Amazon, maker of the best selling Kindle, makes no claims about the environment benefit of the E Ink eReader. On the other hand, Apple maker of the iPad has disclosed that, assuming a three year lifecycle, the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from an iPad 2 amount to 105kg (down from 130kg for iPad 1). Apple also does not push the environmental benefit of the iPad 2. To some this suggests that both Amazon and Apple do not consider the environmental benefit of their respective eReader devices to be a desirable marketing message for consumers. Few consumers would buy an eReader primarily on environmental grounds, even if these benefits were clearly stated. However, reducing the carbon footprint could be a crucial secondary decision making factor. Are these organizations missing a trick, or is there an underlying reason for their modesty?
The emissions related to the LCD eReader, such as the iPad 2 are clearly stated as 105kg over an assumed 3 year lifecycle. Taking 2.5kg as an average emission per paperback book, suggests that environmental benefit would result after reading 14 eBooks per year over the assumed three year life time of the iPad 2.
For some years now, there has been an ongoing debate on the question of whether E Ink eReaders are greener than physical books. This has been fuelled by the lack of an environmental statement from Amazon for their Kindle E Ink eReader. However, eBook Reader Guide has succeeded in obtaining equivalent carbon dioxide emission data for another E Ink eReader, the Sony Digital eBook Reader. This E Ink eReader has an equivalent CO2 emission of 25kg for an assumed lifetime of 6 years. This means that environmental benefit would result after reading 1.7 eBooks per year would have to be read over the assumed six year life time of the PRS-900. Considering that the Kindle has a smaller screen than the Sony eReader (six inch instead of seven inch) and also available as a simple non-touch version, it is very likely that the threshold for environmental benefit is no lower than 1.7 eBooks per year.
If a typical reader is assumed to read 2 eBooks per month over the six year eReader lifetime, the reduction in equivalent CO2 emissions would total 330kg by using an E Ink eReader instead of physical books, equivalent to 56kg lower equivalent CO2 emissions per year. This is equal to an equivalent CO2 emissions resulting from any one of the following:
- burning 7 gallons of gasoline.
- 100 cycles of the washing machine at 30 degrees centigrade.
- 160 cups of large latte.
Furthermore, it is estimated that by the end of 2011 about 10 million E Ink eReaders will be in use, resulting in a combined reduction of 0.56 billion kg per year of equivalent CO2 emissions. Considering that 2.57 billion books were sold globally in 2010, there is potentially 6 billion (or million tons) kg per year of equivalent CO2 emissions that could be saved.