Tuesday, February 1, 2011

E-Books & the Environment

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been conscious of my impact on the environment -- I even sent McDonald's a letter, when I was 8 years old, asking them to stop using Styrofoam. While I'm not one of those people who believe that humans are the cause of global warming, or that we're destroying the planet, I do believe that we should all make an attempt to keep our planet clean. We live here, we use the earth's resources, and we should try to be as careful with those resources as possible. That's where I come in on the environment, so when I bought my Kindle earlier this month (well, actually it was in mid-January), a consideration for me was certainly the environmental impact of an e-reader over traditional print media.

By way of full disclosure, I should tell you, I love books. This isn't a secret. Anyone who knows me knows that I love everything about books, the scent, the feel; I love books so much that I use to be an avid opponent of e-publishing in all forms. Naïvely, I believed that e-books were destroying the tactile experiences I associated with my beloved books. I've since come to my senses and have very strong opinions about the future of publishing and how e-publishing comes into that future. I have friends who self-publish, or publish with small press, in e-book format for all e-readers, including the Amazon Kindle. All that said, I'm keenly aware that books, that tactile experience I love so much, is made of paper and that paper is trees. Paper means that somewhere, trees were cut down, and there're few things I dislike more than the wanton destruction of nature for my personal enjoyment. Of course, paper's not the only problem, but also the fact that for every book I held in my hand, transportation burned fuel to get it to me. Buying books online, something we're all guilty of, is no better. The mail brings us those books at a price to the environment. So we didn't drive to Barnes & Noble, or Hastings, to get that book, someone had to drive it to us or we wouldn't have it.

When we think, then, about our carbon footprint, we usually take into account the things we do in our direct, everyday lives that consume resources. What we fail to consider, in most cases, are the things others do on our behalf that likewise consumes resources. Books, though we may love them, increase our carbon footprint. Of this, I'm aware. So, when I realized I could buy books with one click, that they would arrive at my Kindle in a matter of seconds, and that I could read them without the expenditure of natural resources, I really liked that idea. Not to mention, I tend toward terrible impatience.  I want books when I buy them, not in two or three days, but now.  I know, patience is a virtue, but one I've never managed to master.

Now before I sound more like a raving tree hugger (not that there's anything wrong with raving tree huggers), I should say that the environment is not the only reason I bought the Kindle.  It is a reason, but not the reason. Still, the environment is a big thing for me and my awareness of it where books are concerned is not to be understated.  I'm also aware that environmental resources are consumed in the creation and distribution of the Kindle and other e-readers, they're not without their own environmental impact, but I would argue that it's much smaller than that of traditional print media.

Interestingly, recent studies show that e-readers might not be more efficient than books, but there's a catch.  According to EcoLibris, the New York Times published a story in December 2009 that suggests that e-readers are only more ecologically friendly if you read more than 40 books per year.  Not everyone reads at a rate that's high enough to make any sort of dent in the environment by reading traditional print media.  To that, I would argue that those books are being published anyway, whether an individual consumer reads 10 books or 100 books per year, they'll sell to someone, so the impact is made.  In other words, the focus should be on the publishing industry, not the individual.  If, however, more people began to read via e-reader, then less books would be published and distributed, decreasing consumption considerably.

Of course, I don't believe books should be put out of print. Far from it, after all, I love books. I just feel like more awareness should be brought not only to the environmental ramifications of traditional print practices, but also to the changes occurring in the publishing industry. Oh, and did I mention that e-books are cheaper than print books?  So much so, in fact, that thousands of classics are completely free. I'm all about saving green while saving green!!

Since getting my Kindle a few weeks ago, I've ordered upwards of a dozen books and downloaded another dozen or so free books. I read well over 40 books a year (when time permits), so it's more then economical for me to have bought it, especially since the Kindle wins the eco-friendly e-book reading race, with Sony close behind, for their immense battery life. I love my Kindle and the fact that it makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing by the environment is an added bonus that helps that 8 year old girl in me, the one who sent a letter to a franchise to protest their packaging, sleep better at night.

EcoLibris: http://www.ecolibris.net/ebooks.asp


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