The Showdown: eBooks Vs. Real Books

Posted: October 5, 2010 in Being Green, Green Technology

Ever since we gave an iPad to my wife for Mothers day this year we’ve been enamored with its flexibility and portability.  From countless hours of shooting zombies with pea plants to protect our mushrooms and sunflowers, to slicing vegetables with your trusty samurai sword, to reading the eBook.  We are now addicted iPad users (likely so much another one will eventually make it into our house before too long).

As a functioning Internet device, movie player, productivity device, and game player the iPad is much more efficient than a heavy and power hungry desktop, laptop or even a small form factor netbook.  The iPad does the majority of the main functions of a standard computer so well it could easily be a substitute for the majority of computers sold.  It does not function as an efficient eReader as well as let’s say a Kindle but with its ability to cut out the need for your laptop – it eliminates the need for 2 devices.  I predict that we will soon see 2nd generation eReaders evolving to be able to surf the Internet and even watch movies.

So are ebooks be greener than real books.  Yes and no.

Very Green: In the case where a book needs to be updated or changed (such as a textbook, dictionary, reference guide and other books that require frequent editions) or where a book is actually recalled (it sometimes happens) b/c of an error or some legal requirement.  The old books could be recycled however it adds more resources and emissions to reuse those.  What an eReader can do very well is eliminate the need for text books where they can using software simply update.

Not so Green: On the flip side the device needs to be manufactured and recharged regularly which creates emissions (depending on where your power source comes from).  The device will also need to be eventually replaced but hopefully they are well made and will last.

In the long run though – a lot of these devices can be recharged using clean energy sources.  Another consideration is the fact that little to no trees were harmed in production of the eReader device (there is the box and sometimes a user manual – however they are more likely to be included on the device).  A real book requires the use of trees whether recycled, etc.  Trees are one of our greatest assets in reducing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, they produce oxygen, and they help cool the planet with their ability to absorb heat and provide shade – especially when we are paving over our plant with parking lots and water intensive lawns.

Improving technology will also help pave the way.  For instance OLED (organic LED) screens are becoming feasible for production for larger screen devices (up until now – they were mainly used for phone screens, etc.).  The beauty about these is that they cut out the biggest energy drain of most LCD devices – the need to back light the screen in order to see the pictures.  They allow touch screen input and may eventually allow you to be able to literally roll up the screen as they are flexible whereas LCD is not.  In addition to OLED – batteries will get more efficient, and power from the grid will become greener.

Another blog has this conversation going on that maybe of interest.

  1. Linda Kuhns says:

    I read a lot and love my Kindle! Because of the type of screen, I only recharge it every 3-4 weeks.

  2. They are quite efficient. If only the iPad could switch to a power saving monochrome display w/o the need to back light its screen, then the battery could last for weeks when it is only used for eBooks. Technology will probably be able to bring these innovations to us soon (as is with the OLED technology).

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