Books, Ebooks and the Environment

I’ve been doing some research. As a fan of the traditional book, and, I’ll be honest and upfront about it, not a convert to the e-reader, I’ve been feeling very skeptical about the environmental arguments that are supposed to be so overwhelmingly in favour of technology. But I wanted to be completely fair and to source some facts and figures, and consider the problem from all possible angles. It’s tricky to get hold of accurate data as pretty much everyone who contributes to the debate has an axe to grind, one way or another, but I hope I’ve found enough non-hysterical sites to back up what I’m going to put before you now.

Let’s begin with the case against paper. This site, the Green Press Initiative, which is working with publishers to be as environmentally-friendly as possible, has all the basic information. The paper and pulp industry is one of the major industries that cause environmental concern (the others include the chemical industry, the metal industry, the refineries and the power stations), partly because we use so much paper. The process requires trees, energy and chemicals, both in manufacture and distribution, all of which take their toll.

However, to be fair, we use paper in a huge number of products – offices use masses of the stuff, as do newspapers, then there are tissues and toilet paper and cardboard and packaging. I read one statistic that suggested the average internet user printed off 24 pages a day (I don’t – is there anyone out there who does?). This site had interesting information about the paper industry. I was interested in the statistic that suggested that in the US each year, 2 billion books, 350 million magazines and 24 billion newspapers are published. So you can see the kind of percentage that books take up – purely of the printed paper market. This site here suggests that paper for books takes up only 1% of the timber harvest and about 5.7% of the total paper market. We can’t after all, be told that no one reads any more and yet still find that books are the biggest offender in paper usage. Not buying newspapers would make a bigger impact on paper production than not buying books.

Given that the problems with paper and pulp production have been of some concern for a while now, a lot more is known about them and there are all kinds of initiatives being put into practice. I found lots of sites that were dedicated to improving environmental awareness around printed paper and this site is just one of them. To add to it, I should say that the fear about deforestation seems to have been debunked – I came across several sites that argued that deforestation only takes place in order to gain farming land and housing space for growing communities. And of course, sustainable farming of trees is a wholly good thing. I couldn’t find any accurate data that says how much pulp destined solely for book production comes from sustainable forests, unfortunately, but one report said that in America, 50% of book production now comes from sustainable sources. Forest land is economically viable land, safe from quarrying and mining and other forms of farming. It’s in our interests to keep using it – America now has more forest area than it did 70 years ago because of this particular aspect of the industry. One other fact to be encouraged by: the methane gas caused by paper decomposition in landfill sites has been cited as a cause for concern. But apparently most large landfills now tap methane for use as a biogas fuel – a practice that will become more widespread in the future.

So let’s look at the e-reader and e-book market. The argument for the environmental benefits of the e-reader is that it doesn’t use paper. However, there is still a manufacturing process involved, and one that draws on the metal industry and the chemical industry, and which has all sorts of problems concerning recycling. Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties we currently face concerns electronic waste – here’s the wikipedia article that covers it in full. At present, as far as I could find out, America recycles only 15-20% of its discarded electronics (2005 figures), whereas in 2006 it recycled 53.4% of paper, whilst in Europe in 2007 paper recycling rose to 64.5%. The lack of recycling poses a serious issue because of the problems of toxic waste associated with decomposing electronic components, and because of the increasing amount of electronic waste that our culture is producing. A book, once printed, will last for decades. But electronic equipment not only wears out and breaks, the whole market is geared up for planned obsolescence – in other words, to keep us spending money, new devices are launched every couple of years complete with format changes that oblige consumers to buy them.

It’s also problematic because developing countries tend to be the ones to accept and dispose of waste electronics (often illegally) and also to produce the most pollution while manufacturing them. Here’s a Greenpeace article on the problem. Environmentalists are trying to figure out what to do about the problem, but the developing world is hard to regulate at the best of times.

