E-Books vs Print – Which is Greener?

Author: Chris Baldwin

 e-book vs print


If you’re reading this, chances are good that you’re using one of those fancy computing devices we’ve grown so fond of. Our culture has become accustomed to the digital age in several ubiquitous ways: surfing the net on our laptops, listening to music on our phones, streaming movies through Netflix, and so on.


However, one thing that hasn’t quite caught on yet is the digital consumption of books. While most of us are perfectly willing to convert our music libraries into bits and bytes, we’re still hesitant to switch to e-readers and tablets for our literary fix. Sales figures from 2014 tell a confident tale for fans of physical media, as e-books were outsold by both paperbacks and hardcovers, accounting for just 23% of all books sold in the first half of the year.


But which is better for the environment: print, or digital?


Even at first glance, that question can be difficult to answer. On the one hand, buying an e-book has a much smaller carbon footprint than a physical copy, which is typical for digital media. However, the e-readers themselves often have significantly larger environmental impacts, equal to several dozen print books. This is just one of many conundrums that can complicate this comparison – the differences in toxic chemical usage, water consumption, and so on, only add to the complexity of it all.


However, while personal usage can make a significant difference, the “greenest” option ultimately seems to lean in favor of e-books. According to Slate, it takes roughly 18 digital book purchases to balance out the environmental cost of an e-reader, and they claim that at the time of writing, “the average user purchases three books per month” – making that goal easily attainable even with the relatively short lifespan of our modern electronics. The more you read, and the longer you hold off on replacing your tablet, the more favorable e-books become.


So if you’re a voracious bookworm and hate the idea of literary art ending up in a landfill, it might be time to pick up that iPad you’ve had your eye on – and don’t let it go.