Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Are e-Readers Green?

That’s the question asked by Green Computing – just how green are eReaders and are they greener than print books? From what I gathered, this article was in response to an op-ed in the Independent Book Publishers Association’s monthly journal by Raz Godelnik, the president and co-founder of Eco-Libris.

Godelnik argues that e-Readers contain toxic materials and will contribute to the electronic waste stream. He also noted, “If you try to find out about the environmental impacts of Amazon's Kindle or B&N's Nook, good luck with that. Except for Apple, none of the companies that sell e-readers makes environmental data available.” Godelnik says that mobile devices will contribute to a “rapid growth in energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with so-called cloud computing over the coming years.”

Matthew Wheeland, the author of the Green Computing article, agrees that the iPad is not “a planet-saver.” On the other hand, he notes that book publishing has its own eco-footprint.
If you order a book online and have it shipped 500 miles by air, that creates roughly the same pollution and waste as making the book in the first place. Driving five miles to the bookstore and back causes about 10 times the pollution and resource depletion as producing it. You'd need to drive to a store 300 miles away to create the equivalent in toxic impacts on health of making one e-reader -- but you might do that and more if you drive to the mall every time you buy a new book.
Wheeland concludes by calling on both the print industry and the e-industry to do more to be green – with “greater energy efficiency, less toxic manufacturing, greater recyclability, and more responsible sourcing.”

Do you think print and e- publishers will ever reach a point where “green” trumps “sales”? Oh, and since you’re here, define “cloud computing” for me.


  1. Sadly, I don't think people really by e-readers for the sake of the environment. I think people want to have things NOW and they want to be able to carry their books with them in their purse. I didn't even consider the environmental impact when looking into Kindle. Thanks for the post. I still might buy one though...

  2. I would be surprised if "green" ever comes out on top, but at least the industry is talking about it. I think being as green as possible with manufacturing and disposal is a worthy goal.

  3. Sounds to me like GREEN is often sold as a misnomer.

    By very definition we are left with questions. Also, the word is often used as a marketing strategy when little technology can be described as green. Maybe more that..... but not truly green.

    Sylvia Dickey Smith

    A War of Her Own

  4. I doubt they're all that green, but cell phones aren't either, and that's not stopping people from using them.

  5. Who knew reading polluted the earth? How would we know that if we didn't read?

    I have something for you at the Tiki Hut.

    Under the Tiki Hut

  6. Everything we do leaves a footprint, so I don't see how nitpicking about mileage to the bookstore or the carbon emissions of an e-reader makes a difference one way or the other.

    I'm not knocking "green" thinking at all (greener is always better), but either way you look at it, it's leaving some sort of mark.

  7. From what I've read, ebooks and print books are about a wash when it comes to being green. I don't think one can honestly claim the title over the other.

    Cloud computing, simply put, is where the bulk of the processing and data storage is done at remote sites (server farms) and the end user simply accesses it with a thin client. Think GoogleDocs. The word processor and documents live at Google, and you simply connect to their "cloud" to access them.

    In a way, it's a throw back to the old mainframe days, but now the client workstations are more than just dumb terminals.

  8. When I was 12 I had a job in a printing shop. It was an old-fashioned letter-press shop. Talk about waste and pollution. All the ink had a petroleum base, so every opened can emitted fumes into the atmosphere. There was paper everywhere. My job was to sweep up the paper and the empty ink cans and burn them outside behind the shop. Three times a week, I put big black clouds of smoke into the air.

    This, of course, was before both the clean air act and child labor laws. Thank god for the governmental regulations.

    The printing industry is a lot cleaner today, but there is still a lot of waste and consumption of energy in the production of reading matter.

    I suspect the production of ereaders has its own pollution problems. Certainly using an electronic device requires power, which require power plants and fossil fuel.

  9. There is a whole generation being conditioned to think green. Its almost a status thing. You're either in or you're out. That being said, Apple has been accused of using slave labor in China to build some of their products. Personally, I don't like to support such companies.

    Stephen Tremp

  10. It is an interesting question. Which is greener...and do we really care? Perhaps, overall, we say we care, but do we take action? Would you give up your eReader or your cell phone or your computer if it was determined print books, line phones and paper and pen were greener?

  11. I don't think the publishing industry is interested in anything other than profits. If a way to operate "green" is invented that saves money, then maybe they'll go for it.

  12. Thanks for stopping by my blog today! I love what you have to offer here so I think I am going to start following. I guess I haven't really thought about the green aspect of e-readers until now.

  13. I think there would be a market for green e-readers too if only the advertising promoted that specific aspect of the product. People seem to buy these things for less clutter and convenience than for worries over the environment, BUT that could change if slogans and information brought the notion into the awareness of the consumers. Would also be a boon for the companies that were upfront with their environmental compatibilities over those who didn't really have any.

    I have no idea about cloud computing, though. :)

  14. Kimberly, I was informed that cloud computing has to do with (and I'm probably not saying this correctly) doing your work online, meaning that you work and store the information on a site designed for that. To me, it sounded like an idea for a group or company who would work on projects on a virtual site. (I'm probably getting that all wrong.) I envisioned a cloud where you go to use the software and storage and work there instead of having it on your computer. Which sounds pretty good to me right now since I'm sans computer again. The nerd herd is seeing more of my computer this summer than I am.

  15. People can scream green, but when it comes to their purchases, what they want trumps all else.

  16. I always think of the 'green' label with the same skepticism as the 'fat free' label.
    Just as fat free might not mean a food is the healthiest option, the green label can be used first as a selling tool and might not be the best for the planet option.
    I believe people are buying ereaders to save shelf space and ease of purchase and the saving of the planet is secondary to that.

  17. I admit that when my DH bought his iPad, he was thinking the ease of slipping it into his briefcase and the ease of having books downloaded and ready to read rather than trying to find a bookstore in the airport of some destination city.

  18. LOL! We must've read the same article - I quoted Godelnik in last Thursday's post on the same subject.

  19. When it comes to being "green" there are trade offs on almost everything. Is the cost of producing paper towels and the deforesting more significant than the cost of producing and washing rags for cleaning?

    I'm glad someone explained about cloud computing. I wasn't familiar with that term but have started using Google docs to help coordinate an event at the local art center. My son also suggested using it as a backup service.

  20. You're already in the computing cloud, Maryann!

    Diane, great minds think/read alike. You just do it first.


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