As the article suggests, the manufacture of electronic devices is a far from clean industry. All e-readers, and all e-books (as well as all computers, televisions, mobile phones, etc, etc) will contain a multitude of printed circuit boards as their basic components. Here’s a site that details out all the environmental concerns surrounding their manufacture. Basically, they use a lot of particularly unpleasant chemicals. Also, the components are sourced from around the globe, which raises the same old issues of distribution costs that books face (not to mention the distribution of manufactured electronic goods).

Finally, we need to consider the base materials that go into the composition of e-readers and other electrical goods. In some cases they require virgin metals, which are themselves in limited supply and threaten other beauty spots in the world (including forests) because of the need to mine for them. As demand for electronic equipment grows, so the supply of metals and other materials involved in their manufacture will rise, and without a viable recycling market fresh sources will continually need to be sought.

So all in all, I think that both books and e-readers pose environmental issues that are gaining awareness, but have yet to be solved. Arguably, the paper industry is under greater pressure to regulate at present, partly because more is known about it, partly because it is perceived as old-style industry and therefore in need of revamping, The newer, flashier technology industries have fashion and ideology on their side – not to mention economics. Demand is everything is our world these days, and manufacturers whose goods are in demand will produce them, regardless of the environmental cost. However the book market moves forward, it will do well to consider all the possible threats both kinds of manufacture pose. In balance, using the library arguably remains the most ecologically friendly thing to do.

Oh and a final thought – the biggest industrial polluters in China in 2007 included Pepsi, Yamaha, KFC and Pizza Hut. Just to remind you that there are other products that we might usefully target environmental concern towards.

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41 thoughts on “Books, Ebooks and the Environment

  1. Thanks for this post! A lot of people bring up e-readers now as environmentally friendly, but I wasn’t sold. Now I can research for myself through your links and determine how I feel about it. I admit I’m likely to stick with books for the time being.

  2. Like you, I am fairly addicted to the book in its present form. My bedside table and desk will attest to that. Thank you for pointing out which environmental offenders we can look at, while protecting books for a little while longer.

    That said, I can see the uses of an e-reader for people who travel a lot and who read extensively in their jobs. My husband is an analyst and completely fits this description. He’ll have an e-reader before the year is out, I’m sure. I’m still holding out.

  3. I can’t afford an e-reader right now, but if I did ever get one, it would be just to save space, to make my life a little lighter. But I love the physical feel of books, turning pages, and the way they smell. The environmental factor hasn’t been a huge one in the consideration of e-readers for me (not because I don’t care! but because I think there are more important environmental issues, even just in the realm of paper – using recycled-content paper products like paper towels & loo roll).

  4. I like both e-readers and paper books, just as use both a notebook and pen and this laptop. Both are forms of technology, stunning in their impact when they were created. I”m sure everyone here has read of the impact of the printed book,, and can at least imagine the possibilities that came with moving from clay tablets to papyrus. What seems to me more the issue as how to manage our likes and dislikes, our desires, and the things we will do to get what we want.

    For example, while it is true that the timber industry farms trees and is very careful to replant, what they replant is not a forest. It is a farm that crops trees. Forests are something else. They are things that require non-economic trees for the use and comfort of non-humans. So while it’s possible we have more trees, I sincerely doubt we have more forests.

    I don’t mean to rant. Really I don’t. It’s just that we need to be careful not to simply justify that with which we are already comfortable. That way leads to technological despoliation, as we already know.

    I’m grumpy today. Feel free to ignore me.

  5. What a lucid post.The built in obsolescence of computers drives me crazy. I hold onto them as long as I can but inevitably I have to give them up because the systems don’t let me do what I need to do anymore, though they could if things weren’t ramped up all the time. I saw a documentary about children in 3rd world countries who pick through electronic waste to make pennies for food and suffer from the toxicity of it. It’s shameful. That’s a good point about land protected by forests grown for paper use, I hadn’t thought about that.

  6. Thank you for this post. Through my job, I hear a lot about the evils of paper and the benefits of a paperless society. I haven’t been convinced, but I’ll be the first to admit that that’s largely because I like paper and haven’t wanted to be convinced.

