Kindle Reader – The Green Way to Read?

Who hasn’t heard about the Kindle Reader yet?

It seems you cannot get away from talk that electronic books are the future, and indeed their sales are soaring so fast Amazon has already said that US ebook sales are doing better than sales of real paper books.  People love gadgets, and something that is even smaller, lighter and perhaps more convenient than a paperback is certainly a popular choice for fans of reading.

I admit I have on occasion lusted after a Kindle myself.  The convenience of having several books (or thousands if you want) all stored in one little package is quite tempting.  If I was still a worker in the real world, of commutes and lunch hours I probably would indeed have justified buying myself a Kindle by now.

But, I love real books and somehow paper that can be lent, donated or stored on a bookshelf reminding me of stories previously enjoyed means to date this house is a Kindle free zone.  But what if electronic book readers really are better for the environment; does that mean that if I can afford one, I should buy a Kindle?

One of the things I have found a little confusing is the talk about Kindles being “better for the environment”.  It went against my instincts to agree that something electronic, plastic, and containing a battery could ever be a greener choice than a simple paper and ink book.

So Mrs Dirty Boots thought she would have a little look see to find out if the Kindle is Green, and whether Eco types could justify buying another new toy…

Is The Kindle Green?

Kindle Carbon Footprint

Cleantech estimate that an average Kindle will produce 168kg of carbon.  With books averaging 7.46kg, newspaper 0.62kg and magazines 0.95kg, the more you read (and the more you convert more of your reading to electronic format), the faster your Kindle will be able to reduce your personal carbon footprint.  (Source : Industrial Design Consultancy, Babcock School of Business, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Green Press Initiative, Marmol Radziner Prefab, Discovery Magazine, Cleantech Group analysis).

In theory at least a supposedly “average” reader, ordering 3 ebooks a month and keeping their Kindle for 4 years, will save 1,074 kg of CO2 over its life.  Sounds impressive, but does this represent the activity of an average Kindle owner?  I wonder…

Some Kindles Will Be Green

is the kindle green?As far as I can tell, the Kindle might be far greener than paper books in the right hands.  But, it all depends on your reading habits, and how owning an electronic reader changes them.  If you only read sporadically it will take a great deal of time for your purchase to reduce the carbon emissions buying real paper books would have produced.  The more you read, the quicker the carbon footprint of your latest gadget is offset by the number books you would have bought.

But of course if you are a fan of libraries, or second hand book stores the equations won’t stack up at all.

In 2009 the Cleantech Group produced a very detailed report claiming that for many of us the Kindle would be a more environmentally friendly choice.  You can view the entire thing here.

The general outcome is that if you are a “typical” ebook user, after around 21 ebook purchases you should be in a position where the net carbon emissions produced from using your eReader have more than been offset by the number of real books you would have bought.  But, it seems many owners of electronic reading devices still purchase paper books too.  And, you will have to ensure your ebook reader is recycled in Amazon’s return program as correct disposal has been factored into all the equations.

What About the Trees?

save the treesMy perhaps naive concern is the trees themselves.  Sure enough the publishing industry accounts for a huge volume of water usage (up to 11% of freshwater used in the west), and of course trees.  But if we all forgo paper in favor of virtual reading matter what happens to those managed forests?  Will the trees felled be replanted if the publishing industry is in decline?

I know not all paper is produced via properly managed forests, but a significant volume now is.  And if no more paper is needed won’t land-owners be forced to find another way to make that land pay?

Real Books

And, what of all those real world books that remain in circulation for years whether by being library copies, or simply lent or resold repeatedly?  It is a tough question, and one I have no answer for.  Personally borrowing books is pretty much impossible living in a non English speaking country, and a little cut off from society.  But I love the shelves filled with real paper copies of books bought, borrowed, or stolen and enjoyed previously.  I cannot imagine not having them there, but honestly how often will many of them be re-read?

