Are e-Readers Really Green?


Written by Jaymi Heimbuch

The Millions has a great write-up of the real impact of e-readers. Despite the notion that if you read enough books on them, they’ll have a lighter footprint than printed books, the reality is something less appealing altogether.

“Necessarily, the increased consumption of print and digital books has led to an ever-increasing demand for the materials required to create, transport, and store them. In the case of eBooks, though, vast amounts of materials are also necessary for the eReaders themselves, and this is something typically overlooked by proponents of digitization: the material costs are either ignored, or, more misleadingly, they’re classified as the byproduct of the tech industry instead of the book industry… In other words: the carbon footprint of the digital book industry is mostly growing in addition to, not to the detriment of, the growing carbon footprint of the print book industry.”

The analysis Nick Moran performs to determine just how bad the carbon footprint of the e-reader industry is provides us with some interesting numbers.

“That eReader, then, accounts for an initial carbon footprint 200-250% greater than your typical household library, and it increases every time you get a new eReader for Christmas, or every time the latest Apple Keynote lights a fire in your wallet. Also, these figures simply calculate the impact one person’s consumption has on the environment. If you live in a household with multiple eReaders — say, one for your husband and one for your daughter, too — your family’s carbon emissions are more than 600-750% higher per year than they would be if you invested in a bunch of bookshelves or, better yet, a library card.”

Unless you are both an incredibly avid reader as well as someone who cares for their gadgets and does not replace or upgrade to new models, e-readers just simply don’t live up to the lighter footprint they promise. Instead, we should stick with our library cards.

If you want a well-written reality check about reading, the footprint of the book industry, and the unfortunate truth about e-readers, you really want to read this article. It’s worth the energy your laptop/smart phone/tablet uses while you’re reading. I promise.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo from Roberto_Ventre via flickr


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

I love my REAL books

Meris M.
Meris M.5 years ago

Attention parents: if you allow your child to use an e-reader with wifi and/or Bluetooth, they will be exposed uselessly to pulsed radiofrequencies which are harmful to health. A wireless connection is not necessary to read an e-book, only in order to download files. It is thus advised not to keep the e-reader in your lap when downloading.

Darla Stokes
Darla Stokes5 years ago

I read around 300 books a year. My many bookshelves are overflowing. There isn't a library near enough to use. I've tried multiple methods of passing on used books, but they're good for getting rid of a handful of books, not hundreds. If my e-reader is bad for the environment, well, I'll just have to conserve more somewhere else.

Karen S.
aria e5 years ago

I suspect that given my serious book addiction, an e-reader would be a better choice, assuming I got almost all future purchases on the e-reader, but, thanks to climate change, we typically lose power for several days to one or more weeks/year, making an e-reader unreliable. I do occasionally download low value books using either Kindle or Nook software, both of which work on my existing desktop computer. To be completely honest, I am not happy with the format of e-readers (the screens aren't as big as the typical magazine page) and large amounts of reading on a typical computer screen makes my eyes buggy.

Elaine Pequegnat
Elaine Pequegnat5 years ago

I've been making do with downloading the software onto my laptop.... thus increasing the use of one system. But I love libraries, too!

Nirvana Jaganath
Nirvana Jaganath5 years ago

Have a Kindle and I love it!

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

It really does depend on individual circumstances....

If I like a device, I stick with it until it breaks down; not everyone constantly upgrades just because a new model hits the market.

Libraries are great, but my nearest one is miles away and I would have to drive to get there.

I love 'real' books, but my house is already overflowing with them, so a Kindle is a boon for me, though I must admit I only bought one in the first place because I needed it for work!

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

it is always necessary to include all relevant factors for any comparative analysis for it to even have face validity...

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson5 years ago


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

I thought so. Their production probably isn't green.