Friday, 30 July 2010

Hardback Books Waste 1 million trees a Year

I was lucky enough to be given a hardback copy of the book "How to Measure Anything" by Doug Hubbard. The basic idea of this book is that it's possible to measure almost anything. One of the examples the author uses is that of a 3rd century BC scientist - Eratosthenes - that measured the circumference of the Earth to 3% accuracy without anything but a few smart observations and calculations.

Some of the barriers that people use apparently to avoid measuring things include:
  • utility - why bother
  • economic - it'd be too expensive to measure
  • ethical - it would be immoral to measure
This morning, I took the spirit of the book and applied it to a question: what is the additional impact of hardback books (as compared to soft back books) on the environment? or put another way, how many more trees does it take to make hardback books? (one of the other things the book mentions is that you really have to know what you want to measure)

My estimate - about 1 million more trees

How did I get to this estimate? 15 minute lunch break and the following back of an envelope calculation.

How many books sold per year globally?
Total number of books sold globally - 3.1B (2005 figures)
Average weight of a book 340 grams, with the additional weight of a hardback book being about 140 grams.

How much paper?
Assume hardback constitute less than 10% of all books sold (sampling my shelf)
So this indicates that the number of hardback books sold is about 300M (a year of course)
The Additional weight (at 140 grams per book) is 42,000 tons (metric)

How much paper does that translate to?
This one is a hard one. But I found one source on the Web. 1 ton of paper (uncoated) needs about 24 trees
Total number of trees required = 42,000 * 24 = 1 Million trees

The really interesting question of course is the comparison between E-books (consider the carbon footprint of making the device, storage on the network, wireless network usage, etc) and that of printed books.

Anyone seen any quantitative comparisons of this?

1 comment:

  1. Of course, I did put a typo in there - originally the post said 1Billion book. As we all know there are only 3B books sold a year, so you cannot have hardback books contributing 1B extra trees into that mix. That would imply that it takes a large part of a tree to make each book! Which clearly isn't the case.

    Final rule of measurement: make sure you sanity check whatever you come up with!