eReader gets Cleantech bill of health — so why are magazines reporting the opposite?

Amazon KindleAmazon’s Kindle offsets its carbon emissions in the first year of use, according to Cleantech’s report The environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle. But Radimir Bobev of Device Magazine has reported the story differently, claiming “E-Books not such a Green Option, According to Research“. Bobev may not be a regular reporter on green issues — the article spells ‘carbon dioxide’ as ‘carbon dioxied’ 50% of the time. The bottom line is that a typical book costs 17 pounds of CO2 to produce, while the Kindle generates 370 pounds and the iPad generates 286 pounds. According to the Cleantech report, this suggests that the average Kindle buyer buys three books a month, meaning they would have reduced their carbon emissions using the Kindle within seven months, and the iPad within six months.

So why does Bobev maintain that e-Books are “not such a green option”, and why does he claim that this is “according to research”?

This is, of course, incalculable.

As opposed to carbon costs, which go largely uncalculated.

All reports of the nature of the Cleantech report are, of course, laden with assumptions. There are perhaps fewer assumptions regarding the Kindle, which only performs one function, than the iPad which performs many, but they are assumptions nonetheless. This notwithstanding, attempts to quantify what costs what are necessary if we are to understand what is ecological living and what is not.

More importantly, we need to learn to distinguish between a hair-shirt mentality towards environmentalism, and sound choices, and again between sound-choices and ‘tech will save the day’.

Which is more environmentally friendly, to drive a twelve-year old car with a two-generations old engine which has already lost much of its performance vs fuel expended, or a brand new car? Put in those terms, a brand new car of the same specifications sounds like a safe bet. But what about the environmental cost of manufacturing the new car? Every manufacturer will happily declare the miles per gallon — though you may struggle to get anywhere near this in real life — but I have yet to see a new car advertised with its carbon offset cost of manufacture  declared. A 2004 analysis by Toyota found that as much as 28 percent of CO2 emissions of a typical petrol-burning car occur during manufacture and transportation. Another study by Seikei University put the pre-purchase number at 12 percent. 1 Rivals criticised the Toyota Prius for having dramatically higher manufacturing carbon-offset costs, which mean that it may be the unenvironmental option for drivers who keep a low mileage.

Which is better — new or old? High-tech or lowfi? The answer is inevitably that there is no one-size fits all. Information is required — and yet, in an information saturated society, we very rarely get to see the kind of information which Cleantech has calculated for us.

This in itself is not assisted by journalists who report the news backwards.