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Is Kindle the environmentally friendly option?

A recent report from the Cleantech Group analyzed the environmental impact of traditional publishing as measured against e-book publishing, and declared the latter to be the clear winner on environmental grounds. Calling the publishing industry “one of the world’s most polluting sectors,” the Cleantech report asserted that a concerted move to e-book publishing could drastically reduce the negative impact the industry has on the environment.

In 2008, the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined resulted in the harvesting of 125 million trees, not to mention wastewater that was produced or its massive carbon footprint.

The Cleantech Group’s report, The environmental impact of Amazon’s Kindle, suggests that e-readers are still a niche technology, with a little more than 1 million units sold to date. So they really haven’t had much impact on the environment, be it good or bad.

But with sales projected to see an uptick, reaching to 14.4 million in 2012, the report looks at the emissions that devices like the market leader, Amazon’s Kindle, could produce and prevent.

According to the Cleantech report, “the carbon emitted in the lifecycle of a Kindle is fully offset after the first year of use.” Further, the report estimates that between 2009 and 2012, projected purchases of e-readers could be responsible for preventing the production of 5.3 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide.

However, an article on the Daily Finance website questions whether the Kindle itself is quite as environmentally friendly as the Cleantech Group suggests.

According to the Cleantech report, an Amazon Kindle must be used for a year before the carbon emissions required to make the electronic device are offset by a corresponding reduction in purchases of paper-based media products. That’s important. If the e-reader market is anything like the iPod and handset market “ the closest comparable consumer electronics categories to date “ then e-readers might not be as green and carbon-busting as they first look.

The Cleantech Group assumes that Kindle owners will hold onto their devices for four years before replacing them; if Kindle users were to swap out their devices after a period of 24 months, the Daily Finance article contends, many of the stated environmental advantages would be nullified. Moreover, the Cleantech report assumes that Kindle users will purchase 22.4 titles per year “ an improbably high number.

Still, Daily Finance agrees that publishers are among the worst environmental offenders ; the only disagreement is on what the best solution might be.