Who hasn’t heard about the Kindle Reader yet?
It seems you cannot get away from talk that electronic books are the future, and indeed their sales are soaring so fast Amazon has already said that US ebook sales are doing better than sales of real paper books. People love gadgets, and something that is even smaller, lighter and perhaps more convenient than a paperback is certainly a popular choice for fans of reading.
I admit I have on occasion lusted after a Kindle myself. The convenience of having several books (or thousands if you want) all stored in one little package is quite tempting. If I was still a worker in the real world, of commutes and lunch hours I probably would indeed have justified buying myself a Kindle by now.
But, I love real books and somehow paper that can be lent, donated or stored on a bookshelf reminding me of stories previously enjoyed means to date this house is a Kindle free zone. But what if electronic book readers really are better for the environment; does that mean that if I can afford one, I should buy a Kindle?
One of the things I have found a little confusing is the talk about Kindles being “better for the environment”. It went against my instincts to agree that something electronic, plastic, and containing a battery could ever be a greener choice than a simple paper and ink book.
So Mrs Dirty Boots thought she would have a little look see to find out if the Kindle is Green, and whether Eco types could justify buying another new toy…
Is The Kindle Green?
Kindle Carbon Footprint
Cleantech estimate that an average Kindle will produce 168kg of carbon. With books averaging 7.46kg, newspaper 0.62kg and magazines 0.95kg, the more you read (and the more you convert more of your reading to electronic format), the faster your Kindle will be able to reduce your personal carbon footprint. (Source : Industrial Design Consultancy, Babcock School of Business, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Green Press Initiative, Marmol Radziner Prefab, Discovery Magazine, Cleantech Group analysis).
In theory at least a supposedly “average” reader, ordering 3 ebooks a month and keeping their Kindle for 4 years, will save 1,074 kg of CO2 over its life. Sounds impressive, but does this represent the activity of an average Kindle owner? I wonder…
Some Kindles Will Be Green
As far as I can tell, the Kindle might be far greener than paper books in the right hands. But, it all depends on your reading habits, and how owning an electronic reader changes them. If you only read sporadically it will take a great deal of time for your purchase to reduce the carbon emissions buying real paper books would have produced. The more you read, the quicker the carbon footprint of your latest gadget is offset by the number books you would have bought.
But of course if you are a fan of libraries, or second hand book stores the equations won’t stack up at all.
In 2009 the Cleantech Group produced a very detailed report claiming that for many of us the Kindle would be a more environmentally friendly choice. You can view the entire thing here.
The general outcome is that if you are a “typical” ebook user, after around 21 ebook purchases you should be in a position where the net carbon emissions produced from using your eReader have more than been offset by the number of real books you would have bought. But, it seems many owners of electronic reading devices still purchase paper books too. And, you will have to ensure your ebook reader is recycled in Amazon’s return program as correct disposal has been factored into all the equations.
What About the Trees?
My perhaps naive concern is the trees themselves. Sure enough the publishing industry accounts for a huge volume of water usage (up to 11% of freshwater used in the west), and of course trees. But if we all forgo paper in favor of virtual reading matter what happens to those managed forests? Will the trees felled be replanted if the publishing industry is in decline?
I know not all paper is produced via properly managed forests, but a significant volume now is. And if no more paper is needed won’t land-owners be forced to find another way to make that land pay?
And, what of all those real world books that remain in circulation for years whether by being library copies, or simply lent or resold repeatedly? It is a tough question, and one I have no answer for. Personally borrowing books is pretty much impossible living in a non English speaking country, and a little cut off from society. But I love the shelves filled with real paper copies of books bought, borrowed, or stolen and enjoyed previously. I cannot imagine not having them there, but honestly how often will many of them be re-read?
Perhaps then a Kindle would be a green addition to Casa Dirty Boots. We read a lot, and I think that is the key. When the study was written, the electronic reading device was still fairly novel. Something bought primarily by insatiable book lovers, with reasonably fat wallets. Now though, as the price falls, won’t the Kindle become more of an impulse buy? If you only read 10 books a year, you’re looking at just over 2 years for there to be any carbon reduction based on your purchase. And by that time, many gadget buying consumers will be looking to upgrade, which could just blow any green credentials for their particular Kindle.