Perhaps then a Kindle would be a green addition to Casa Dirty Boots.  We read a lot, and I think that is the key.  When the study was written, the electronic reading device was still fairly novel.  Something bought primarily by insatiable book lovers, with reasonably fat wallets.  Now though, as the price falls, won’t the Kindle become more of an impulse buy?  If you only read 10 books a year, you’re looking at just over 2 years for there to be any carbon reduction based on your purchase.  And by that time, many gadget buying consumers will be looking to upgrade, which could just blow any green credentials for their particular Kindle.

People in Publishing

As well as wondering how many forests currently managed for paper pulp would end up, if the publishing industry did forever change into a virtual concern, what about the people involved?

Jobs are a little thin on the ground for many, and the thought of yet more bookstores closing, delivery drivers not driving, and of course Ebook publishers not printing makes me wonder if concern for the environment doesn’t really need to be weighed against the needs of real people working in real jobs, producing real things.

Ideally of course there would be fewer of us on the planet and then green issues would be a lot less troublesome.  But whilst we are all here, isn’t it beneficial to have folks employed doing something?

Upgrading Your Gadgets Isn’t Green!

diy color kindleThe Kindle, and indeed any dedicated ebook reader must then be something a little different to most personal electronics.  It needs to be a little more timeless.  Something bought, and then expected to last for several years, rather than another throwaway piece of electronic wizardry that we expect to be “old fashioned” and in desperate need of upgrading this time next year.

I know many of us are happy to keep our gadgets for years; and I speak as one with a 3 year old mobile that has no need to be replaced, no matter that it isn’t “Smart”, doesn’t connect to the internet, and (gasp) isn’t even touch-screen.  It cost less than £20 (when the free credit was factored in), and is very good at making phone calls on.  That’s all I need.  But I know I am in a minority.  The majority of the gadget buying public seem more desperate to have the latest, fastest, most power everything they can afford; regardless of whether their current gadgets still perform perfectly well.

Perhaps then, that is why the Kindle is green (or greenish).  Because though it is a rather clever piece of kit, it isn’t too fashionable.  It doesn’t really do that much apart from allow you to read.  Yes it comes with audio, games and an internet browser.  But these features aren’t brilliant (you won’t be doing all your online shopping on it if you still own a laptop).  They aren’t the reason it sells.  It sells because if you enjoy reading, and want to enjoy a wide range of books at the touch of a button it is rather clever.  But, no-one could say the Kindle is as sexy or fun as an iPad.  And, whilst no doubt many Apple fans will upgrade religiously each year until the iPad 97 is released, perhaps the Kindle’s audience will remain a little more comfortable with sticking with their original ebook reader as long as it is up to the job at hand.  The key then is that the dedicated ebook reader remains appealing to book lovers, a little less than perfect in terms of electronic wizardry, but great for reading on.

That being said, the Cleantech study was carried out on the 2nd generation Kindle.  The current Kindle 3 has a far better display, and battery life.  So perhaps this Kindle is more green, and perhaps upgrading is a good idea.  I see this will be an ongoing issue when delving into the environmental credentials of any gadget!

Will A Kindle Reader Save You Money?

If you enjoy classic literature (or think you might) they can be a cheap way of reading, as there are so many free books to choose from.  And, if you are happy to take your chances with authors you haven’t heard of before Amazon often have limited time deals on selected ebooks, being free or very low cost.

If you like new titles you won’t find ebooks all that frugal though.  Yes, they are a little cheaper than new titles in real paper form, but not much, and they’re a lot more hassle to lend to friends and impossible to sell on.  There will be Kindle books available at libraries this year though, which is something encouraging (though US only at first as usual!).

Buy a Kindle?

Is the Kindle Green?  Kind of I guess.  Do I want one?  Yes – from time to time at least!  Will I buy one?  Perhaps, but primarily because there are hundreds of thousands of free out of copyright books I can get for it.  Will I feel like an Eco Hypocrite?  Quite possibly!

And, to be honest it wouldn’t make me any greener as I imagine, that like many others I would continue to buy real paper copies of many books too.  Thankfully I can ease my conscience as according to Cleantech’s study books ordered online have lower carbon emissions than those bought in a store.  This is because transport adds up when you consider that over 20% of paperbacks are returned from stores for disposal when not sold).  Nothing beats a good rummage in a second hand store for great deals on classic cookery books for example, and I know that I could never cook next to Kindle, as it would be covered in food in no time!


