Thursday, August 21, 2008

E-Books Vs. Newspapers

As a proud Kindle owner I wondered if e-books were better for the environment than their paper brethren.

I found three papers that looked into this question: Environmental Implications of Wireless Technologies: News Delivery and Business Meetings by Michael Toffel, Screening environmental life cycle assessment of printed, web based and tablet e-paper newspaper by Asa Moberg, and Printed Scholarly Books and E-book Reading Devices: A Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Two Book Options by Greg Kozak.

To determine which is best for the environment, lets compare the energy usage and co2 emissions of reading the New York Times for one year in paper vs. e-book form.

What is the impact of reading the paper form of the NY Times for 1 year?

Michael Toffel puts the weight of a year of NY Times at 236 kg (.65 kg a day). The Environmental Defense Fund's Paper Calculator shows that 1 kg of 50% recycled newsprint (uncoated groundwood) paper uses 30,000 BTU (31 MJ) of energy. 236 kg of paper would therefore use 7,316 MJ of energy.

Michael Toffel finds that to create, print, deliver and dispose of the newspaper emits 702 kg of co2 a year (using 50% recycled newspaper).

Aside #1: How many trees and how much land does a year of NY Times require?

This Depaul University analysis states that one pallet of paper (2,000 lbs) can be produced by 3.84 trees from which follows that each tree produces 237 kg of paper. Surprisingly, the 236 kg of paper needed each year to produce one year of NY Times papers would take almost exactly 1 tree.

The Depaul University analysis also states that over the course of 25 years, 1 acre of forested land can produce 120 trees (or 4.8 trees/acre/year or 12 trees/ha/yr). In one year, a hectare of land therefore produces 2,844 kg of paper (12 trees * 237 kg/tree) and 1 kg of paper requires 3.5 m2 yr of forest (1/2,844 ha/yr * 10,000 m2 per ha). The 236 kg of paper needed each year to produce the NY Times would require a dedicated 826 m2 of forest.

What is the impact of reading the digital version of the NY Times on the Kindle e-book for 1 year?

There are 3 stages to this: manufacturing the e-book, running the e-book and downloading the digital file over the cellular network.

The three papers give slightly different values for manufacturing an e-book. Michael Toffel puts it at 158 MJ and 8.8 kg of co2, Asa Moberg puts it at 190 MJ and 9 kg of co2 and Greg Kozak puts it at 261 MJ and 19 kg of co2. Using an average of the three, I will go with 200 MJ and 12 kg of co2. This is much lower than the 1,390 MJ (386 kWh) of energy and 60 kg of co2 to produce a mobile phone. Assuming an e-book lasts for 3 years, the impact of the manufacturing per year is 1/3 of the total or 67 MJ (18.6 kWh) and 4 kg of co2.

The impact of running an e-book is minimal. I find that I charge my Kindle for 2 hours at 6W every 3 days which works out to 1.5 kWh a year. The EIA states the average US power plant emits .6 kg of co2 per kWh. 1 year of running a Kindle causes 1.5 kWh * .6 kg/kWh = .9 kg of co2 emissions a year.

The Kindle uses the Sprint cellular system to download the new content each day. The NY Times Kindle edition has a size of approximately 334 kB and takes approximately 1 minute to download. Michael Toffel puts the impact of 1 minute of cellular time to be .014 kWh based on a 1999 study of the Sacramento cellular system. Over a year this would be 8 kWh and would release 5 kg of co2 (using the .6 kg of co2/kWh value from above).

The combined the result is 100 MJ (27.5kWh) and 10 kg of co2 a year for using an e-book to read the NY Times each day.

Aside #2 What if I read the newspaper on my computer rather than an e-book?

Asa Mosberg takes a look at that scenario in her paper and finds that it depends on how much time you spend reading the news. If you spend less than 30 minutes reading the news then you will use less energy and emit less co2 by using your computer. If you spend more than 30 minutes, then the electricity that it takes to run your computer and monitor uses more energy and emits more co2 than if you read a physical newspaper. Of course mileage can vary based on how efficiently your monitor and computer use electricity and what the source of your electricity is.


