The Sierra Club checks in on how “green” e-books and e-readers are compared to printed books. I was all prepared to get my dander up, but they were surprisingly a bit more reasoned than others vis-à-vis the debate:
unless you’re a fast and furious reader, the energy required to manufacture and then dispose of an e-reader is probably greater than what’s needed to make a traditional book.  If you’re reading 40 or more books per year on your e-reader, that would be the right choice.  But if you use it only occasionally, probably better to stick to a “regular” book.  This conclusion is reinforced by a study referenced on the website of TerraPass, a carbon offset business.  Unfortunately, the study itself is not available for publication but its authors said e-readers are the more environmentally responsible choice only if you are reading in excess of 23 books per year.
One thing to do harp on as part of the “greenness” is the harvesting of trees to make paper—I do wish people would stop conflating harvesting crops with some sort of vegecide. By that logic, harvesting carrots or lettuce is environmentally bad since you’re “killing plants.” And people also harvest trees to make lumber and I don’t see anyone out there saying “Think about the environment before you build a house.” I need to get my hands on that original report; I’d be curious to see their methodology. I would also like to see some discussion of any impact digital or on-demand printing would have on this equation. Some of the big problems of overprinting, warehousing, returns, remaindering, and destroying could be largely taken care of if book publishers were better able to print what they needed as they needed it. It might even make better business sense. One thing that struck me, though: “The report indicates that, on average, the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use.” But then after the second year is about when it’s time to upgrade. As I have always said, there are other issues, such as personal preference, that go into any choice of media. Both print and electronic media impact the environment in some way. What we need is more action to improve the relative sustainability of each type of medium, and not start wars over which medium is “better.” They do make one interesting point: perhaps the most environmentally responsible option after all is to check books out of a library. It’s free, the same books are being circulated, and it’s always a great idea to support libraries.