You can order the Kindle at Amazon here.

I’d be interested to find out what others think about the green credentials of the Kindle reader.   And you can find out more about deciding if a Kindle is green at treehugger and terrapass.  For information about forest management and paper production check out paperonline and




30 Responses to “Kindle Reader – The Green Way to Read?”

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  1. We have the computer “kindle” downloaded but really, I prefer books I can touch, write in and trade off or give away. I enjoy being able to look back in my books, read notes I made and remember something that spoke to me that wasn’t even in the author’s mind. I’m not sure you can get that from Kindle.

  2. Barry says:

    As an English student I have found the ‘Kindle for PC’ application very useful. The facility exists to electronically add notes, links or bookmarks and the ability to instantly find the definitions of more archaic words simply by highlighting them is invaluable to me.

    I love a good rummage around used book stores as much as anyone but the vast numbers of free to download e-books available from Amazon and make the Kindle app a very worthwhile addition to any PC. Also worth noting that the PC version displays in colour, something I believe is only available with the more expensive Kindle model.

    With regards to frugality and environmental impact I think downloading the free ‘Kindle for PC’ application to a piece of kit which I already owned must have the edge over adding yet another electronic gadget to the household.

    • I guess the Kindle appeals to me (to a degree at least) because it has a “real” function. I know ipads are beautiful but I don’t really understand what they’re for! Using the Kindle App though on devices already owned is fantastic I agree.

  3. rowan says:

    E-readers will replace real books when escalators replace staircases….

    Can’t remember who said that but I think its very true. As a paper and book conservator I love books -reading them, handling them, smelling them, binding them…. but I also own an e-reader and the benefits of never running out of something to read thanks to technology is beyond measure! I live far from our nearest bookstore so being able to download what I want when I want is wonderful. That said when I do get into town I can lose myself for hours in the bookstores (new and secondhand) and come home with authors I never would have thought of for myself.
    Books and bookshelves make a home a home as far as I am concerned.

    Like most technology the value in an e-reader depends on the user…

  4. Booklady says:

    Well, we got one for our 14 year old daughter for Christmas. She broke the first one within 2 weeks, and the replacement about 6 weeks ago. Amazon were absolutely fantastic, and replaced both without question I would give them 11 our of 10 for the service!

    She has also gone through over 70 books since then – she is a book worm – so I guess, by now the Kindle is paying for itself both in financial and green terms.

    However, I am in the book trade and I cannot let go of my love of the real thing – I just love the choosing of a book, the cover, the feel of it in my hands and the smell – oh the smell – as well as the actual reading and the inevitable discussion afterwards.

    The escalator/staircase analogy is the best I have heard yet, and I feel very true!

    • Booklady – I have given in – just awaiting delivery via visiting relatives (why can’t we buy from the UK in Europe?).
      I too think the smell of books will be missed, but as we still have many old books here to rummage through I can get a quick hit whenever needed!

  5. Jo says:

    I keep being tempted, especially with older books that are difficult to find, but then I look at my bookcases and decide I prefer the printed word after all.

    I think I’m really waiting for the day when we can scan physical books in, the same way you can rip CDs and there’s no difference between those MP3s and the ones you buy online…

    • Hi Jo (big WAVE) – I couldn’t get rid of my old books but am rather looking forward to getting digital with my future reading!

  6. Connie says:

    I have had my Kindle for a while now. I have always loved books, but have found as I am getting older, that my hands ache after holding a book open for a while. The Kindle has spoiled me. I frequently read several books a week and used to put many on hold at the library at a time, knowing I would have no trouble finishing them all. Now, until Kindle allows library downloads, I don’t even check with the library. I love the feature on the Kindle that allows you to sample a book to see if you really want it. My daughter shares my tastes, so when the newest edition came out, I gave her my 2nd edition one and got the new one for myself. Now we can read whatever we buy on the one account. She just has to switch to her purchase card when buying.

