Environmental Impact of eReaders

Besides being a grad student (@The New School), I also work at an independent bookstore in Manhattan. I’ve worked here over three years now and intimately understand many of the ongoing changes within the publishing industry. One, of course, is the rise of e-readers like the iPad, B&N’s Nook or Amazon’s Kindle. It seems that some technophiles—and publishing industry folks—have been touting the “green” credentials of said devices to the public in what appears to me to be a lame attempt to make buyers feel better about their purchases.

Last week I got into discussion about this very topic this with a co-worker. We both wondered what the footprints of books were compared with e-readers; my co-worker believed that the electronic device was superior while I took the opposing stance. Neither of us had the figures in front of us.

Well, just today I saw this post by VQR editor Ted Genoways addressing some of the more unsavory facts regarding e-reader production. As it turns out, the impact of producing one e-reader is about the same as producing forty (40) to fifty (50) paper books. That’s just the production costs and doesn’t even account for other factors that nearly double the ratio. I found a NYTimes opinion piece from this past April that lays out the facts (presumably this was Genoways’ reference, though he cites no exact source) and which I highly recommend reading.

My intention here is not to play high-horse/low-pony, I just find it troublesome that even people in the book industry are falling hook/line/sinker for ludicrous “green” arguments in favor of e-readers that have no basis in fact. I’m no luddite (I own an iPod and just got a new laptop to replace my faltering 5yr-old one), but these devices don’t appear out of thin air and their manufacture depends on rather unsavory practices in places that are easy for us to ignore. There are all sorts of reasons to prefer one publishing format over the other, disingenuous appeals to false environmental credentials should not be among them.

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