The environmentally conscious bookworm

While I spend most of my working life reading words on a screen, I love to read for enjoyment also – it’s one of my great pleasures in life. It does come at an environmental cost however, namely the trees felled, the chemical processes used and the fossil fuel in transporting the book to me.

And the cost is a lot higher than I originally thought.

Angela over at EcoBrain, an online store that sells a wide selection environmentally themed e-books, passed on a couple of interesting statistics about paper production she gained from the Palo Alto Research Center. Among them, that it takes about the equivelent 60 watt-hours of energy to produce one piece of paper. A single sheet. That’s not even taking into account the printing and shipping footprint.

According to Conservatree, a ton of (non-recycled) printing and office paper uses 24 trees; based on a mix of softwood and hardwood trees 40 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter.

Angela also mentioned that with the increasing trend towards overseas printing, many books are now printed in Asia, shipped to a local port, trucked to a distribution center and then shipped to a store or to your home if you purchased online.

Even if the paper for the book was sourced locally, pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in Canada and the United States, releasing well over 100 million kg  (220 million pounds) of toxic pollution each year.

Here in Australia, we ship millions of tons of wood chips to Asia each year, which is then turned into paper that we buy back, which means another round of shipping.

While sustainable forestry practices are great, whichever way you look at it, our book reading does have a mighty impact.

So what to do? I really don’t want to give up my reading, so I’ve modified a few habits, and as a nice bonus, it saves money!

If you’re a bookworm like me, here’s some things you can do to lighten your book reading impact on the environment:


Community and local government libraries have changed a lot since I was a kid, generally speaking, they are no longer the final resting places of uninteresting material. Libraries are increasingly hooked into central databases, so if the book you’re chasing isn’t in one location, you can ask for it to be brought in. Many libraries offer free membership, but even ones that charge often only cost less than the price of a single best selling novel.

Book swapping

Many people amass their own personal libraries over the years; so talk with your friends and colleagues about book swapping possibilities. Online swapping services such as BookMooch offer hundreds of thousands of titles and works on a points system whereby you get credits for each book you offer to swap that you can use to gain other books.

Book exchanges

These stores are still around, sadly though they do seem to be disappearing. This is how we’d get our comics when we were kids. We’d buy a stack, read them and then get credit on our next purchase. Book exchange stores are also vastly cheaper even if you don’t have any books to exchange.

Clearance sales

You’ll find many books, be they best sellers or otherwise, have leftovers after the final print run, or the store simply orders too many. The publisher or store will offer these at bargain prices. By buying these books, you aren’t adding to demand, rather addressing surplus that needs to be gotten rid of anyway.

Buying online?

When you think of buying books online, most likely the name Amazon springs to mind. When checking out books of interest look to the right hand side near the top of the main details page and you’ll see “More Buying Choices” – underneath should be a link to used copies for sale.

Flea markets

Go to any flea market and you’re bound to come across hundreds of books offered by different vendors; and usually as cheap as chips.


Ebooks, or electronic books, have come a long way in recent years; they are now a lot more user friendly. About 1 hour of energy spent on a laptop  computer reading an ebook equals the amount of energy expended to create just 4 sheets of paper.

If you like to read books on living green, why not take it a step further and read them in a greener way too! EcoBrain is a new site offering ebooks only, hundreds of titles mainly on environmental and social issues.

In addition to saving trees, ebooks are also extremely portable and you can fit thousands on your computer hard drive!

Exert pressure on publishers and authors

The print industry is in big trouble due to electronic media and escalating costs. Sometimes an electronic book just mightn’t be convenient for you; so if paper books are something you will continue to buy, write to publishing houses and authors about the paper issue – ask them to consider recycled content or treeless paper. If you’re prepared to pay extra for such a product, let them know that too. If thousands of people do this, it will have publishers and authors seriously considering it.

Well, it’s getting late here now, so I’m off to bed to read an end of print run best seller by Dean Koontz whose book I picked up for $5 instead of the $30 price tag it had a couple of years ago!

Saving trees, saving money – everyone wins.. except for book stores perhaps ;). Umm, Dean, love your work, but a word in your ear about the paper if I may…