The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 1874–1887 | Cite as

Role of e-reader adoption in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of book reading activities

  • Eri AmasawaEmail author
  • Tomohiko Ihara
  • Keisuke Hanaki



The purpose of this research is to identify at what extent e-book reading reduces global warming potential (GWP) of book reading activities relative to that of reading only paper books. Past studies assume e-books and paper books are interchangeable during consumption, but adopting e-book reading can alter reading patterns in reality. This research comparatively assessed the GWP of reading only paper books and that of reading pattern of after e-reader adoption of consumer segments.


We computed GWP of book reading activities of consumer segments that include a life cycle of paper book, e-book, and e-book reading device. Two e-book devices were considered: a designated e-book device (e-reader) and a tablet. The functional units are book reading activities per person and per person-book, which account the number of books purchased or acquired and the reading hours per person. We collected data through a web survey in the USA. Consumer segmentation was performed by analyzing the level of importance in the aspects of book reading activities as a measurement variable. To observe the changes in reading patterns upon e-reader adoption within the same population, we conducted a 3-month social experiment involving e-readers in the USA.

Results and discussion

Adopting e-readers was discovered to reduce both the GWP per person and the GWP per person-book of book reading activities. The GWP of e-books read with an e-reader and the GWP of paper books were found to break even at 4.7 books per year, provided consumers read less than 11 h a day. According to the web survey, e-reader users purchase more than seven e-books annually on average, which resulted in a smaller GWP per person-book relative to that of one paper book. Furthermore, the GWP per person in the social experiment was smaller for e-reader adopters than those who only read paper books because they substituted e-books for paper books. The overall book reading volume remains unchanged upon e-reader adoption.


Adoption of e-readers reduces the GWP from book reading activities with only paper books, provided more than 4.7 paper books are substituted by e-books annually, and provided consumers’ total consumption volume remain unchanged. E-reader adopters read sufficient number of e-books to break even with paper books. However, most e-reader adopters are yet to fully abandon paper books for e-books. Analyzing the differences in the reading experience between e-books and paper books is a future task.


Books Consumer segmentation Consumption patterns Digitization E-reader Life cycle assessment 



We gratefully acknowledge Dr. Asa Moberg for sharing the life cycle inventory data of paper books and e-books

Funding information

This research was funded by the Research Fellowships of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for Young Scientists (16J02702)

Supplementary material

11367_2017_1417_MOESM1_ESM.docx (213 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 212 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Program in Sustainability Science-Global Leadership Initiative, Graduate School of Frontier SciencesThe University of TokyoChibaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Chemical System Engineering, Graduate School of EngineeringThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Systems, Graduate School of Frontier SciencesThe University of TokyoChibaJapan
  4. 4.Department of Urban Engineering, Graduate School of EngineeringThe University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  5. 5.School of Information Networking for Innovation and DesignToyo UniversityTokyoJapan

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