No environmental benefit with e-books

Published Dec 07, 2009

You have to read at least 33 books during the lifetime of an electronic reading pad in order for it to be of benefit from a climate point of view. This has been demonstrated via a study conducted by two researchers at KTH.

Åsa Moberg

A new report from KTH’s research centre The Centre for Sustainable Communications includes an analysis of three different ways of distributing and reading books; the paper book purchased in a traditional bookshop, the paper book purchased via the Internet and an e-book read on an electronic reading pad. This is an indication that the reading pad still has some way to go before it can become “Christmas present of the year” viewed from an environmental aspect.

The KTH researchers and the authors of the report - Clara Borggren and Åsa Moberg – are able to show that, for the environmentally aware consumer, that there are no strong reasons to abandon paper books.

“It is easily conceived that an e-book is not such a burden on the environment, but one of the results of the study is that there’s not that great a difference between an e-book that read on a reading pad and a paper book. The reading pad has to be used quite a lot for it to become an environmental winner. You have to read at least 33 books, with each book containing around 360 pages, on your newly purchased reading pad instead of on paper,” Åsa Moberg says.

Clara Borggren

In addition, a paper book purchased in a traditional bookshop has a potential impact on the climate which is less than the average hamburger purchased at a fast-food outlet. It is in particular the production of paper which contributes to the paper book’s environmental impact. An e-book’s environmental impact on the other hand depends primarily on the production of the reading pad.

“The more and the thicker the paper books are that are replaced by a reading pad, the better the e-book is from an environmental point of view,” Åsa Moberg says.

What should be done to make reading pads more attractive from an environmental aspect?

“Multi-use of the reading pad is an advantage. It should be able to accommodate newspapers, books and other documents. In that way you distribute the environmental impact of the reading pad across several media. In addition, the e-book must really replace paper books and other information carriers. You remember what happened with the paperless office that never came about,” Åsa Moberg quips.

The book which forms the basis of the study is a work of fiction containing 360 pages in hard back. The study measures the environmental impact for each book that is read and applies to Swedish conditions.

For more information, contact Åsa Moberg at asa.moberg@infra.kth.se, or ring 08 - 790 64 53 or 08 - 790 73 95.

Read the report (in Swedish)

Peter Larsson

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