Life Cycle Analysis e-reader vs printed books

by: Mirjam Visser, 2011-05-18 06:05:49 UTC
Sustainability Aspects: After about 20 e-books read the e-reader is 'paid-off' in respect of carbon footprint. After that every year use the

The Story


Personally I love the smell of freshly printed books. Yes, I know it’s chemicals I smell and that they are unhealthy. But I adapted and switched to reading my books electronically (on my mac and ipod, there is a limit to the number of gadgets you can carry around). And I am not the only one; Amazon now sells more e-books then printed books.

Only time will tell if electronic book readers are to become a new standard in the future. But the Cleantech Group took an in-depth look at the environmental impact of the devices with a lifecycle analysis.

The study finds that e-readers could have a major impact on improving the sustainability and environmental impact on the publishing industry, one of the world’s most polluting sectors. In 2008, the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined resulted in the harvesting of 125 million trees, not to mention wastewater that was produced or its massive carbon footprint.

The Cleantech Group’s report, The environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle, suggests that e-readers are still a niche technology, with a little more than 1 million units sold to date. So they really haven’t had much impact on the environment, be it good or bad. But with sales projected to see an uptick, reaching to 14.4 million in 2012, the report looks at the emissions that devices like the market leader, Amazon’s Kindle, could produce and prevent.

The report indicates that, on average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use. Any additional years of use result in net carbon savings, equivalent to an average of 168 kg of CO2 per year (the emissions produced in the manufacture and distribution of 22.5 books)."

The Cleantech Group forecasts that e-readers purchased from 2009 to 2012 could prevent 5.3 billion kg of carbon dioxide in 2012, or 9.9 billion kg during the four-year time period.

However, there are obstacles to overcome for the devices and their content to reach its full potential, the reports suggests. The publishing industry would need to put standards in place to help speed adoption of the technology. Finding a balance between IP-protection and user-friendliness by making it possible to share between your different electronically devices and maybe within your family, after all you also share hard copies. Reductions in emissions are also dependent on the publishing industry decreasing its production of physical books, according to the report.

The report also encourages academic institutions to implement pilot testing of e-readers as a replacement to physical textbooks, citing schools such as Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and Arizona State University already leading the way. And imagine the schoolkids; some carry 7-11 kg of books around every day.

Product: books
Designer: na
Manufacturer: na
Category: books


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