A page-turning tale of emissions

Photo by Cesar Viteri on Unsplash

Looking to be in the planet’s good books

I recently discovered Goodreads, a platform that recommends books based on genres or titles you enjoyed in the past and which allows you to keep track of what your friends are reading.

It reminded me of a book I had been wanting to read, an anthology written by a colleague of mine. Limp Handshakes is a journey through the mind and emotions felt by Lucas Scott and fellow authors through a “flawed year” of lockdown. If you want to make me happy, a good book recommendation will do the trick!

My desire to start writing articles came from my love for reading. The satisfaction gained from discovering new topics and learning about new concepts made me want to explore what it would be like to be on the other side of the page.

However, reading a significant amount of books every year led me to question the environmental sustainability of always purchasing new copies of physical books.

Being an open book about the environmental impact of reading

It is pretty ironic given that nearly 75% of the books I read relate to climate change (shocking I know), but the consumption of physical books has a significant impact on the environment.

The first culprit is paper, with paper production rising by more than 400% over the past 40 years. This growing demand for paper can lead to deforestation, harming the absorption capabilities of natural carbon sinks.

The production of books emits a considerable amount of CO2 emissions when you take into consideration the manufacturing activities at paper mills, the printing of books, as well as all of the associated transportation and logistics from supply chain to consumer.

In fact, 33% and 41% of publisher Penguin Books’ CO2 emissions in 2019 are caused by printing and paper respectively. 2019 was also the same year that Penguin Books sourced 100% of its paper from sustainably managed forests, highlighting that even when deforestation is minimized, emissions still arise.

A novel idea to reduce emissions

E-Books can be a viable solution to reduce the emissions associated with reading books but as always, there are trade-offs. It is true that E-Books will reduce the need for paper, fossil fuels, and chemicals required for the manufacturing and distribution of physical books.

However, the manufacturing of E-readers requires the mining of rare earth elements such as silicon and lithium, mining activities that can also contribute to deforestation. Furthermore, they require electricity to be powered and for the storage of the digital books in data centres.

How beneficial e-books are for reducing the environmental impact of reading will depend on how many books you read per year!

With a Kindle emitting roughly 168kg of CO2 over its lifetime and books 7.5 kg, the emissions would equal out by reading 22.5 books on an E-reader. Beyond that, Kindle users could eventually prevent emissions from the purchasing of physical books.

No need to be shelf-ish, share the books!

If you are like me and love the idea of having a paper book in your hands, there are solutions to make the pleasure kinder for the planet.

World of Books is showing the world how the circular economy can have a positive impact on people and the planet. Certified as a B-Corp in 2019, they are an online retailer of used books. The company started when its founders identified that surplus books in charity shops were sent to landfills.

World of Books purchases surplus books from charity shops, increasing their revenues and reducing waste disposal costs. They work with 400 charities across the UK and have provided £1.4 million pounds to their partners throughout the 2019/2020 financial year. The company is also on a mission to promote global literacy, donating more than 100,000 books to charity partners such as Books to Africa.

From an environmental perspective, the company enables books to be reused which reduces the need for raw materials and energy. When it comes to its operations, World of Books sources 100% of its energy from renewable sources, a step in the right direction as they look to become carbon neutral this year.

Starting with a mere 1000 books, World of Books now has more than 7 million books in stock. It’s no Amazon but purchasing your books from suppliers such as World of Books can have a positive social and environmental impact. Just when you thought reading couldn’t get any better!

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Pierre-Louis Godin

Pierre-Louis Godin

Always looking to learn more about environmental sustainability and climate change. I'll mostly be writing about these topics!