Remember last week when we looked at a study showing that downloading music is more carbon efficient than buying CDs? It turns out the same thing holds true for downloading books on the Amazon Kindle (or other e-readers) versus buying books. A new report from the Cleantech Group called the Environmental Impact of Amazon's Kindle claims that a single Kindle displaces the purchase of 22.5 books each year for an estimated carbon savings of 168 kg of CO2. If the full storage capacity of the Kindle is used, the device prevents the equivalent of almost 11,185 kg of CO2 from being released.
The Cleantech Group made its calculations by comparing the average carbon footprint of books that are shipped from online stores, books that are bought in physical locations, and books downloaded to the Kindle. All paper books are responsible for some of the 125 million trees harvested by the book and magazine industries in 2007, but shipped books are still twice as carbon efficient as books bought in the mall or the local bookstore. Overall, e-readers have the potential to save 9.9 billion kg of CO2 over the next three years, even when taking into account the energy required to manufacture and power them.
But while music on a CD and music downloaded from a computer sounds the same, the continued growth of e-readers could be hampered by the contingent of people who prefer the feel and musky smell of physical books. And that's why its important for groups like the Book Industry Environmental Council to continue to strive for energy efficiency and increased recycling efforts, no matter how big the Kindle gets.