Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 8 March 2012

How Green is Your eBook?

I mentioned a while ago that I wanted to explore the question about how environmentally friendly eBooks really are.  This blog doesn't deliver an answer but hopefully defines the question better.

I don't think I've ever stated in my blogs that eBooks are greener than print books, but may have implied it.    However I have read various discussions online that oscillate between print being greener or eBooks being greener.Before you all trawl through my previous blogs to disprove my statement, I have mentioned on a number of occasions that the cost differences between the two formats should be considerable and have mooted that it doesn't look like the mainstream publishing industry is passing the savings on.  I may have alluded to the green issue in those posts, and if I did I'll put my hands up and state that it was clearly an opinion.

And that's the big issue with a lot of these environmental assertions, in my opinion.  Before I go into this subject a little deeper, let me set my stall out clearly.  I personally challenge anyone who refers to Global Warming, not because I don't believe the planet is going through climate change, nor do I deny that it is probable that some of the activities that mankind has engaged in could have affected the global temperatures.  It's just that there's enough dispute amongst very bright persons to make me take a pause.  Add to that a belief (make that an opinion - I don't want to be misquoted here) that virtually all research projects in the UK and therefore probably in the US (as we tend to follow US policy over here) insist on a 'Climate Change' element to form part of the funding bid proposal which I suspect could skew the research agendas a tad.  Or to put it a little less quaintly, if they don't seem to support the 'Climate Change' agenda, even if only tangentially, then they will be at the bottom of the pile for a Government grant.

So I'm clearly not a greeny, nor am I unbelieving of the suggestions made - I'm open minded and happy to listen to rational arguments on the subject.  And to make one thing very clear - regarding the standard objective of environmentalists of aiming for sustainable power, not polluting etc - nobody believes more than I do that we should aim to conserve finite resources and we should avoid polluting the air we breathe at every step.  The aim, in my opinion, is to achieve these objectives in a way that doesn't create new problems or lowers our lifestyle (I know that will enrage some greenies, and I understand their anger - I just don't believe winding back to the nineteen thirties is the solution; it's just a solution).

So, eBooks.  Why all the words when it's clear they don't cost trees, need logging, pulping, transporting, and so on?  Well, the picture is bigger than that - I really can't make an argument about the greeness of my Kindle by mentioning the life cycle of the print book while only referring to the cost of maintaining servers in the US and transactional costs over the Internet.  I have to consider the environmental costs of manufacturing the devices (tricky when using third world labour pops into the equation - not strictly environmental but also an issue).  But there's also the disposal issues - all that plastic, that none recyclable material?  Getting that information could be challenging, but I truly believe that any environmental evaluation has to consider the whole through life impact.

I can make a start on books - there must be verifiable data on the impact of the logging, the pulping, the bleaching, the printing, the chemicals that make up the inks, the distribution, the storage and so on right up until a book is finally pulped to become Kleenex - but maybe the counting doesn't stop there - the Kleenex will become laden with snot at some point in time and probably will end up as biodegradable waste in a landfill somewhere.

eBooks are going to be more difficult to crunch - do I just model the Kindle or do I take in all the media used?  Would an iPad be classed as more acceptable because it has more utility than a dedicated eReader? I could be in for a long haul in trying to find the answer - heck it's going to be a fairly long trek just to discover what the question is, to be fair.

So, I don't know how green my eBook is, but I will try to find out.  If anyone has access to any sensible (that is, agenda free) links then please share them.


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