    • Connie, sharing ebooks is what made me decide to buy the Kindle after all. Mr DB was given a tablet that he can read Kindle books on, so now it makes sense since we can both read the same new titles. Buying one just for me, would never have worked. As though I am looking forward to revisiting old classics for free I would have still wanted new titles now and again.

  7. Chris says:

    Since I suffer from poor eyesight, I prefer to use my Kindle as it allows me to zoom in on the text making it easier to read when compared to reading a book of fixed font size. However, I do miss the physical qualities and properties of a hardback book.

  8. I love my Kindle. I pretty much buy a new book every couple of weeks and it’s almost like a permanent attachment – always with me whether I’m at home or at work! But if there’s an extra special book I want – for a Potter obsessive, it would be along the lines of a special edition Potter – I’ll get it in paper and ink format, because I believe that books ARE special, and I will never stop buying them. I just literally started running out of room for paperbacks that I’ve read once only, but somehow can’t be parted with. That’s where the Kindle really works for me (and I love being able to download books for free – I got Pride & Prejudice for free, brilliant!).

    • Lucy – sounds just like how I’m using my new Kindle – reading some Alexander Dumas that I have never been able to find at booties or second hand shops and they’re free!

  9. Perry says:

    How is the Kindle going? From the dates on the posts above it looks like we became a Kindle family at the same time as you. I bought a Kindle in August and within a week my wife had purloined it. So I bought another one. We also have about 2000 books on our bookshelves and have a habit of adding more every time we go anywhere so I suspect we will meet the 21 books eco goal fairly easily. However, I could not imagine not having bookshelves full of books in the house so doubt if the Kindle will replace them. And yes, we still buy ‘real’ books. Usually from Secondhand shops now. It is now nearly Christmas and we have decided to buy a Kindle for each of our children. We have two that live in New Zealand and one with us in Prague. They are all readers and the great attraction of the Kindle for me is that as the Kindles can all be registered to one account we can all share the books we buy regardless of where in the world we are. Plus we have a 150 plus audio books we bought from Audible that are now connected to our Kindle. It really is like having a walking library in your bag. I thought it would be awkward reading on a small screen but I never notice it. Enjoyed your post and will look for you in the future. Hope ll is going well on the mountain.

    • Perry – glad you enjoyed the post.

      Although I was apprehensive, I have to admit I LOVE my Kindle! For reference things like cook books (which I am a keen collector of) I wouldn’t ever choose an ebook. But for novels it is wonderful. Though of course we lived somewhere with second had book shops I might feel a little differently.

      The number of free ebooks is great too (though only if you feel like reading new authors or old works).

      And, an advantage of the Kindle we hadn’t figured on was that because I got a really low powered LED reading light for it, it doesn’t matter if the house power runs out in the evening if you’re reading in bed (which sadly it does do on occasion if its a particularly wintry day). Yes I could have bought a book-light before but it never occurred to me until my reading went 21st Century!

  10. Danielle says:

    You might want to check to see if your library lends ebooks; quite a few larger ones do, which is not very well known at present. I had the same sort of trepidation about the Kindle (I like real books! It uses electricity!) I have to admit that I love mine (it was a gift). I can simply pop it in my bag and have a library wherever I go.

    The one thing to remember is to whitescreen (power completely off) if you’re not planning to come back to your reading within a few hours. It’ll prolong your battery charge.

  11. Natschultz says:

    If you read A LOT, maybe, but I, personally, will NEVER buy one.


    Eyesight: I give the vast majority of e-readers 5-10 years before they go blind. Worse for children who stare at nothing but computer screens from birth on.

    Electricity: You cannot access your e-books without electricity and an internet connection. So, there goes the carbon footprint; and in the event of a blackout or disaster, that oh-so-important survivalist skills e-book is absolutely useless.

    Oudated technology: Your Kindle dies and ALL the e-books you paid for (and supposedly “own”) suddenly disappear into the ether. Real books last forever, unless your house burns down (but the Kindle will melt right along with the real books anyway).

