Being a Green Bibliophile

Eva Lewandowski

I love to read, and more than that, I love books, and I’ve always thought of it as a good thing.  But a few years ago, when I was trying to jam more than 1400 books into my tiny one-bedroom apartment, I started thinking that maybe having so many books wasn’t necessarily a good thing, and not just because of the space constraints.

With everything else in my life, I was very careful and conscientious about buying only what I absolutely needed and trying to buy used or environmentally sustainable products.  For some reason, I made an exception for books without really thinking about it.  I was making use of the public library several times a week and buying a lot of used books, but beyond that I wasn’t doing much to curb the environmental impacts of my bibliophilic nature.

Once I started thinking about everything that goes into the production and sale of a book (the paper, ink, energy and water used in production, fossil fuels needed to transport them from the printer to the warehouse to the retailer, etc.), I came up with a set of guidelines for my own book-buying.

Now, I try to only buy a book if:

  1. I will read it or look through it many times.
  2. I’ve read it before and know I love it, or it’s by a favorite author.
  3. I can’t find it anywhere else. 

Before buying, I also ask myself:

  1. Can I borrow it from the library or a friend?
  2. Is it available used?
  3. Is it available at a locally-owned bookstore?
  4. Is it printed on chlorine-free, post-consumer recycled paper?
  5. Has the paper been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?
  6. What other steps is the publisher taking to reduce environmental impacts?
  7. Will I still want this book in five years?

A lot of you are probably wondering about digital books, which are becoming increasingly popular.  I haven’t ventured into the digital arena when it comes to books, mainly because I already spend 8-10 hours each day in front of a computer screen, and frankly I’m not interested in increasing that amount.  On top of that, there are just as many, if not more, environmental concerns surrounding the electronics industry.  So choosing to use an e-reader or laptop to read your books rather than the traditional paper copies doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making a more sustainable choice.

By putting careful thought into my book-buying decisions, I’ve ended up buying fewer books overall and mainly buying books that have been produced in a sustainable manner.  And I can find almost anything I don’t want to buy at my local public library!

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