Saturday, April 19, 2008

BPN 1073 Green e-book nonsense

Dead-tree books are usually black and white. E-books are up for the time being also black and white. But how green are e-books actually? Whenever the advantages of e-books are listed, there is always the mention of the saving grace of trees by e-books. IMHO this is absolute balony.

The argument is not particularly limited to e-books. I think I heard the argument also during the introduction of internet (at that time still spelled as with a capital for novelty: Internet). The more internet would be used the more woods would be saved. But that argument has never been substantiated in figures. Given the argument of the PC and printer, there is more paper used by a printer than saved. The same will go for internet. But does the same line of thought hold true for e-books?

The argument basically runs like this: by buying an e-book, I will avoid buying a dead-tree copy of the book; so less trees will have to be cut. The next thing you know is that you will find yourself in a discussion about paper produced from tree pulp and paper produced from recyclable materials, like paper and clothes. And the tree pulp argument is subdivided in pulp from freshly cut trees or from re-planted trees.

(Just an aside comment. In 2000 I was in Stockholm addressing a conference of pulp manufacturers on electronic books. I told them to invest in the development of electronic books as the dead-tree copy would disappear. Well, they were hesitant and I think that I did not convince them to invest digital paper. They are still investing in news trees and replanted trees. Still I am convinced that they should have listened. In the sixties of last century there was a US company Mead Paper, which traded in paper and office supplies. Very early on they saw the mainframes coming in and started to set up a service for the Ohio State legislature and later on for lawyers. Eventually in 1970 they started to run a commercial, online legal information service, Lexis and in 1973 a news information service Nexis. In 1994 the company sold the online information service to Reed Elsevier for 1,5 billion US dollars.)

But are e-books really green? I can not help it, but iRex Technologies, the Dutch manufacturer of the Iliad e-book, made a calculation on the basis of printing a 60 page document. The manufacturer calculated that this printing will generate 328.8g of carbon, while reading the same document on a device on the iLiad with its splendid power management reduces that score most likely to .25g. Conclusion: reading documents on electronic books should be more environmentally sound than from dead trees, and it should be cheaper, as there are no printing costs to cover and power management is improving.

Forget it. This is such a rubbish argument. Reading the same document might indeed reduce the carbon level to .25 g, but they forget the production of any e-reader. What will it cost to manufacture the iLiad or for that matter any e-reader in terms of carbon levels, the transport from plant to buyer, the life cycle of the device and the eventual destruction? This will definitely be more than .25g. I like to challenge iRex Technologies or any other e-reader manufacturer to ask Greenpeace for a check on sustainability. I bet no e-book device will get a green hallmark certification.

Blog Posting Number: 1073

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