Reading the physical version of the NY Times for a year uses 7,300 MJ of energy and emits 700 kg of co2. Reading it on a Kindle uses 100 MJ of energy and emits 10 kg of co2.

The Kindle therefore saves 6,500 MJ and 690 kg of co2 a year. A gallon of gasoline has 131 MJ of energy and emits 8.8 kg of CO2, so switching to an e-book would be like saving 50 gallons of energy and 78 gallons of co2 emissions. A reduction of 690 kg of co2 is 3.5% of the average American's 20 metric tons of yearly emissions.

Americans use on average a bit over 700 lbs (320 kg) of paper and paper board a year, so cutting out 236 kg of paper would be a significant reduction of paper usage.

For the newspaper, the majority of the energy and emissions are due to the manufacturing of paper. The most significant step that can be done to reduce the impact of paper manufacturing is to use recycled paper. Michael Toffel concludes that emissions could be reduced 41% by doing using 100% recycled paper. But, even 100% recycled newspaper would use significantly more resources than an e-book.

Most of energy that an e-book uses in its lifetime is from the manufacture of the e-book. Keeping your e-book beyond 3 years is the best way to lower the environmental impact of reading an e-book. Also, using it for additional activities like reading books, magazines and blogs will also reduce the impact of using an e-book.

Aside #3: What if you compared books rather than newspaper reading with an e-book?

For many people, the Kindle and other e-books will be a replacement for physical books rather than newspapers. Eco-Libris states that 3.09 billion books were sold in the US in 2006, or approximately 10 per American. Alibris finds that the average book sold weighs 340 g. The 3.4 kg of books the Average American purchases leads to 105 MJ and 10.2 kg of co2 (at 31 MJ/kg of paper and 3 kg of co2/kg of paper). The yearly value for using a Kindle to read the newspaper daily was 100 MJ and 10 kg of co2. It is basically a wash between using physical books and the Kindle. If you purchase more than 10 books a year and are unlikely to loan those books out when you are done with them, then the Kindle will come out ahead.

How you get the books is also important to the analysis, for if you drive to the book store the extra gasoline burnt is likely to tip the scales in favor of the Kindle.


It took me so long to actually write this up that I found out that Erika Engelhaupt has written a similar article to this one in Environmental Science and Technology. I agree with her that "Our world has become such a complicated place that every purchasing decision can become a Ph.D. dissertation topic, as I quickly learned." Trying to determine whether e-books are better for the environment quickly gets complicated and full of assumptions that can completely change the conclusion. Here are the most important assumptions in this analysis.

Number of people that read the newspaper: I assumed just one person reads the paper. Michael Toffel's research shows that on average 2.6 people read each NY Times paper. Asa Moberg assumes 2.4 people read each paper. If you are living in a house where 4 people read the paper each day, the impact of the paper can be split 4 ways.

Kg of co2 emitted per kg of paper: There are a ton of different estimates. I used Michael Toffel's value of around 3 kg of co2 per kg of 50% recycled paper. He also gives a value of 1.74 if the paper is 100% recycled. Asa Moberg puts it at .96 with 60% recycled paper. Greg Kozak uses a value of 6.33. This Green Press Initiative document that puts it at 7.14 for 0% post-consumer recycled, 5.5 for 50% recycled and 3.9 for 100% recycled, while this other Green Press Initiative document puts it at 1.6 million tons of co2/ 540,000 tons of paper = 2.96. The Green Press Initiative has yet a third value from this webpage that puts it at 73 billion lbs of co2 / 8.7 million metric tons of paper = 3.8 (this includes addition of forest carbon loss). Finally, the Environmental Defense Fund's Paper Calculator lets you put in your own assumptions and for Uncoated Groundwood (newsprint), 50% recycled emits 5.1 and 100% recycled 3.7. The higher values would make the e-book look even better.

