In our last article, we discussed how textbook renting, in the form of buying a textbook from your local bookstore and selling books back afterwords, has been happening for years, and is more environmentally friendly than renting from today’s textbook rental companies. Renting books addresses some real problems, like helping to reduce the cost of college and avoid the uncertainty of being able to sell your book back for a reasonable price. However, there is an environmental impact to shipping single books back and forth. In this article, we’ll outline the environmental impacts, and then look at what book rental companies are doing to mitigate these factors.
First, why does renting books have a greater environmental impact than buying and selling them old school style from a local source that might already have the same textbook on its shelves?
- Last I checked, teleportation only works in the movies or on the back of a napkin after a few too many beers. Books still need to be shipped, and to get them there safely, they need to be individually packaged. When you receive that book, what happens to the packaging? Is it recycled or thrown away?
- Rather than using the existing warehouses that large textbook distributors already have in place, each rental company has its own facilities. So rather than efficiency associated with scale, the proliferation of rental companies have increased the total footprint of textbook distribution by having their own facilities.
- The book has to get to you, usually via mail. While the last mile is done on foot, all the miles before that are on trucks and airplanes (high polluters), especially if you order last minute. (Help the earth and buy your books early!)
So what are book rental companies doing to address their environmental impact?
Tina Couch, of Chegg, was one of the first in the industry to answer our question about environmental impact – you can see her response:
Chegg has partnered with American Forest Global ReLeaf program to plant a tree every time a student rents from us. In three short years, we’ve planted nearly 3 million trees in Lake Tahoe, Cameroon, and Guatemala. We are proud to be American Forest’s largest tree planting partners.
An important note here is that Chegg is in partnership with a third party organization that can provide verifiable results of Chegg’s efforts. Chegg also buys back textbooks which helps recycle them by giving other college students the opportunity to use them again.
BookRenter takes things one step further by becoming a certified Green Business by the Santa Clara County, CA Green Business Program. BookRenter also addresses the carbon impact of shipping by partnering with CarbonFund.org. The effectiveness of (monetary) carbon offsets can definitely be argued, but BookRenter instead directs its contribution towards curbing landfill methane gas emission. They have also signed the Green Printing Initiative’s Book Industry Treatise, which is a collective effort to find ways of lessening the publishing industries global environmental impact.
CampusBookRentals does not appear to be directly addressing their environmental impact. However, their Make a Difference Program addresses social concerns by partnering with a different development project every year. In 2008, they supported the One Laptop Per Child Foundation. In 2009, CampusBookRentals worked with a local elementary school for underprivileged students. They have yet to announce their project for 2010.
What about the rest of the industry? Skoobit is partnered with CarbonFund.org to help offset additional carbon from shipping, and CollegeBookRenter supports the American Heart Association. However, as you survey many of the other companies in our database and in the marketplace, be aware of what each is doing (or not doing) to help their communities. We will leave these companies in our database and price comparison, but you might consider spending an extra dollar with one of the companies that gives back to the global environment.
Some sobering thoughts:
17.6 million – Number of college students in 2006 (National Center for Education Statistics)
5.3 textbooks – The average number of textbooks per semester for a college student (Student Monitor)
186.56 million – Number of textbooks purchased each year (that could be purchased, rented, or be in electronic format)
8,333 sheets – Number of paper sheets from an average 40 foot tree (Conservatree.org)
500 pages – Our own estimate of the average length of a textbook (Bookshelves in the office)
16.6 textbooks – The number of textbooks per your average 40 foot tree
11.2 million – The number of trees that would be used if textbooks were produced new each year
Some companies are promoting etextbooks and other ebooks which obviously go a long way to saving trees and reducing carbon emissions compared to traditional book production and consumption; however, the use of etextbooks seem very limited right now – why? We will investigate this question in our next post.