    But I get frustrated at the holier-than-thou attitude some of the anti-paper crowd tends to take, as if those of us who are sticking to paper are wantonly killing trees with every book with purchase in hard copy. They seem to ignore the fact that their beloved e-readers won’t last forever and will be difficult to dispose of safely. Add to that the fact that the current e-readers are most likely a stop-gap device–they only serve one purpose, and the trend is for instruments to serve multiple purposes. Thus, e-reader technology will probably be applied to other devices, or e-readers will expand in functions. What will happen to those obsolete readers?

    Neither option is environmentally neutral. The difficulty is figuring out if one is significantly less destructive than the other, and I’m not sure that it’s clear.

  7. Thank you for this! I confess that I’ve allowed myself to be guilt-tripped about my book addiction a few times, so it’s good to consider the other side of the matter. I don’t know why I never thought to bring people’s attention to the fact that books are actually only a very small percentage of what gets printed, since yes, if I stopped to think I’d know that. Thank you!

  8. I think the other day I mistakenly gave the impression of having an ereader which is not the case. For a start they are still expensive given that at the pace of change newer cheaper better models will eventually emerge – though I still will not be through my TBR pile of real books by then. I’m also interested in what will become the norm for what is on offer by way of titles, as at the moment much is unavailable [mostly the commercial mainstream], but I am interested in the space saving aspects of it all. Given how accommodation is becoming more of a premium, this will become a driving force for ebooks, papers, magazines, as it is becoming for tv and film products and in the world of music downloads. That so much of all this can be put onto a 1 TB hard drive [with a backup of course] is amazing.
    On another aspect, as well as producing books [and other media] there is the issue of distribution. The cost of transport and its environmental toll is increasing all the time and so many of our western media products seem to originate in the east. There is also the need for vast storage areas – goodness knows how big the warehouses are which hold J K Rowling and Dan Brown products before their release and beyond. It would be good to think of a future in which we could borrow from a virtual library. The public libraries around me are good, but there are many titles I look for on their catalogue which they do not possess. This is particularly true of more scholarly and academic titles, of course, and without access to a faculty library they are incredibly expensive to purchase, so generally I don’t. What we really want is an ereader which looks, feels and smells like a book and which is programmed to be upgraded for many years so that it will not need replacing, but can you see the commercial world going for that!

  9. All right: perfect irony, hard to match in fiction. I have a new iPod Touch that I got for Christmas. Today, I finally had a little time to devote to exploring it and all its features. The first two applications I downloaded were Wattpad and Kindle, two ebook readers, so I could explore the new world of ebooks. Then, I used the new iTouch to browse my blogs and come across this post.

  10. Interesting. Makes me think it’s not either-or and that the book industry is just one of many that needs to clean up its act, however difficult that may be. Since a lot of readers are educated and articulate, the book industry is under more scrutiny. But, as you say, what about Pizza Hut and Pepsi (and also PSPs and countless other products)? That built-in obsolescence is a pain and at least paper books don’t require you to update your reader.

  11. A very fair and balanced post Litlove! The e-reader manufacturers and pushers really like to claim environmental friendliness but really they don’t have a leg to stand on as you point out. I think they must know that as I hear less and less the environmental argument and more and more about convenience and immediacy – you can have the latest Dan Brown in seconds no matter where you are instead of having to go to a bookstore because we all know what a bother it is to go to a bookstore.

  12. What a great post! I had always wondered about this issue without taking time to check facts. But basically, I’m reluctant with technology, especially when it comes to leisure activities – but I blog and internet is part of my life. In short, I don’t want to care about batteries and energy when I’m reading a book. I love recycling books through Bookmooch barter systems. I’m definitely old-fashioned.

  13. i also read the old fashioned way… with a BOOK! how vintage am i?!! the library is my source. however i do have a small collection of favorites. great post!

  14. A very fair, down-to-Earth post; well backed-up, also.

    Actually, for those who want to reduce their “paper consumption” through books (but still prefer a tangible, real paper-made book) there are solutions such as BookCrossing. Of course, that won’t work if you like to keep all the books you buy. Nevertheless, I find the concept of book-sharing very interesting.

