Are E-Books Saving the Environment One Book at A Time?

Can you hear the lament of nostalgia? Some would say e-books are killing the indie bookstores and the beat-nik culture that embraced it so many years ago. And the closing of mega-box bookstores show their visible scars on urban sprawl — vacant Border’s blot the four corners of my hometown.

What are ebooks doing to the environment?

The closings of these stores and the scattering of the people who congregated them could be a reflection of a recovering economy, but it’s more a sign of changing times.

But what are ebooks doing to the environment? We are increasingly a more environmentally-conscious people, and technology is reflecting this with the rise of e-books and their e-readers. We have come to realize and embrace the printed book is a significant waste of energy, water and paper.

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Nancy Davis Kho tells us the “National Resources Defense Council estimates the U.S. publishing industry uses more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year.” An earlier study estimates that each printed book produces 8.85 pounds of carbon dioxide. So when we think about the environmental impact of e-books, part of the answer is simple. There are no trees used in the production of an e-book. So they do, in fact, save the environment.

But that’s where the easy answer stops, because the evidence is sketchy that e-readers have a lower carbon impact. Continue reading