Amazon.com has an intriguing product called the Kindle. It’s a way to read books electronically, and it’s got some great features. At 10.3 ounces it’s lighter than most paperbacks. It has a user-friendly screen with adjustable font sizes, it can be accessed without a wireless network, and it comes with a 90,000 title library. At $399 it’s pretty expensive, but the price will probably come down as the product catches on.
At first blush, the Kindle seems like a great way to “read green.” About 20 million trees are cut down annually for print books sold in the United States alone. If we all used the Kindle, we’d be saving all those trees, right? Well, yes, but the story’s more complicated than that. A comprehensive “green-alysis” of the Kindle would see the forest as well as the trees. It would analyze the materials used to create the Kindle, how the devices will be disposed of, and more. If they’re going to end up leaching heavy metals into open fields, they may not improve on print books, even if they do spare trees.
The folks at Amazon did not respond to several inquiries about the Kindle’s eco-assets. We can only speculate as to the reason for this radio silence. Maybe their marketing gurus have told them “green” doesn’t sell. Or maybe they’ve decided that the Kindle won’t hold up as green if subjected to close scrutiny.
Here’s our guess, though we can’t prove it: Amazon developed the Kindle with a focus on getting it right technologically. The product’s green qualities were an afterthought at best. If the product is a winner, the company will get around to sprucing up its eco-attributes, especially if there’s enough consumer pressure. Even if it’s not green now, it will probably get there eventually.
So: If you want to read green, should you buy the Kindle? In our view, it’s a judgment call. If you’re basing your decision on whether the Kindle you just purchased is helping the environment, there’s really no way of knowing. You’re saving trees, but who knows what negatives your purchase is supporting?
If you take a longer-term, higher-level view, the prospects get rosier—or greener. Let’s imagine a time when everyone uses e-readers, and they’re green from stem to stern. This world will be more eco-friendly than one where print books are the rule. If you want to help bring this world into being, you can, er, kindle it by buying an e-reader.
Meanwhile, as you ponder this decision, you might want to check out Eco-Libris, where you can pay for a tree to be planted for every book you read.