    Cheers!

  15. Saving old books and buying used books and buying most books today printed on recycled paper is usually the norm. Esp. newspapers! As far as books on cd they can all be reused. Working on being green takes a great deal of thought. Fixing your old computer is one instead of buying a new one. Trading books with fiends is another, along with this serious problem : stop stop stop phasing out old electronics, preserve them…Videos in libraries as long as they last. Bottom line is that America is the only country really greening anything the rest will follow as long as US gives away your tax dollar to maybe do a microscopic effect on the other countries…usually they are just stealing the money. Most countries will never give up their bottom line profits, like the US has taken itself to the poorhouse! But hey look around they have no industrial pollution overall like the other countries! After all who needs jobs they just mess up the environment, pollution yuck! Who needs a job washing fossil fuels, Americans all want to work in offices anyway. Travel America it is really cleaning up soon you won’t see anything but scenery. America has already stopped building those ugly suburbs and housing developments and they can now buy apartment homes crowding on top of each other like the rest of the world!

  16. There are so many variables to think about when considering how to be a responsible caretaker of the environment yet also use resources. The nice thing about books is they can be recycled–made into something else but also given away and read by others and have second and third lives. I’m not big on gadgets but I’m still not sure what to do when something has been replaced or broken down–how to recycle it and not just leave it in a landfill. In many cases it’s just cheaper to buy a new one (whatever the thing may be) than repair the old. We’ve become such a throwaway society it’s hard to change that mentality. Hopefully we’re moving in the right direction. It’s good to think about these things and get good information!

  17. I am an avid reader and one of the ways I have avoided the cost of hundreds of books I have read on personal development is to go to the library. Once I have read the book if I value it I go buy a copy to support the writer. So I am a paper book buyer.
    I also value electronic books since it cuts down the enviromental cost of shipping. Even certain books that I have written like this one on organic food http://thewondertechnique.com/how-to-buy-organic-food-inexpensively/ I have been told work excellent to read on the computer since it is a step by step guide. So benefits to both ideas. Personally, I can’t imagine reading a fictional novel on line. I think my eyes would fall out!

    Thanks for taking time to write a well researched article.

    All the best,
    David

  18. Hate to admit it, but it has never entered my mind to be ecological about my book consumption but I have always been troubled by how quickly technology becomes obsolete. I’ve had at least 4 laptops and 2 desk top computers in the last 12 years. When something goes wrong with one of them (and something always does) there comes a time when it doesn’t make any sense to get it fixed. It’s almost cheaper to buy a new one. But a book I can read over and over again – until the covers fall off.

  19. Thank you for this great information! It’s important to know how the two formats stack up, and to be honest, I’m glad to hear that paper books don’t do so badly in contrast to ebooks. I like the note you end on, too — that libraries are arguably the most ecologically friendly way to get books. It makes me want to use my library more often — and I can walk there, which means using no gas!

  20. This is so interesting. Thanks for the information. I don’t particularly feel attracted to e-readers on the aesthetic level. It’s interesting to see the environmental pros and cons of the technology. In the meantime, I will stick with paper books!

  21. This is a REMARKABLY well-argued post. Not that I am surprised. You made a similar argument on a post of mine about a year ago, and I was very convinced. I’ll be nominating this as a Just Post.

  22. What a relief, for a publisher of traditional printed books. Thought the industry would disappear, the way e-books are coming up. Books need to be around, we need to plan out the way we conserve environment, and rejecting printed books is definitely not the way.

  23. W. O. W. The book industry uses 1 % of all trees? Amazing. I never knew that. I thought they used at least 4%. You’re right–trees are everywhere: napkins, cardboard, notebook paper, toilet paper. You really have written here something to consider.
    I hadn’t considered the metal and chemical stuff being involved in the development of the eReader. That makes me wonder whether using eReaders is more beneficial to the environment than using traditional books. And the comment by Grad–technology changes fast. Well, personally I’ve only had two computers. The first one was a desktop I had for five years until the end of 2008, and it still works, albeit sluggishly. It will be disposed for good soon. Since then I use a laptop.
    So Pepsi is bad for the environment? That gives me another reason to dislike it. I really dislike it.
    This post gives a lot to ponder over. Very good work. Thumbs up.

