The Environmental Impact of E-books at Boston College Methods Introduction

The Environmental Impact of
E-books at Boston College
Electronic books (E-books) are becoming a significant
proportion of scholarly literature used for research at
top universities like Boston College. The environmental
impact of this change is not well understood and having
this information would be useful to Boston College’s
libraries as they continue to collect scholarly literature
for student research. An E-book is defined as a piece of
digitally formatted scholarly literature, including
journals, article collections, and other peer-reviewed
texts that are didactically written and only accessible by
membership to a database.
Juliette Denis
Allegra Donadio
Mimi Klein
In addition to understanding the
environmental impact of E-books and their
increased usage at Boston College, it is important to understand
the needs and wants of the student body. The researchers created
a 15-question survey through the online platform, SurveyMonkey,
to assess the general consensus on campus, and distributed it to
72 undergraduate students across all four years and four schools
within Boston College. We also gathered data regarding student
printing habits at Boston College and noted the university’s library
inventory of paper books, E-books and E-readers (Apple iPads).
Research Questions
1. What are the environmental impacts of E-books and are
they greener than paper books?
2. Do Boston College students prefer to use E-books or
traditional paper books?
3. Should Boston College Libraries invest in more E-books?
Literature Review
= 10 students
Figure 2. Percentage of professors who don’t allow electronics
Survey Results
The print industry involves the consumption of raw materials, The most significant findings revolved around format preference, E-book usage, and professor habits. We found that
paper production, printing, shipping, transportation, and
disposal. Between 25-36% of books printed do not sell and are 76% prefer to print and read E-books rather than use digital
copies. 75% of students use library resources more than
returned to publishers to be disposed of. This industry
twice per semester, but less than half of the respondents had
annually consumes 125 million trees, produces 153 billion
ever used an E-book more than twice. Despite this low
gallons of wastewater (78 more times that of E-readers), and
number, 95% of students at least somewhat recommend that
the average book produces between 4-7.46 kg of GHG.
BC Libraries invest in more E-books. We discovered that
99% of students have had at least one professor who banned
electronics in class during their time at BC (Figure 3).
Producing E-readers involves a similar supply chain of
material, manufacturing, distribution, reading, and disposal,
with the two main E-readers being iPads and Kindles. iPads
and Kindles release 130 kg of GHG and 168 GHG in their
lifespans. Thus, if an iPad user reads between 17.5-32.5 books
and a Kindle user reads between 22.5-42 books, then they will
have offset the total carbon footprint of their device.
Figure 3. Projected change in CO2 Emissions due to global
E-reader sales
Figure 1. Printed Books Offset by E-readers
Table 1. Boston College Library Inventory
Data Results
Figure 4 indicates that there has been a consistent and general Boston College Libraries should continue to invest in E-books
and E-readers (iPads). They are more environmentally efficient
increase in annual printing in O’Neill Library. From 2011 to
and provide students with the convenience and ease of
2014 the total pages printed increased from 3,063,435 to
accessing information from their personal laptops or tablets. To
4,036,296. In addition, O’Neill Library houses significantly
address student and faculty preference for hard copies, we
more paper books (2,286,576) than E-books (528,311) and
recommend faculty inform students of the environmental
more paper books are checked out than iPads. The university
implications associated with printing and paper books versus
plans to invest in more iPads in the future. When these iPads
electronic texts. Faculty should utilize the online Canvas
are taken out of circulation, librarians keep a few around in
submission site, rather than request hard copies of assignments
case they need extra or they donate them to various
and should be dissuaded from banning electronic readers in
organizations on campus including the Montserrat Program.
class. There should be a library informational event as a part of
freshman orientation that introduces and explains all of the
library’s E-literature resources, including iPad lending.
Administration should reduce the number of free printing
pages from 500 to 100 pages to reduce printing numbers.
Figure 4. Total number of pages printed in O’Neill
Library from 2011-2014
= 1 million sheets of paper
Data Analysis
The increase in printing from 2011 to 2014 could be
explained by the fact that many professors require students
to hand in hard copies of assignments. The fact that students
check out more paper books than iPads means that they
either prefer paper books or are unaware that the library
lends iPads. Because the library recirculates and donates
it’s old iPads, the E-readers and therefore E-books used at
Boston College are environmentally sound, especially in
comparison to paper books. E-readers are convenient and
provide users with easy searchability, while conserving
library shelf-space.
Boston College Libraries increasing their E-reading selection
follows a global trend towards digitalization. This trend
condenses the availability of physical books altering the role
of libraries on campuses as places to socialize or work, rather
than research or take out books. This shift to screen-reading
results in a loss of tactile and responsorial senses that aid in
absorbing and comprehending information. E-readers also
offer convenient searchability, correlated with both positive
and negative study habits. The student preference to print is
the greatest challenge to the environmental soundness of
E-reading, so without reductions neither paper books nor
E-books will result in greater environmental efficiency.
We would like to thank the
immeasurably kind and
responsive mentors Sally
Wyman and Enid Karr as well
as our advisor Tara
Pisani-Gareau for their
continued help throughout
this project.