Most of these estimates for co2 emissions from paper assume that some of the disposed paper ends up in a land fill and is turned into methane by microbes. Methane is 20 times as strong as a greenhouse gas as co2 is and the methane emissions translate into higher co2 equivalent emissions. But, another possibility is to store or bury the newspaper in a way that methane isn't released. In this way the carbon in the paper is sequestered. This report suggests that trees can be grown as a way to sequester carbon, and one way to do so would be to sequester newspapers. I am not sure what the impact on this analysis would be if this were to occur.

MJ of energy per kg of paper: The Paper Calculator shows a value of 31 MJ per kg of paper, while Asa Moberg finds a value of 10.4 MJ per kg and Greg Kozak comes up with 110 MJ.

Kg of paper per tree: The amount of paper that one tree produces is estimated at 237 kg by this Depaul University analysis. The Green Press Inititive states that 95 million trees can produce it takes 6 million metric tons of virgin fiber or 63 kg of paper/tree. Using the lower value would mean more trees would be needed to produce one years worth of NY Times.

Manufacturing of e-books: The numbers for the manufacture of e-books was not done on e-ink readers as no numbers were yet available. I don't know how this would impact the results.

Impact of the cellular system: I used Michael Toffel's estimate. Another estimate of the impact of using a cellular system is found in this report from 2004. It puts the impact of downloading 1 Gb over a UMTS cellular system in Switzerland to be 939 MJ of energy and 27 kg of co2. But, if you take out the impact of the cellular phone and the administration of the cellular system (business trips for cellular employees), what remains is just 20% of that total or 188 MJ (52kWh) and 5.4 kg of co2. Downloading a 334 kB file daily racks up 121 MB a year or 975 Mb, slightly less than 1 Gb. Therefore, this report would estimate the impact of using the cellular system at 183 MJ and 5.2 kg of co2. This is much more energy and about the same amount of co2 as the other estimate I used. Not clear to me which estimate is better, or how things have changed in the cellular commuications business since each report was written.

Ignored aspects of the e-book life cycle: I don't know how much energy it takes to run the servers from which the newspaper file is downloaded from, but given how efficient servers are today, I don't believe a single 334 kB file download a day is significant. Also I am not sure how much energy and emissions the engineers that developed the Kindle and the engineers who created the software for the Amazon website used. Should the energy they use while working in their offices or when flying on business trips be included?

Impact of how electricity is generated: While the average American power plant emits .6 kg of co2 per kWh of power produced, it varies greatly, as low as .013 kg in Idaho (hydro-power) and as high as 1.0 kg in North Dakota (coal, I assume). Where you get your power from changes the values.


Anonymous said...

Wow, impressive analysis. I've been put to shame! But at least I will be able to fire back at NYT readers that getting my news online nets me about 1,500 extra road miles a year if I want to remain energy-neutral! (Okay, so my computer is using a bit of energy, but all the lights in my house are off, so it's a wash).

MadM said...

Would the Kindle version exist if there was no print edition? If all of us switched to the kindle, unlikely I understand, would there be no NYT? That's why I subscribe to it?!

Fat Knowledge said...


Glad you liked it. I was going to say that in Aside #2, the author there says that if you spend less than 30 minutes reading the news on your computer you come out ahead. But, then you mentioned that you turn off your lights if you are on the computer, so in that case, there is no additional energy usage. And that exemplifies why these studies are so hard to do, as one small change in assumptions gives you a completely different conclusion.


Not quite clear to me what you are saying, but if you are wondering if the NY Times can still exist in paperless world, where everyone reads the news on computers and e-books, the answer is without a doubt yes.

Rebelfish said...

It seems like the length of time that the computer is on plays pretty importantly into the calculation. Therefore, the Kindle amount should include computer time from not only the 1 minute during download, but also transfer, boot-up, and likely more since people prob'ly don't turn on a computer, download the Ebook, and then shut down.

