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More sustainable: E-readers or books?

Adriene Hill Sep 8, 2010

More sustainable: E-readers or books?

Adriene Hill Sep 8, 2010


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Prices of e-reader devices such as the Kindle and the Nook have been dropping fast. That’s making the technology accessible to more users. And as the e-reader market heats up, we asked our sustainability reporter Adriene Hill to find out which is better for the environment: regular books or electronic readers?

ADRIENE HILL: Let’s have an environmental boxing match. In this corner: weighing in at 8.5 ounces — the e-reader. The environmental downsides: e-waste, electricity use, mining products.

And in the other corner: the old school favorite, books. There we’ve got to worry about paper, trees, water and chemicals.

REFEREE: Touch Gloves, go to your corner and come out fighting.

It’s not an easy fight to call — it depends on how many books you read and where you get them. Emma Ritch, an analyst with the CleanTech Group, says the e-reader comes out on top.

EMMA RITCH: Most people aren’t going to the library, they’re not borrowing books, they’re not recycling them when they’re done with them.

But James McQuivey of Forrester Research says people don’t think that way — the fight just doesn’t matter.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: People love to say that the care about the environment. But when people make purchases, they generally make purchases based on things that are easier for them to measure.

Like cost and convenience. Jeanna Garcia is a good case in point. She sits in a park reading on her Kindle. It’s a toasty day in early September in downtown Los Angeles.

JEANNA GARCIA: It never occurred to me that this was an environmentally-friendly thing to do. It just never crossed my mind.

She didn’t like the mess books made in her bedroom. McQuivey from Forrester thinks there’s another reason that e-reader sellers won’t be touting their environmental friendliness.

MCQUIVEY: The problem with that message is that it’s one that Amazon and Barnes and Noble don’t want to send. Because they want to continue to sell you physical books because they know you’re going to want some.

McQuviey does think we’ll get to the point where e-readers and tablet devices like the iPad are more environmentally-friendly and use less energy than they do now. Why?

Because none of us wants to have to remember to keep charging the things.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: If you want to check out more on the environmental
rumble between e-readers and paper books,
head over to Adriene’s blog “Easy Answers”.

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