People in Publishing
As well as wondering how many forests currently managed for paper pulp would end up, if the publishing industry did forever change into a virtual concern, what about the people involved?
Jobs are a little thin on the ground for many, and the thought of yet more bookstores closing, delivery drivers not driving, and of course Ebook publishers not printing makes me wonder if concern for the environment doesn’t really need to be weighed against the needs of real people working in real jobs, producing real things.
Ideally of course there would be fewer of us on the planet and then green issues would be a lot less troublesome. But whilst we are all here, isn’t it beneficial to have folks employed doing something?
Upgrading Your Gadgets Isn’t Green!
The Kindle, and indeed any dedicated ebook reader must then be something a little different to most personal electronics. It needs to be a little more timeless. Something bought, and then expected to last for several years, rather than another throwaway piece of electronic wizardry that we expect to be “old fashioned” and in desperate need of upgrading this time next year.
I know many of us are happy to keep our gadgets for years; and I speak as one with a 3 year old mobile that has no need to be replaced, no matter that it isn’t “Smart”, doesn’t connect to the internet, and (gasp) isn’t even touch-screen. It cost less than £20 (when the free credit was factored in), and is very good at making phone calls on. That’s all I need. But I know I am in a minority. The majority of the gadget buying public seem more desperate to have the latest, fastest, most power everything they can afford; regardless of whether their current gadgets still perform perfectly well.
Perhaps then, that is why the Kindle is green (or greenish). Because though it is a rather clever piece of kit, it isn’t too fashionable. It doesn’t really do that much apart from allow you to read. Yes it comes with audio, games and an internet browser. But these features aren’t brilliant (you won’t be doing all your online shopping on it if you still own a laptop). They aren’t the reason it sells. It sells because if you enjoy reading, and want to enjoy a wide range of books at the touch of a button it is rather clever. But, no-one could say the Kindle is as sexy or fun as an iPad. And, whilst no doubt many Apple fans will upgrade religiously each year until the iPad 97 is released, perhaps the Kindle’s audience will remain a little more comfortable with sticking with their original ebook reader as long as it is up to the job at hand. The key then is that the dedicated ebook reader remains appealing to book lovers, a little less than perfect in terms of electronic wizardry, but great for reading on.
That being said, the Cleantech study was carried out on the 2nd generation Kindle. The current Kindle 3 has a far better display, and battery life. So perhaps this Kindle is more green, and perhaps upgrading is a good idea. I see this will be an ongoing issue when delving into the environmental credentials of any gadget!
Will A Kindle Reader Save You Money?
If you enjoy classic literature (or think you might) they can be a cheap way of reading, as there are so many free books to choose from. And, if you are happy to take your chances with authors you haven’t heard of before Amazon often have limited time deals on selected ebooks, being free or very low cost.
If you like new titles you won’t find ebooks all that frugal though. Yes, they are a little cheaper than new titles in real paper form, but not much, and they’re a lot more hassle to lend to friends and impossible to sell on. There will be Kindle books available at libraries this year though, which is something encouraging (though US only at first as usual!).
Buy a Kindle?
Is the Kindle Green? Kind of I guess. Do I want one? Yes – from time to time at least! Will I buy one? Perhaps, but primarily because there are hundreds of thousands of free out of copyright books I can get for it. Will I feel like an Eco Hypocrite? Quite possibly!
And, to be honest it wouldn’t make me any greener as I imagine, that like many others I would continue to buy real paper copies of many books too. Thankfully I can ease my conscience as according to Cleantech’s study books ordered online have lower carbon emissions than those bought in a store. This is because transport adds up when you consider that over 20% of paperbacks are returned from stores for disposal when not sold). Nothing beats a good rummage in a second hand store for great deals on classic cookery books for example, and I know that I could never cook next to Kindle, as it would be covered in food in no time!
You can order the Kindle at Amazon here.
I’d be interested to find out what others think about the green credentials of the Kindle reader. And you can find out more about deciding if a Kindle is green at treehugger and terrapass. For information about forest management and paper production check out paperonline and ecology.com.