Fat Knowledge said...


The Kindle has a wireless cellular connection built in, so it downloads the daily newspaper using that. No computer is needed to use a Kindle. I might not have made that very clear in the analysis.

When you are purchasing new books though, you are likely to use a computer to browse Amazon's website. So, maybe that should be included in the analysis. But, I figured that if I bought a physical book I would also use my computer to browse Amazon, so it is a wash.

One of my sources looked at using a Palm Pilot to read the news, and for that analysis he included having to connect to the computer once a day. The interesting thing was that the amount of energy that the computer used in just the 5 minutes it was on, was greater than the energy usage of the Palm Pilot (including the manufacturing of it). So, you are right that it could make a big difference in the analysis if it was used. And if you are comparing a Kindle with a Sony Reader then this would make a big difference.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis!

One key factor to add here is the loss of carbon sequestration when the trees are cut down.

According to Our Ecological Footprint, (Wackemagel & Rees, 1996), a forest absorbs approximately 3 tons of CO2 per acre of trees per year.

So it's not just the carbon created by paper production, it is also the loss of the trees we need to assess.

You say 120 trees per acre and the paper newspaper creates 700kg of CO2. But the tree if left alive would have absorbed 3/120 tons of CO2 per year... let's say the tree cut down for paper would have lived 40 more years and absorbed 1 ton of CO2 or another 900kg. This roughly doubles the total impact.. you create 700kg of CO2 and you lose the chance to sequester 900kg of CO2. That ups the figure from 3.5% reduction to 8%; throw in books and some magazines and Americans could cut their net carbon footprint by 10% by using electronic paper.

Fat Knowledge said...

Hi anon,

Glad that you liked it.

I am actually not sure what assumptions the sources I used made for the loss of trees.

It gets tricky because a mature forest actually does not sequester any additional carbon, as the amount of new wood that is being grown is equal to the amount of fallen trees that are decomposing.

If you clear cut a forest and then don't allow it to regrow, then carbon sequestering is lost. But, after clear cutting, if you replant it, then that forest will once again be sequestering carbon. And, I believe I read some where that a young forest actually sequesters more than an old one. So, cutting trees down when they are young and then replanting will sequester more carbon then letting them grow old.

As I wrote above, if you were to grow trees and then cut them and bury them in the ground, you could actually use that as a way to sequester carbon.

This is all tricky stuff that really depends on what assumptions you make.

Anonymous said...

You probably won't read this so long after your original post, but you've left out quite a few interesting facts. ASSUMING that the server issue isn't a big one is a real mistake. Data server centers are huge, inefficient energy hogs that currently use 1.5% of the entire U.S. purchased energy (entire P&P industry uses 7/10 of 1%). Data center FOSSIL FUEL usage forecast by 2011 to be 2.5% -- also making them as large a contributer to GHG emissions as the aviation industry. ALSO. The paper and pulp industry accounts for more than 90% of all the biomass energy generated in the U.S. industrial sector. More than 60% of all energy used in the paper and pulp industry is SELF-GENERATED biomass energy that is carbon neutral. The EPA says that in 2006 carbon sequestration of the nation's forests was more than the carbon emissions from the forest products industry. The paper and pulp industry is SELLING carbon credits to the Internet data and server industry. Also, 57.4% of all paper in the U.S. is recycled and recovered, while only 18% of electronic devices are recycled. (Rest goes in landfills) Further, of the 18% recycled, most of it makes its way to 3rd wld to salvage dumps -- you can watch the 60Minutes special on that and get your hair curled. The worst levels of dioxin in the air registered ANYWHERE in the world. Is your Kindle made of a renewable resource? Is the industry that makes, sells and powers your Kindle regulated to any degree like the forest products industry? Lots more research to do before your really comparing apples to apples. I've got all the links to all the statistics I've used here. I ain't making this stuff up. Here are a few to get you started:

Fat Knowledge said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for the information.

