The Carbon Footprint of a Book

Carbon Footprint of a Book

What is meant by Carbon Footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gases that are created directly and indirectly through human activities. The footprint is normally expressed in terms of the weight of the carbon that is released. Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad are Bananas, suggests that we should consider the ‘costs’ of carbon against the benefits that it will bring us; if something will cost a lot of carbon it needs to provide us with a bigger benefit.

Are Books Bad for the Environment?

Berners-Lee estimates that a book costs the earth 1kg of CO2 on average. This is the equivalent of watching 12 hours of television.

This estimate assumes that the 250g book is printed on a typical UK mix of virgin and recycled pulp. For every 2,000 pounds of recycled paper there is a 64% energy saving and 60 pounds less air pollution. Berners-Lee explains that a book produced on entirely recycled papers produces much less greenhouse gas. It is clear that readers can reduce their impact on the environment by being careful to buy books printed on recycled paper.

This figure is also based on a conservative assumption that 60% of all copies that are produced are not sold. The books which aren’t sold are sent back to the publisher to be pulped and recycled.

At Wordcatcher Publishing, our print on demand model virtually eliminates the number of books that need to be returned so the environmental cost of each book is massively reduced. It’s difficult to produce accurate, meaningful and consistent statistics that can compare a print on demand title with a traditionally published one. But it’s safe to say that we don’t destroy 60% of what we print: that figure over three years of publishing for Wordcatcher is more like 8%.

Because a book only produces the carbon footprint of a short drive, reading is a relatively sustainable hobby. If consumers are careful with their purchases their environmental impact can be even smaller.

Sources:
How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee
The University of South Indiana: https://www.usi.edu/recycle/paper-recycling-facts/

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The Carbon Footprint of a Book

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