Whether the motivation is to truly improve environmental performance, or simply garner positive press, seems every business is jumping on the low carbon bandwagon. Nowhere is exempt from the pressure to green up, not even the beleaguered (and beloved) book industry.
Three years ago, a group called the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) set environmental targets for the American book business, aiming to reduce its baseline carbon footprint by 20 percent in 2020 and by 80% in 2050. The plan was hatched during the infancy of eBooks: Kindle had been around just over a year.
BIEC goals seem attainable. Technological advances slashed the volume of in-house printing. Editors move towards a paperless workflow. Publishers began to reassess traditional processes of creating, transporting, and storing books. The resultant enviro-friendly efficiencies could be replicated worldwide.
Problem is no one foresaw the popularity of eBooks. Last year, Amazon was selling one million Kindles a week. Apple hawked 40 million iPads. And those are just two brands in the digital readers aisle in the world’s virtual tech store.
Currently, eBooks account for 31% of America’s book sales.
The trend toward digitization is undeniable and the upside is real. Profit margins are healthy, we can access virtually any book from anywhere, and it’s easier than ever for writers to get published.
But is technology really greening up the industry? Is elimination of the printed book an ecologically responsible goal? In an article on TheMillions.com, writer Nick Moran goes down the rabbit hole to chase some answers.
It’s estimated that the environmental impact of a single “eReader” (Kindle, iPad, et al) equals that of 100 books. First-world households frequently possess multiple devices, so a family’s annual carbon emissions could be 600-750% higher than if they just tapped into the town library.
Moran argues that the traditional paper route is a reader’s better green choice, and offers these sustainable suggestions:
- Borrow books, or purchase them secondhand.
- Buy books printed on recycled paper.
- Support ecologically conscientious booksellers.
- Resist the urge to purchase the next hot technology.
- Use your eReader until it no longer works, and then recycle it responsibly.
- Got an eReader you don’t use? Sell it (and offset another’s new purchase) or donate to charity.
Digital publishing is here to stay, and it is challenging green goals of the book industry and individual readers. Can sustainable printing continue to step up? How best to improve the cradle-to-grave lifecycle of eReading devices?
The matter remains an open book.
Image of e-reader and books from Shutterstock