On your point that I shouldn't be ignoring the server issue, I agree with you that in aggregate data servers use a lot of energy. But, the fraction of all those servers that are used to distribute e-books is minuscule and the size of the e-book files so small relative to image or video files that I still believe it can be ignored in this analysis. You are using more server energy browsing for a book to purchase on Amazon then you are to actually download it. And you are using more server energy using Twitter than you would be downloading an e-book.

On the CO2 emissions from the paper and pulp industry, you can take a look at the sources I used and see if the assumptions they use are bad. I don't know enough about this to argue with you, but I would assume that the take into account that 60% of energy is self-generated biomass. The level of recycled paper I assumed was 50%, similar to your 57.4% number.

The fact that the "carbon sequestration of the nation's forests was more than the carbon emissions from the forest products industry" is irrelevant to this analysis, and the real question is how much more CO2 would have been sequestered if fewer trees were harvested in order to paper. Unless the entire paper and pulp industry is carbon neutral, the less paper that is produced, the lower the CO2 emissions.

On e-books and electronic devices not being recycled or being shipped to China, I agree this is a problem. This analysis was just looking at energy and CO2 usage, but there are other environmental issues that could be looked at, such as dioxins as you mention, or air and water pollution. I don't know how this would impact the analysis if they were included.

Oh, and while you had some good information to share in your comment, I felt like you were randomly SHOUTING at me for no REASON which made it HARD TO TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY.

Anonymous said...

sorry for shouting. It's just the same old story all the time. Paper is bad because we cut down trees. The real facts also include that 1.7 million trees are planted every day in the U.S. alone - that deforestation for ethanol crops and development are the biggest threats to the forests -- that pulp and paper mills use CHP (combined heat and power elec. generation systems with an average of 10-20% energy loss where as data server centers use fossil fuel, conventional generation systems that have an average of 40-65% energy loss. The bigger issue is all the cliche facts that get passed around about all of these environmental issues. Like change out your incandescent light bulbs -- don't worry about the mercury -- like drive a Prius -- don't worry about that area up in canada where Prius batteries are manufactured that NASA uses to test Mars vehicles because there is absolutely nothing alive there -- and on ad infinitum. The truth is that the paper and pulp industry has been working on improving themselves for decades and the electronics industry has just gone on growing without taking stock. All these new stats coming out such as
• A single vertical rack of high-powered servers consumes enough energy to power a hybrid car across the U.S. 357 times.
• An estimated $2.8 billion is wasted on energy costs to leave computers sitting idle overnight in the U.S. alone. On a CO2 basis, that’s 20 million tons of carbon dioxide, about the amount produced by 4 million cars on the road.
• If all the world’s 1 billion PCs were powered down for just one night, it would save enough energy to light up the Empire State Building, inside and out, for more than 30 years. (Source: Alliance to Save Energy, PC Energy Report 2009)
• Globally, annual spam energy use totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh), or 33 terawatt hours (TWh). That’s equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes in the United States, with the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion gallons of gasoline. (Source: McAfee Study on Spam: The Carbon Footprint of Email Spam Report, 2009)
show you that the electronics industry is in up to its neck in environmental boo boos and will be called to task like the paper and wood products industry was back in the 60s when the first tree huggers IME) took to the streets and got ourselves arrested for asking people to live green. your article was quoted on a Whole Foods Twitter message -- as ""Electrify your reading. One study found that a printed newspaper emits140x more CO2 & consumes 67x more water than an online one." Now all those people who read that are going to take that little tidbit as their entire knowledge base. Listen, I haven't been in an electronics salvage yard, but I HAVE been in a ship salvage yard in Taiwan and it was the closest thing to hell i've ever seen. It's all about getting a balanced picture of things and not going off willy nilly on these "silver bullet" theories of how to save the planet. Sadly the only real solution is fewer greedy people.

