A co-worker recently sent a message to our team asking whether an Amazon.com Kindle would be better for the environment than books. Of course, with anything related to technology (and me), the answer is, it depends.
My short answer was that if you buy a lot of NEW books, then a Kindle is most likely going to have the smaller environmental impact overall. By how much depends on how many books you read and how long you keep the Kindle. The significant factor is likely to be the amount of resources/energy that go into the manufacture and eventual disposal of the device (Amazon does offer to recycle the device), rather than the energy it uses to read the book. E-readers like the Kindle use very little power (practically only uses juice each time the page is ‘turned’ or data is transferred over the network), so in order to know exactly, you’d have to do a full lifecycle analysis of the Kindle and a book.
Of course if you only borrow or buy used books then that’s going to win hands down. Unless of course we end up in a world where the only reason they print books in the first place is for people without e-readers. :-)
Ecolibris has a great set of links that dig deeper into the issue E-books vs Paper Books – it looks like the E-book has the edge still (with the above caveats) but only a full LCA is really going to give us the real answers.
Wal-Mart to the rescue perhaps? :-)