Some evidence from an authoritative source which bears on our recent posting. The Charkin Blog reports the conjectures of an expert on the ecological impact of a typical paperback textbook. David Reay the author of Climate Change Begins at Home estimates that the average textbook uses 3kg of carbon dioxide emissions, or 4.5 KWh of energy. He also focusses on the pointless waste involved in the practice of ‘sale or return’, which bedevils the book publishing almost as much as the consumer magazine industry. David Reay’s comments are taken from an article he has published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement.

It would be interesting to know whether the average magazine has a larger or smaller ecological footprint than the average textbook — one suspects that the energy costs in manufacture are comparable. I guess, but have no evidence for it, that the returns percentage is higher in consumer magazines than in mainstream book publishing. But from Reay’s estimates it would seem that the weight of carbon dioxide emissions is greater than the weight of the product. That is true for the products we buy as well as for the bin-loads that are landfill. It is a sobering thought.

One assumes that the ecological impact from digital magazines/books is much less, but is this reduction a matter of orders of magnitude, or a kink in the upward curve? What should one measure — the cost of maintaining a database and of accessing it once, once a week for a year, or once a day? What if people tend to use digital resources more than they would the physical equivalents? These comparisons are tricky.