Fat Knowledge said...

Electrify your reading. One study found that a printed newspaper emits140x more CO2 & consumes 67x more water than an online one." Now all those people who read that are going to take that little tidbit as their entire knowledge base. It's all about getting a balanced picture of things and not going off willy nilly on these "silver bullet" theories of how to save the planet.I agree with you that the silver bullets or the "30 little things that you can do to save the planet" aren't particularly useful if that is all the information you are getting. But, the stat you mention doesn't come from my analysis, but rather one of the sources I used (which was looking at reading newspapers on a Palm Pilot not a PC).

I did not say that "paper is bad because we cut down trees" and tried to take a balanced approach in my comparison, taking into account the impact of electronics as well. I mentioned that "If you spend more than 30 minutes reading the news, then the electricity that it takes to run your computer and monitor uses more energy and emits more co2 than if you read a physical newspaper." I also mention that if the paper could be used to sequester carbon if it is buried or stored in a way that it doesn't decompose. My conclusion was just comparing using a Kindle with the NY Times newspaper with regards to co2 emissions and energy usage and nothing broader.

I don't disagree with any of your stats (well actually that spam one is a bit misleading), but I don't think they have anything to do with my analysis. Yes, if you read news online on your PC they apply, but that is not what I am looking at. Also, I think that in the last 1-2 years the electronic industry has started to take environmental issues into account. Apple is calculating the CO2 footprint of Macbook, Google measures the CO2 footprint of a search and takes energy efficiency very seriously and the whole netbook revolution is forcing manufacturers to create machines that are very frugal with the energy they use. And if using a web search makes a car trip unnecessary or a plane trip can be replaced with a video conference, the servers are saving energy and co2 emissions. I agree that the electronic industry still has issues but I expect the electronic industry will get gradually greener and more energy efficient over the coming decades (and the more people pushing them in that direction the better).

If you do have any specific issues with my analysis, I would love to hear them. But, if you have a problem with what Whole Foods it twittering, I think you should take it up with them.

Fat Knowledge said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention The Green Grid movement to make server farms greener.

Anonymous said...

