Hmm, good question. I would say no, taking into account that when you order a book online, it gets individual packaging and then has to be shipped to you. If you buy the book in a store, usually there is less packaging (especially if you tell the clerk you don’t need a bag) and the book travels less distance from the store to your home. Granted, the book had to be shipped to the store in the first place, but I assume this happens en-mass, which still means less packaging and less shipping.
I agree with sfincher – if you can find the book in a store near you instead of ordering over the internet, I think this will help cut down on the overall amount of shipping being done, which not only uses more packaging, but more shipping means more driving. If everyone cut down on ecommerce, I think there’d be a good decrease in sources of greenhouse gas emissions (from freights, air delivery, etc).
One of the benefits of e-readers is that they cut down on the need for shipping or for going to the store to buy a book. While not all books are available in e-reader format and not everyone has an e-reader, we will probably see the market increase for these in the future, which will cut down on the shipping of books overall.
I think buying books in a store would be friendlier following the same train of thought as the above comments. What I think is even better for the environment, however, would be checking a book out at a library. These books are re-used thousands of times, unlike many books that we purchase.
If you don’t want to use an e-reader which eliminates pollution caused by shipping, I’d look to a library (as phillus claimed) or a used books store.
I agree with all of the previous responses – it’s hard to definitively tell which method consumes less energy and resources. E-books are an interesting alternative, as krich11 pointed out. Ultimately it makes sense to patronize local bookstores first, and if they don’t offer the book you’re looking for, buy it online.
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