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Amazon’s Kindle Reports Biggest Sales Ever, But How Green Is It?

| Monday January 9th, 2012 | 1 Comment

One of those things that still bring a twinge of sadness is the slow death of independent book-stores. As an avid reader and one that loves to browse around second-hand bookshops, on the lookout for a bargain or a rare read, I will miss the romance of it all as the world is rapidly shifting toward e-books. E-books, of course, have functionality and convenience but not the fresh-paper smell or other associations that we have with real books.

One of the biggest selling e-readers, Amazon’s Kindle has had a whopper year. The company recently announced that 2011 was the best holiday ever for the Kindle family as customers purchased millions of Kindle Fires and millions of Kindle e-readers. The company also notes that sales of e-books were up 175 percent over last year, between Black Friday and Christmas Day. 

The reigning debate that still remains is: which one is greener? The Cleantech Group reckons that the Kindle is the greener way to read.  A study by the Cleantech Group found that the Kindle is able to fully offset its carbon emissions in the first year of use, as long as the owner downloads more than 22 books in a year, and additional years of use result in net carbon savings equivalent to an average of 168 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Throughout the month of December, according to Amazon, well over 1 million Kindle devices were purchased per week. All this will eventually add up to a huge amounts of e-waste, which is an environmental problem. Amazon’s refusal to be transparent about its production as well as carbon emissions are also causes for concern. Consumer pressure or a large scale campaign can change this but so far, the figures that are available are only guesstimates.

My fellow blogger at Triple Pundit, Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris, a company working towards a sustainable book industry reckons that an e-book can be a greener option if you are a voracious reader and do not upgrade too soon. A New York Times analysis seems to support Raz’s conclusion and it says that an e-reader can offset around 40 books. Therefore, if you replace five books a year, it will take around eight years before you’ve offset your carbon footprint.

Considering that, in a few years down the line, paper books may well be obsolete, it is essential for e-reader manufacturers to become more transparent about their sustainability. Amazon, as the market leader, should lead the way. I did really want to buy a Kindle but I think I will put it off until Amazon comes up with some verified numbers. In the meantime, I’ll continue to mosey around secondhand bookshops and libraries.

Image Credit: Tsgreer, Wikimedia Commons 

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  • Anonymous

    I certainly agree that Amazon needs to become a leader when it comes to carbon disclosure. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to give this issue the importance it deserves as we can learn from their refusal to report to the Carbon Disclosure Project and well as their negative response to a shareholder resolution asking the company to prepare a report that will assess the impact of climate change on Amazon and make it public. I’m afraid that until its customers will start demanding it, Amazon will keep ignoring its carbon footprint.

    I also wanted to add that a link to an analysis I did back in 2009 to the cleantech report – http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2009/09/new-report-finds-kindle-greener-than.html. My conclusion was that their figures are a guestimation at best and we need to wait for Amazon to come up with the real carbon footprint of the Kindle. We’re still waiting..