The Low [Carbon] Cost of Kindle

02/08/2011 03:08 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas. I'd wanted one for a while, and now that I've been using it for a month or so, I've had some time to figure out a few mostly unthought-of-before facts about electronic book readers.

Most of the time, when I buy books, I don't buy new ones. I buy used books from, the world's largest consortium of used booksellers. I hadn't ever considered the cost of doing business this way.

Here's the process:

An author writes a book. Very little carbon cost. Excessive paper use. [Save the trees.]

An agent sells the book to a publisher. Again excessive paper. [Save the trees.]

A publisher prints the book. Again paper, paper, paper. [Save the trees.]

Distributors send the book to bookstores. Huge carbon footprint. Transport, boxing for shipping. [Save the trees.]

A reader buys the book in the bookstore. Has to get there, park, go into the store, peruse, buy, and get home. Can you say -- gasoline? Carbon footprint?

The reader enjoys and finishes the book, stuffs it in a carton to take to the used bookstore wherein she earns credit against buying other used books. Gasoline, time and the addiction of book-buying.

It shows up on, and I decide I want to read it.

All this before I even decide to buy the book!

So I'm online, and I find the book or series I want and order them all at the same time from assorted booksellers on abebooks. Now let's see what happens.

The used bookseller:

Finds and packages the book. Paper, again.

Goes to the post office and sends it off to me. More gasoline.

It arrives in Boston. Gets sent to my post office. Gasoline! Arrives on foot with my postal delivery worker.

I undo the packaging, put it in the recycling, which then has to be picked up by our recycling wizards (using ... you guessed it -- gasoline -- actually, diesel).

I read the book, put it in a carton to take to the used bookseller in Arlington, get in the car and the whole cycle begins again!

The thing is: Kindle books are more "expensive" than used books. I'll often buy a book for one cent on abebooks; this shipping is $3.99, so that's four bucks for a used copy of a book I want to read. Not bad. Except... there are myriad hidden costs to buying used books as you can see.

A Kindle version of the same book is on average $6.99. I asked myself, Am I willing to pay an additional $3.00 per book in order to save the trees and lower my personal carbon footprint?

Yes, I am.

Thanks, Mr. Bezos, um, Santa, for my Kindle. It's swell, and I'm saving trees and carbon emissions even as I read.

For spiritual nourishment, visit Dr. Susan Corso's website and blog, Seeds for Sanctuary. Follow her on Twitter @PeaceCorso and Friend her on Facebook.