipro 500 mg ciprofloxacino generic cialis online kamagra pille 100mg generic wellbutrin sr 150 buy cialis batam cialis professional ordering cap.xenical 120mg levitra generic lasix 40 mg iv wellbutrin 300 mg libido propecia orders metformin 500mg sr generic levitra 20mg cialis 5 mg o 10 propecia 1mg less cheapest kamagra now clomid 5mg buy propecia women cialis price 5mg buy viagra suppositoria cialis online pharmacy valtrex 4000 mg cipro 500 mg sistit 80 mg nolvadex metformin 25 mg generic viagra brazil lexapro mg nexium online buy generic cialis height propecia cost 5mg doxycycline malaria 100mg generic viagra 50 viagra mg 200 lisinopril 20 mg eon purchase Levitra 10mg levitra tab 20 mg cytotec 50mg levitra 10mg sklep ordinare cialis generico cialis 10 mg etkisi buy liquid propecia cipro 500 mg endikasyonu