My quest to live a greener lifestyle causes me to ponder the choices I make each day. As an avid reader, I must confess one of my guilty pleasures is sitting down to read a book. On this front, I have yet to head down the e-book and e-reader path and still prefer to read traditional printed books. With this comes my latest green dilemma. What is greener? Reading a printed book or e-book?
As with anything, one can find a case for either version. Sure printed books require paper, ink and water to print and manufacturer. But once printed, they require no technology for reading and can be donated or recycled when you are finished with them. Printed books offer many things that a digital book cannot. It’s easy to take anywhere and doesn’t require a power supply to read it. The feel of the pages in your hand are more satisfying than a warm electronic device. The pages withstand the test of time which allows you to pass your favorites onto your children to read one day. There’s no need to worry about changing technology. Printed books are low-tech and low-cost. Printed books serve as a lasting record of creativity, information and history.
The Green Press Initiative put together the Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts report for the U.S. book industry and found that the carbon footprint is a net 8.85 pounds per book. With this statistic, one may think a digital e-book is better. However, digital has it’s downfalls as well.
According to GreenBiz, the U.S. Department of Energy states that the amount of electricity consumed by United States data centers, housing e-books and other information, doubled from 2000 to 2006. The EPA indicates the number could double again by 2011. Digital devices such as a laptop, often used for reading e-books, have an annual carbon footprint ranging from 70 to 115.
Like software that becomes obsolete with every system upgrade, digital books live and die with the technology used to create them. Could an entire digital collection of e-books be rendered useless one day due to new technology which has made them no longer accessible? It’s hard to know what the future technology may bring. After all, it’s hard to imagine life without Twitter and Facebook which have been in existence for less than 7 years.
Using the library or buying used books and saving them from the landfill is possibly the greenest reading choice around. Instead of buying a new book, consider checking for a copy at the local library or visiting a used book store. Or better yet, take the time to read a book you already have one more time.