  24. Another disadvantage of e-readers is the built-in proprietary content. When you buy a book from Amazon on Kindle, it can not be lent to a friend. Barnes & Noble tried alleviating that problem; but as David Pogue’s review of the ‘nook’ pointed out, books can only be lent once (!) and for a maximum of 14 days. Even with that feature, the publisher decides whether or not it is ok to lend a book. That is not enough freedom. I avoided Apple’s iTunes store for the same reason for years; if I purchase something, I intend to utilize my fair-use rights.

    File formats like epub are trying to fix this problem. However, as corporations like Amazon and Barnes & Noble put their marketing power behind their new devices and consumers actually buy them, openness will fade into the consumer’s mind until it matters. It will matter when you decide to switch from Kindle to nook to whatever else comes out. Books last as long as you take them; that is, decades at the least.

  25. Thank you! You have said what many will not: all of those lovely little electronic gadgets that we so blithely carry around with us (cell phones, e-books, laptops, etc.) contain materials that are toxic. Desktop computers–if anyone, like me, is such dinosaur as to still be using one–can never break down because they contain such healthful substances as lead and cadmium.
    Printed books are at least trying to move in the right direction: recycled paper, soy-based inks, re-examining the printing process…
    Save the world–use your local library! (has a nice ring, don’t you think ;) )

    As always a thought-full, well-researched exploration of an important issue. We need you, litlove–thank you!

  26. I’m surprised by the printing stat early in the piece… I don’t print anything like 24 pages a day or week or probably even month. I avoid printing off my own work like my life depends on it, and work on screen rather than printed versions of all my work until the last possible minute. Wasting paper makes me feel SICK, and I’m a writer, so go figure.

    A balanced presentation, LL. I think you already know my views: I see real value in e-reader devices, and may eventually invest in one as the technology advances, but they will never, ever be a plausible *replacement* for our beloved books.

  27. I’m looking around my home-office at hundreds of books supported by shelving. The downstairs toilet is stuffed with them, so is the conservatory. And then there are all the books in my den in the garage. The energy, paper and ink that has gone into their production is considerable.

    My most used e-reader is my iPhone:
    1. I use Kindle, Stanza, and eReader, all for iPhone. If I want to make my own editable notes I’ll set up the same books on my laptop and split the screen with OneNote (I read a lot of textbooks as well as a lot free fiction).

    I travel a lot. The iPhone’s form factor is perfect for queueing waiting to get on/off a plane, at immigration, standing on the underground, standing on an overcrowded train. It’s great for waiting at the doctor’s/dentist. I know I’m supposed to struggle to read backlit screens, it’s not e-ink, but the fact of the matter is I don’t struggle at all, and it’s a boon to my wife if I want to read in the night without disturbing her. I have an Iliad e-Reader so I know e-ink and it’s cool for sunny days, but sadly battery life is lousy (also iPhone has poor battery).

    At the moment I’m mulling over whether to buy Kindle-the-Device (and what version now the larger DX can be used with 3G outside the States?), whether to buy whatever Apple is about to come up with, or whether not to bother. I’m well over the need to buy new books and often buy second hand ones for a few pennies from Amazon.

    If Amazon ever start to guarantee I’ll never lose my ebooks (at the mo they can vanish overnight, or become obsolete on their latest device) then my ebook purchases will sky rocket. Not a trusted brand right now but that may change.

    As for ethical/environmental choices, the debate is futile. If we solve the energy problem without solving the population problem we will continue to infest the planet as we denude it of water, minerals and other finite resources, displacing natural fauna and flora to grow our food. The planet will soon issue a massive correction, and take care of the population cull in its own time. Do your duty and consume at a faster rate to bring it on. Millions will die, economic (carbon burning) activity will all but cease, and the earth can then return to balance . . . . It’ll be tough on our kids though.

