Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Be a Tree Hugging Book Lover

My lament about the closing of Borders and the decline of the print book generated online comments and an offline conversation about the environmental impact of books versus e-readers. You might assume that digital reading is greener than print reading, but the reality is not so simple. According to Eco-Libris, an organization promoting sustainable reading, the carbon footprint of an e-reader is about 15 to 20 times that of one newly purchased book. Taking into account factors such as production materials, waste and recycling efforts, and health effects on workers, the environmental impact of one e-reader could equal the impact of as many as 40 books (based on several reports compiled on the Eco-Libris site). Bottom line: The greener option depends upon your reading habits and the frequency with which you replace electronic devices. If you’re an avid reader (or more to the point, a regular purchaser of new books) and you intend to keep the same e-reader for several years, an e-reader makes sense from an environmental standpoint. If your book-buying and electronics-consuming habits are more in line with the average American’s, print books are probably the greener choice for now.

That said, the United States book publishing industry is a voracious consumer of trees—some 30 million trees per year, many of them from endangered forests. In light of that jaw-dropping figure, an organization like Eco-Libris was an idea whose time had come. Founded in 2007, Eco-Libris helps readers plant a tree for every book they purchase. In addition, the organization is among those advocating for a greener publishing industry. You can take a page from Eco-Libris’s book with these suggestions for more sustainable reading.
  1. Plant trees. While Eco-Libris specifically targets readers, they're not your only option for supporting reforestation. A donation to the Arbor Day Foundation can fund replanting in national forests. What’s more, the Arbor Day Foundation provides a state-by-state directory of organizations where you can donate time or money to plant trees in your area.
  2. Read books printed on recycled or FSC certified paper. The Rainforest Action Network provides an online database of children’s books that meet these standards. Little Green Books is a division of Simon Schuster that publishes environmentally-themed children’s books using recycled materials and soy or vegetable ink. For more general reading, check out the 2009 and 2010 book lists and corresponding reviews from Eco-Libris’s Green Reading Campaign. Every book on the list is printed on recycled or FSC certified paper.
  3. Pass it on. Don’t let books collect dust on your shelves. Pass a book along to a friend, register your book with BookCrossing and leave it in a public place for another reader to enjoy, or donate books to your library or another organization. Many libraries raise funds by reselling donated books; if your library doesn’t accept used books, they’ll likely know who in your community does. Other options for your gently used books include the Books for Soldiers Program, the International Book Project, and various prison book programs.
  4. Buy used books or borrow from the library. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but it’s worth noting that buying used books online for door-to-door delivery is counterproductive if sustainability is your goal.
  5. Purchase new books selectively. Choose titles you’re likely to read several times (read-aloud children’s books, for example) and books by local or favorite authors. If you have a local independent bookstore, purchase your books there. As Eco-Libris founder Raz Godelnik points out, “Independent bookstores are a viable part of local economies and making your local independent bookstore stronger will make your community stronger…Remember that social sustainability is not less important than environmental sustainability.”
Check out my Arbor Day post for tree-related reading recommendations. E-reader users, see Raz Godelnik's suggestions for greening your e-book reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment