Back in 2009, Jacob reported on a study that claimed Kindles are greener than real books due to decreased carbon emissions over their lifetime. Nicole Chuetz over at Terrapass, however, comes to a different conclusion from the same study. In a post entitled the guilty pleasure of reading, she tries to figure out what her break even point for saving carbon emissions would be. It's all made a little complicated by the fact she uses the library:
"By my estimation, I read about 20 books last year. I was given or purchased 7 new books, and the rest I checked out from the library, bought from a used bookstore, or were leant to me by friends. At this rate, it would take about three years of Kindle use for me to realize any net greenhouse gas benefit. Since I read a lot more than most people I know, I expect it would take the average person even longer to overcome the climate costs of the new device, if they realize any environmental benefit at all. For example, upgrading to a newer ebook reader model before reaching the "break even" emissions point of 22.5 ebooks would appear as a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions when compared with the carbon footprint of physical books."
Ultimately such calculations vary from person to person. Students may find a bigger advantage, or avid buyers of cookbook and reference books. Likewise library users will not benefit so much. It just goes to show there are no simple answers in the quest for sustainability. Except maybe buy less stuff. Period.