  28. Pingback: Learning How to Blog from People Who Do It « I am Ebi. I blog.

  29. I never did this much of research about comparing printed books and e-books, but I always advocated the same logic as you did in your blog.
    I blongs to India and now a days it become a regular practice of most Banks to insist their *current* customers to opt for e-statements! which they usually deliver quarterly. Well, the cause to save Paper and thus Trees is good but the philosophy behind that is not.

    Thats not all, the irony is as a would be customer from same/other banks you will keep getting printed advertisement about new products (Home/Car Loans, FDs, MFs etc.) sealed in a pretty colored envelope posted onto your address every now and then. I wonder how it does not require paper for advertisements & a single page or maximum up to two pages of Bank Statements becomes a concern for saving the trees?

    Bitter truth is that they (Industries) do not actually care for the environment, they just want to take advantage of you being a environment friendly citizen.

  30. Pingback: eBooks: A New Way To Read « Novelist Andrew Hayett's Blog

  31. Pingback: Books, E-Books and the Environment « The Booklover’s Blog

  32. Firstly I must explain from the start that I manage an organisation called Two Sides, which has been set up by all sectors of the UK print and publishing industries to explore the Myths and set out the Facts about the Print and Paper industries which actually have a great environmental story to tell. Of course, like in any large industry, there are problems from time to time, but these have been allowed to set the agenda and paper, a natural, recyclable and renewable material has been the victim of some very misinformed press.

    Perhaps this article, written for the January edition of a UK magazine, will be found to be useful

    Safeguarding the future for Print Media
    Print Media is a powerful way to communicate but is the industry doing enough to sell itself?

    Martyn Eustace, Director ‘Two Sides’

    The printed word on paper has been around for over 2000 years yet, for this ubiquitous product in our daily lives, its raison d’être is being seriously questioned. Some would argue that, except for the most cherished of documents, there are better ways to store and communicate information and that the days of printed media are numbered.

    Like rabbits caught in headlights the industry has observed, without concerted reaction, the threats it faces, whether from environmental activists or from emerging new media, seemingly hoping that the problem would pass. It has focussed on what it does best, and has believed to be most important, that is to produce better paper and print, without tackling the wider reasons for falling demand.

    There’s common agreement that the Print and Paper industries, perhaps better and more widely described as the Graphic Communications Value Chain, have not, so far, invested to communicate their own case to a changing world. In this vacuum negativity has been the outcome.

    So if the industry wants to be part of this debate, and ensure that all the positive aspects of Print Media are given the prominence they deserve, then it’s time to get stuck in and make sure that its voice is heard.

    On the environmental front, some individual companies have been active, often producing large quantities of material, on the web and in glossy brochures, setting out very real initiatives which are reducing the carbon impact of their business. The paper industry, faced with worldwide concern for tropical hardwood deforestation, again a very real issue but little connected with the well managed and increasing forestry resources in Europe, has presented its case. The information provided by CEPI, the Confederation of European Paper Industries, is particularly detailed and informative, setting the record straight. But who reads all these documents? Who believes them? What have they achieved?

    More has got to be done and will be addressed in two European-wide campaigns. ‘Print Power’, which will promote the effectiveness of Media and ‘Two Sides’, already active in the UK, which will set out the true facts about the industry’s sustainability

    There are two clear issues to address:

    1. The case for Print Media in a multi media world must be strongly made focussing on its clear ability to inform and persuade; achieving more immediate and long-lasting results for stretched marketing budgets. In short we need to tell those whose decision it is to chose media channels that Print is Effective as part of a multi media campaign, with an impressive ROI

    2. Print and Paper’s environmental credentials have been criticised; often by those unaware of the true facts and more cynically by those who seek to promote their own alternative communication media. An active, fact based, campaign is needed to put the record straight. In a recent survey, 80% of media buyers admit that the environment plays a part in the print buying decision, clearly identifying the need for the true facts to be known.

