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A Kindle Or A Stack Of Books

A picture for Wiltshire Green Issues

It isn't an easy question and has been seriously researched (see a report here). But surely it must be true - all that paper in all those books and the energy cost of transporting them to the shop and a neat little Kindle can contain 10s of large tomes and it's just a bit of plastic. The Kindle must be nearly an environmental miracle. What possible contest could there be? I often look at things from a point of view of cost, what we pay for (leaving aside scarcity value) is people's time to produce an object and the raw materials and energy used to make it. And people cost the environment remember. To a first approximation the more you pay for it the more damage it is likely to have done to the environment. Using this simple indicator a kindle should cost the environment as much as say a dozen paperbacks.

Wait up though. What bit of the environment are we worried about? If it is principally about green-house gas then we should perhaps do our sums again. If I cut down a tree which has sequestered several tons of atmospheric CO2, the net CO2 in the atmosphere depends on what I do next. Worst clearly is burn it and not plant a new one - a clear CO2 increase. However if I make the tree's carbon into paper, then into books, and if I store these books carefully AND I also plant a new tree, the CO2 cost should be negative. We have a net reduction in atmospheric CO2 and the Kindle doesn't look so good. The key issue now becomes 'how much energy is used in producing the Kindle device compared to the books?' and here's where the problem comes for the paper, it may only be a fifth of the total CO2 used in production that's actually contained in the pages. The rest is due to energy burned during the manufacture and transportation. Can I pick up my Kindle again with an 'I'm a good environmentalist' swagger? Not so fast. We now have some control over where we get our energy, so I can choose to pay a bit extra for a book produced using green-energy transported by electric truck using wind generated electrons. Well I sort of can at least I can ask for an energy substitution which increases r=the overall demand for renewable energy. Now we are back to an overall sequestration of CO2. This extra cost is a bit suspicious but I think it may be an exception - the fact that we do not pay the true cost for oil is so deeply embedded that we don't see it for the distotion that it is. There are also other impacts of even sustainable paper manufacture, (lack of) bio-diversity in plantation forests and the waste products of paper production. A useful article on this can be found at

A picture for Wiltshire Green Issues

I don't think the debate is over yet and some-one out there will spot some issues I have missed. Working out how green something, or some course of action is, can be fiendishly difficult. Still I really don't think any of us should feel guilty buying a Kindle, or indeed iPad or other similar device, its not like flying over the Atlantic. Hmm then I have to buy a case to stop it getting scratched - after all I want it to last - buying a new one each year would not be a green thing to do whatever it did for Amazon's bottom line. But when I look round at the case material alternatives, Neoprene, Silicone, Leather.... it doesn't sound good - but hold it, there is a green alternative here as well, hemp! Take a look at these Kindle cases from British designers Tuff- Luv.

contact : Mitchell Berkley
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