SaveOnEnergy.com is happy to announce Rachel Douglas of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as the recipient of our 2015 Education Scholarship. Her winning essay earns her $1,000 toward school expenses.
Read her essay that weighs the pros and cons of digital textbooks vs. printed textbooks on the environment and learn her conclusion.
Digital Books: Good for the Digital Age?
Many universities, high schools, and even elementary schools have begun the transition from printed textbooks into the world of digital textbooks. Supporters of this transfer argue that because many students utilize laptops and tablets on a daily basis, the shift is consistent with cultural trends. However, based on their exponentially shorter shelf life and continuous dependence on fossil fuels, digital textbooks are a less environmentally conscious option for the future of American education.
According to Nick Moran, in "Are eReaders Really Green?" the average life cycle of an e-reader is only two years. From personal experience, many Americans can attest that their iPads function for similar amount of time before the device begins to breakdown, after which it must be replaced. Advocates of digitalization of books assert that the rise of digital books, both on computers as well as on reading devices will decrease the carbon footprint currently stomped into our natural resources through the printing of books. However, the massive amounts of resources required for production of one laptop starkly outweighs the printing of textbooks. "The impact of one e-reader … equals roughly 40 to 50 books," combating this notion that e-readers save resources. Unfortunately, "material costs are either ignored or […] classified as the byproduct of the tech industry instead of the book industry." Often, when pros and cons for digital books are weighed, the materials used for the production of the devices is often not considered.
In addition to noting the difference in environmental damages committed during production, it is important to remember that textbooks are printed once, and then reused and recycled throughout their lifecycle. A desktop computer, laptop, or iPad, however, requires consistent recharging and energy. As previously stated, the average e-reader lasts a mere two years. Two years during which that device required weekly periods of charging, depleating fossil fuels and once again deepening that carbon footprint. In fact, a light used for reading consumes only one-fiftieth of the fossil fuels required to power an iPad for the same amount of reading time. Additionally, publishing companies can now recycle used printed books, and then reprint new books on that recycled paper. This further decreases the negative environmental impact of printed books. In order for intuitions to assert that digitalized textbooks represent a more environmentally conscious decision, the comparison must be made between e-books and new textbooks. The environmental benefits of digital textbooks would only be clearly supported if the production of all new printed textbooks ceased. Unfortunately, because of this disagreement between paper and digital books, both continue to be created. As a result, "the carbon footprint of the digital book is mostly growing in addition to, not to the detriment of, the growing carbon footprint of the print book industry."
Personally, I much prefer printed textbooks. Taking notes, critical comprehension, and referral back to the text are significantly easier to accomplish with a physical textbook. My university recycles nearly all textbooks from one year to another, so I know that my choice is environmentally friendly, as the majority of these books have already long survived the average shelf life on the device they would be read on digitally. Overall, I believe that there exists no easy solution for the reconciliation of the physical and technological worlds of education. However, I do believe that in many instances, because of the continuous negative demands placed on the environment through digital text, printed textbooks embody the most environmentally conscious choice.
Genoways, T. (2010, December 21). The Price of the Paperless Revolution. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
Hutsko, J. (2009, August 31). Are E-Readers Greener Than Books? Retrieved November 8, 2015.
Moran, N. (2012, May 1). The Millions : Are eReaders Really Green? Retrieved November 8, 2015.