Well, I can see that my breath is wasted. It’s like arguing with a fundamentalist of any genre who can take whatever it is that they specifically do and justify it because it’s what they want to do and furthermore they want to feel righteous while doing it. What do I know? I’m old, live reclusively deep in the woods and tried decades ago to change the direction humanity was going in regards to respect for the planet. I haven’t bought 10 rolls of paper towels in my lifetime, go to huge efforts to refuse shopping bags, wash aluminum foil and reuse it and drag my recycling stuff 90 miles to the nearest bins, where I’m pretty sure they end up in the dump anyway. (Back in the 70s I used to use a manual can opener to take both tops and bottoms of tin cans out, smash them all flat with my foot and haul them to the recycling bins.) What I don’t grow in my own garden, I buy from a local farmer. I don’t eat meat and I don’t eat fast food. It’s a comprehensive effort at a non-wasteful lifestyle. Your valiant efforts to prove that your individual contribution to a dead planet is negligible are heroic, but the long and short of it is, does it really fit the mantra: Renew Reuse Recycle, and the answer is a resounding no. There is no way to renew, reuse and recycle a Kindle in today’s economy without sending the problem to someone else to solve in the brutal recycling yards across the ocean. Out of sight, out of mind. Keeping to your specific analogies and desires to prove green living by reading a Kindle, let me know when Kindle starts printing the carbon footprint of the manufacture, shipping, packaging part of the lifecycle on the package. Let me know when there are recycling bins for your old outdated Kindle, (the latest and greatest upgrade is already available – think I-Pod which goes out of style annually) that you are 100% satisfied are truly being monitored by the same company that makes the Kindle. Let me know when they are going through the extremely expensive process to actually break down all of the elements in a Kindle and reuse and recycle them into yet another Kindle or flip flops or something else useful. And when all those paper mills in Maine and Minnesota and such who have been improving their environmental footprint for decades under strict regulation and with many environmental watchdogs go out of business and those towns go belly up because the place that has employed three generations of families goes out of business, and when there are no more forestlands, planted for use as wood products or otherwise, because cutting down the trees and putting in corn to use for ethanol or shopping centers in which to buy Kindles and mercury infused lightbulbs is more profitable, you can read about it on your Kindle and say, “Gee, too bad for my grandkids.” The long and short of it is, it’s not about You or Me or even just Your grandkids. It’s about the whole picture. It’s about what’s right for the overall good of everyone and everything, and justifying your personal habits with long, intense research of shaky-at-best facts (mine too) is not the answer and you know it. It’s about common sense realities of where this world is headed. Don’t know how old you are, but probably younger than I am, so it’s your planet, your horror story to live in and not mine. Unfortunately I have grandkids, so I weep for their futures. We abandon one mess and start up another – reject the printing of newspapers and run to an electronic device as the solution. I originally put mercury lightbulbs in my house until I discovered that there was a 14-step recommended hasmat cleanup if one was broken. I have critters and grandkids and don’t want that, so I packed them all up and took them back to the store where I bought them and gave them back and have stocked up on enough incandescent bulbs to get me to my death. I unplug my electronics every evening when I wind down for the night and I compost my food waste and put it in my garden, even though in my heart of hearts I know that I am wasting my time. I once met Pete Seeger, just when he was starting his drive to clean up the Hudson River, which at that time literally stunk and had junk floating in it. I asked him, “What’s the point?” He was sweeping up the floor of the Beacon New York Sloop Club for a potluck supper at that moment, and he stopped and leaned the broom up against his chest and spread his arms out as wide as they would go and said, “In between these two hands is all that I can take care of. If I work to make what’s in front of me right, that’s the best I can do. Just imagine if everyone in the world spread out their hands and said, ‘this is my responsibility right here’ what a better world we would have.” That made a huge impression on me. So I try to spread out my arms every morning and say, “This is my responsibility, right here, right now.” In essence, I think that was your original objective. One person reading one Kindle can’t hurt much. But if Pete had said, one person tossing one plastic bag into the Hudson can’t hurt much, it wouldn’t have meant the same thing. Unfortunately, the Pete Seegers, the voices of the people and the planet, have all died and gone away. I would be happy to continue this discussion offline through emails if you are interested. I feel silly pouring out my heart to a blog, but i guess that's the way we express ourselves these days.

Fat Knowledge said...


Your valiant efforts to prove that your individual contribution to a dead planet is negligible are heroic, but the long and short of it is, does it really fit the mantra: Renew Reuse Recycle?I had always thought the 3 Rs were Reduce Reuse Recyle, and my analysis was about how to best reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. As for being able to reuse, a Kindle can be used day after day while a newspaper is thrown out every day. A Kindle can also be resold on ebay when you are done with it. As for recycle, I know that I can recycle my electronic devices at Office Depot. I don't think there is anything particularly toxic or non-recyclable about e-ink technology, and the rest of the device is standard electronic parts that are similar to cell-phones and computers which are recycled every day (although not everyone recycles and not 100% of the device is reused successfully).

Keeping to your specific analogies and desires to prove green living by reading a Kindle, let me know when Kindle starts printing the carbon footprint of the manufacture, shipping, packaging part of the lifecycle on the package. Let me know when there are recycling bins for your old outdated Kindle, (the latest and greatest upgrade is already available – think I-Pod which goes out of style annually) that you are 100% satisfied are truly being monitored by the same company that makes the Kindle. Let me know when they are going through the extremely expensive process to actually break down all of the elements in a Kindle and reuse and recycle them into yet another Kindle or flip flops or something else useful.I agree with you that it would be great if Amazon calculated the carbon footprint of the Kindle, and offered to recycle it. Until then, I tried to estimate the carbon footprint of the device as best I could in this analysis. As for recycling, I can see why you think it is best that Amazon take it back, but I think other 3rd party electronic recyclers could do a good job as well.