    Down the “Memory Hole”: The content of e-books can be magically altered at anytime, by hackers, Big Brother or anyone else. When the Kindle first came out Orwell’s 1984 was included for free, but Amazon didn’t have the rights to it, so they simply deleted it from all Kindle user’s machines, along with people’s personal notes, with no advance warning. This is the REAL REASON I will NEVER but an e-reader.

    And, no, for most books it does NOT pay to save $1-$2 over the printed version. I’ll keep buying real books and pass them down through the generations. As long as the sun still shines and candles can be made, a real book can still be read and will ALWAYS HAVE VALUE!

    And, most paper does come from managed forests, and I support sustainable loggers over clear-cutting cookie-cutter condo developers anyday! Plus, there are paper alternatives, like the material the book ‘Cradle to Cradle’ was printed on. Recycled, hemp, other non-tree fibers etc.

    • Natshultz thanks for such a thoughtful comment but I have to disagree with some points!

      Firstly reading the Kindle is actually far easier on my eyes than reading a book. If I am tired I can increase the font size rather than strain my eyes. Outdoors the darker grey background is much easier to view than a bright white paper book.

      As far as electricity is concerned – yes of course a paper book costs no energy to use. But Kindles are pretty phenomenal as far as electricity consumption is concerned. With the wi-fi off I charge mine every month or so, and read daily. The battery is brilliant.

      When my Kindle dies I will have a back-up online of all the books every bought or downloaded free. I could (if I wanted to) of course back those titles up further by downloading them all to my computer too.

      You cannot alter the books that are actually on my Kindle since I do not leave the wi-fi on so there is no way to access them.

      I would always much prefer a real paper book for any reference material such as my treasured recipe books. But for a novel, the Kindle is actually more comfortable to use, easier on the eyes and just a truly amazing bit of technology! I didn’t think I would be converted quite so thoroughly by getting myself an eReader but it appears I am indeed!

  12. Trudis says:

    I bought a Kindle yesterday and I’m very happy with that because now I can buy books in my own mother tongue and I love to read! It is impossible to find Dutch books in Southern Spain. When you watch your tv it costs energy too and I prefer to read. Also it keeps my house more empty and next year we will move to a small house on the country side and try to have a more sustainable life. The only thing I will never give up is reading! I’m sure I will find a lot of information on your blog here. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge!
    Cariños de Trudis

  13. Jen says:

    Joybilee Farm on FB makes a list of free kindle books every weekday (and maybe weekends, too, I’m not sure). I’ve had my kindle for about 3 weeks now, and I’ve downloaded 75 free books so far.

  14. Kiva says:

    Nice analysis. I use a Kindle and stay away from buying paper books. The way I look at it, if the publisher doesn’t produce an ebook I’ll find one who will.

    As you mentioned, the key point for me when considering how sustainable the product is is how long I keep it for. I don’t see ebook reader technology changing too much too fast so I’ll hopefully keep it for quite a few years.

    Aside from books, I could really see ebook readers making a big impact on newspaper and magazine sales, which will then really reduce paper consumption and carbon output. But for them to take off in that area they would have to have a bigger display.

  15. Kindles are not green. Library and used books are. E-Readers are made from metals/minerals that are non-renewable and mined in the Congo. Congo is the rape capital of the world and where child slave labor is predominant. The more electronics we add to our repertoire, the more we support this. It’s dramatic in statement to this blog, I know, but too many people are not aware that our electronics-hungry society doesn’t come without its effects. This is one of the many places to read about it –

  16. Jaylah says:

    I just recently broke down and bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite. Me, the person who said they loved books so much they could never see buying an e-reader.

    However, my eye-sight isn’t what it once was, and I can adjust my e-reader to large-print on any book.

    I still want my “reference” books in paper format. Trying to read/follow a recipe on a Kindle is more frustration that it’s worth. Not to mention that the big full-color photographs of a finished recipe are useless on a Paperwhite. But when it comes to fiction, why would I want to own the book? I’m only going to read it once. So I’m a regular patron of my public library. Unfortunately, the large-print books make up only a very small percentage of my library’s holdings.