    Let’s first look at the Print Media’s effectiveness. A recent survey by Brand Media reported that print advertising, off the page together with a poster campaign, can be nearly three times more financially effective than on line advertising for every £1.00 spent by the advertiser. IKEA’s catalogue run, over 190 million copies in 24 languages, clearly demonstrates the power of Print Media. What other media makes browsing so easy, establishes such an intimate connection with the reader and can so persuasively influence thoughts and actions as print?

    A campaign which uses print in combination with other media can be shown to produce a 25% improvement in response rates and the recent consumer omnibus survey, through fastMAP, revealed that half of all adults preferred to receive a paper bill and, perhaps surprisingly, 18-24s, alongside 35-44 year olds, were found to be the biggest advocates of the paper statement, showing that despite the digital revolution young people still value traditional communication techniques.

    And what about the sustainability of Print and Paper? For a long time now the industry has tolerated misinformation about its environmental record without firm response. European forests, where 94% of our paper is sourced from, have grown by 30% since 1950 and are expanding by 1.5 million football pitches every year. The paper industry is Europe’s largest user of biomass renewable energy and recycling rates for paper are running at record levels. So where’s the story for a wasteful and destructive industry!

    Of course tropical forests are under threat but this is largely due to land clearance for agriculture or fuel as indigenous peoples aspire to the affluence of the west. The paper industry has little to do with this and, by adhering to certification schemes, responsible buyers will be able to ensure that they only buy from sustainable sources.

    So who perpetuates the myths about the industry? It’s not hard to find well meaning but misinformed culprits. Corporates, particularly the utility companies, often in an effort to reduce costs, unwittingly or cynically perpetuate untruths by stating that e-billing or other forms of e-communication are better for the environment and that, by switching to online documents, we will ‘save forests’ and be more environmentally responsible.

    With European forests covering 44% of the land area and growing by an area four times the size of London every year, ‘saving forests’ is clearly disingenuous and these myth perpetuators conveniently avoid the fact the electronic alternative, represented by the IT industry, is the fastest growing user of energy and has been predicted, if current rates of growth are maintained, to consume over 50% of the country’s energy requirements in the next ten years. So where’s the evidence that the e-bill or the on-line catalogue is more environmentally friendly?

    So let’s get some sense of proportion. Traditional and electronic media both have a role to play. Together they are part of today’s media mix and both face a challenge to minimise environmental impact. Those who attempt to use the environment in their marketing without supportive facts are skating on thin ice and deserve to be challenged to produce the evidence to support their claims.

    In reality the challenge for Print Media may not be so great as may at first be supposed. The environmental arguments can be won and from a marketing perspective the effectiveness of Print Media can be demonstrated, proved by data, and justify a significant share of today’s modern marketing mix.

    All the industry needs to do now is tell its story! All those who are involved in the Graphic Communication Value Chain can contribute by subscribing to the Two Sides initiative today.

  33. A big thank you to all the bloggers and readers who took part in this discussion – I’ve very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter (apart maybe from the guy who thought we should hasten apocalypse…). My dad, who worked all his life in the printing industry, emailed me to say that paper for books can’t be made from hardwood – it doesn’t work. So the worries on that score are groundless. He also said that his dealings with paper suppliers from Sweden indicated that the forests that are planted are good, productive natural environments (and he knew this partly because the owner took special guests on hunting trips there, but that’s not going to cheer some of you up!). So, given the life span of a book, I’d say that the book does look the better option. But, as Stefanie says, if what matters is getting the text within ten minutes of wanting it, or needing an ereader as an accompaniment to travel, then that is, I guess, where its advantages lie.

  34. Thanks for this post! I really appreciated all the research you did, and I’ve posted a link to this entry, with some of my own thoughts on this subject, on my blog: theartofreading.wordpress.com. If you check it out and I’ve credited you wrong (or you feel, just poorly and not enough) let me know. All best.

  35. Pingback: The January Just Posts « collecting tokens

  36. Pingback: Cold Spaghetti :: Just Posts for a Just World: January 2010

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