In your way of thinking is there no amount of savings of paper which would justify using an electronic device? If you believe that paper is always better no matter how much you use, then of course the analysis here is completely worthless to you. But, if there is some point where the impact of producing the paper is greater than the impact of making the Kindle and throwing it away, then you need some way to compare it to try and figure out approximately where that point is.If a person is a super reader that goes through 100 books a day, wouldn't the impact of the Kindle be less than that? And if so, how would you determine where that point is? That is the attempt of this analysis.

It’s about what’s right for the overall good of everyone and everything, and justifying your personal habits with long, intense research of shaky-at-best facts (mine too) is not the answer and you know it. It’s about common sense realities of where this world is headed.I disagree. If this was really just "common sense" then we would already be agreed on what to do, as we are both fairly intelligent individuals. For some, the "common sense" approach is to use less paper and to others the "common sense" approach is to use fewer electronic gadgets. But, these are mutually incompatible. So, we need to research things as best we can and make the best decisions based on the information as we interpret it. We won't always be right, but overall we will make better decisions than just going with what be believe the "common sense" way to solve the problem is.

I would be happy to continue this discussion offline through emails if you are interested.Thanks for the offer, but I am going to pass. You see me as a fundamentalist who won't listen and uses shaky-at-best facts, and I see you as lecturing me rather than persuading me. I think we are both better off not continuing this.

Anonymous said...

You should try to factor in all the computer equipment that needs to run 24/7 to make these purchases available. Either via the cell network or via a web browser, the entire infrastructure is fairly comples, with many failover and backup systems, air conditioners for the server farms, the routing equipment, the DSL routers that are on 24/7, etc.

Though I'm sure the ebook version would still use less energy as whole, and as more people change over, the existing infrastructure wil lserve more and more people and will use less energy per user.

Fat Knowledge said...


The computer equipment needed to send the digital newspapers to an e-book is included in the analysis.

As for books, I figure that I purchase both physical and digital books from Amazon, so either way Amazon's servers will be used to browse for books and making purchases.

But you are right that there is energy used by those computers and that shouldn't be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Just something to think about for all digital junkies.

Unknown said...


I really enjoyed your posting here and see that this is pretty decent analysis. I'm currently writing a book on the future of banking and would like to include some of your work in that publication. Would you have any objection?

I can be reached at



Anonymous said...

Hi FK,

I have found the information that you have found on ebooks and the effect it has on the environment extremely interesting. I am currently doing a project on E-books and their benefits on the environment. Im just curious though, where have you found your information, I would love to use it in my assignment if thats fine with you. I just need some websites to back me up. If you could email me some information or even post back on here some links, that would be great. =) thanks J

Fat Knowledge said...

Hi J,

In the second paragraph of the post there are 3 links to the sources that I used. All other analysis is in this post.

This post might also have information you need:

Best of luck with your project.

PS, I would have emailed you, but I don't know your address. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey FK,

The information you gave me was great! It has backed up my assignment perfectly;
If you find out anything more on e-books and their effect on the environment, could you please let me know. Even if its just little bits of information. Email me at
Thanks so much
J =)

Alex Lee said...

The huge missing hole in this article is that manufacturing a device to read an eBook is hugely energy intensive. A great article is at which calculates an iPad as creating 7.3kg of CO2. Suddenly, reading eBooks isn't so green anymore...

Fat Knowledge said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for the link to the iPad manufacturing emissions.

As for a "huge missing hole", did you even read the article? I use the assumption that manufacturing an ereader uses 200 MJ of energy and emits 12 kg of co2. This is larger than the 7.3kg stated for an iPad. But, even with those emissions, over the lifetime of the device, using an ereader emits less CO2 than reading on paper.

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