    I’m an avid reader. so I’d easily read enough books on my Kindle to make up for the carbon in a very short time. However, I disagree with the idea that borrowing books invalidates the carbon trade-off.

    My library is at least 10 miles from my home. And since there is currently about 12-inches of snow on the ground outside, and the streets are icy in spots, my bike riding is seasonal. When I have finished my books, I must go to the library to return them and check out more. At least 4 months of the year, that means going out to my garage and firing up the Camry.

    However, with the e-reader and my library’s participation in a program whereby all public libraries participate in e-book loans, I can log into the library’s website, return my current e-books, select the books I want to borrow next, and have them delivered either to my Kindle directly via Wi-Fi, or download them to my computer and transfer them to my Kindle via USB.

    My guess is that the 10 or 15 minutes I spend on my computer doing this (I don’t leave my computer on all day and have it plugged into a power strip so that it uses NO electricity when it’s off) creates far less carbon emissions than driving my car 20 miles does.

    • Jaylah great to see you’ve thought through your Kindle purchase so well. I whole-heartedly agree that I could never give up on my real paper cookery reference books.
      I also have slightly iffy eyesight and being able to increase the font size when my eyes get tired means I get to read fiction much faster. Not everyone lives within easy reach of great library services so to suggest that we should all just use the library to “stay green” is a little unrealistic. In the modern world we will need to compromise and yours sounds perfect and well thought out.
      Thanks for leaving such a great comment!

  17. Peter says:

    The Kindle is not more environmentally friendly than real papers books.

    Of course it’s bad we are cutting down trees to create the paper, but trees are renewable and can be managed. Is anything more natural than a tree?

    The plastics and metals are not renewable, create many bad toxins, will never biodegrade and are often very unethically sourced. The Kindle recycling program is better than nothing, but paper can also be recycled. I would be interested to know just how many countries the Amazon recycling scheme is in too…

    Do a little research into how these electronics are made and get to your door so cheap before you make a purchase. Someone is paying for it down the line. Many people may be surprised at the killing, rape and slavery that go into our fancy trends.

    Another problem with modern electronics is how often they break or become obsolete. Over the next 50 years I wonder how many Kindles you will go through? Will Amazon still exist in 50 years?

    A paper book can change hands many times over the next 50 years. Like it has been said, libraries and second hand book stores are ideal and very cheap. People need to learn how to share and give back to the system rather than hoard.

    Take this for example, I purchase a second hand book, I read it, my fiancee reads it, my sister then reads it, and then I donate it to the library.

    Once a book has been shared around, falling apart at the seams, it can be recycled or beautifully biodegrade back into the earth as nature intended.

    Rather than floating down a stream in India somewhere for a young child to collect and crack it open to harvest the metals…

  18. T. Caine says:

    I think one area that is calling for a swifter transition to etext is textbooks. In this case, we have huge books that really only stay in circulation for a relatively short amount of time due to the nature of their content needing to be updated so often. They’re very expensive, very heavy and are probably used for a few years at most. They’re also relatively difficult to recycle because they’re commonly made with coated paper.

    College students use over 300 million textbooks per year. According to the EPA, one ton of textbooks requires 36.09 million BTUs to produce and transport in the U.S. If we combine that with the 11.6 textbooks we get from an average tree, then the grand smash is 27.1 million trees and 5.08 billion kwh. That is enough energy to power over 423,000 American homes and enough trees to cover 88 square miles of forest, or 2.5 times the size of Manhattan. A little ridiculous, no?

    Or we could just give students an eReader that they could use throughout their education and a series of digital files each year (that can be updated for the next class of students without the huge footprint). Might be time for a change?

  19. Thanks for the statistics–at the rate I read, it turns out that I have more than amortized my Kindle’s carbon footprint. Whew!

    Living in a rural area with sparsely-furnished libraries and few bookstores, the Kindle saves me many car trips and ensures that I am never caught without something to read when a blizzard hits.

    BTW, I am a Spaniard living on top of a hill in Vermont…