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Books from an environmental perspective—Part 1: environmental impacts of paper books sold in traditional and internet bookshops

Abstract

Purpose

The sale and distribution of books are activities that have changed through increased use of the internet. The main aim of this paper was to determine the potential environmental impacts of paper books and identify key issues determining the magnitude of those impacts. A second aim was to study the environmental difference between a paper book bought in a traditional bookshop and through an internet bookshop. In addition, areas with a lack of data and major uncertainties were to be noted.

Materials and methods

A screening life cycle assessment was performed on an average hardback novel produced and read in Sweden. The data used were general data from Ecoinvent 2.0 and site-specific data from companies participating in the study, whenever average data were not available.

Results and discussion

The results showed the most important processes to be pulp and paper production. However, if a substantial distance was travelled by car, to buy a book or collect it, this had a major influence on the environmental performance. Comparing the two bookshop alternatives, the results showed a slight benefit for the internet bookshop due to fewer books being returned to the publisher and the avoidance of energy use at the traditional bookshop. The buyer of a book could significantly influence the total impact by choosing to walk to the bookshop or to combine the trip with several other activities to decrease the impact of the travel per activity performed. When books ordered via the internet were sent by postal services directly to the end consumer, the climate change impact was lowered.

Conclusions

This study showed that, in addition to the paper used, the way books are bought and distributed, including possible personal transportation, can significantly affect the total environmental impact of paper books. The impact per book read can be significantly decreased by sharing books with others.

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Acknowledgements

This screening LCA study was performed in collaboration with company representatives from the publisher Bonnierförlagen, the internet shop Adlibris and Elib, a producer and distributor of digital books, and the Swedish Media Association with experience of e-paper devices. These stakeholders participated in the definition of the goal and scope, data gathering and the interpretation of the results. The authors wish to thank the participating companies and organisations and the Vinnova Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Communications for funding this study. In addition, several people were very helpful in providing information on different processes, etc. The authors are most grateful for their assistance. More information on the scope of the study and the inventory data are given in Borggren and Moberg (2009) with appendices.

Author information

Correspondence to Åsa Moberg.

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Preamble

Developments in information and communication technology (ICT) are providing new solutions in different fields of society. The conditions for the media sector are changing and ICT is part of the reason for this. Traditional ways of providing and consuming media content are being complemented or challenged by electronic alternatives. This study examined the potential environmental impact of books, comparing traditional paper books sold in traditional bookshops, traditional paper books sold via internet bookshops and e-books sold via internet books stores and read on an e-book reader. The results of the screening LCA are presented in two papers, the first focusing on paper books from traditional and internet bookshops and the second on the e-book compared with the paper book.

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Borggren, C., Moberg, Å. & Finnveden, G. Books from an environmental perspective—Part 1: environmental impacts of paper books sold in traditional and internet bookshops. Int J Life Cycle Assess 16, 138–147 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-011-0254-1

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Keywords

  • Book
  • Distribution
  • E-commerce
  • Internet
  • Printed media