The environmental cost of Esquire's e-ink cover

Clive Thompson points to some rough estimates done by Fast Company's Anya Kamenetz about how much extra carbon it took to produce those e-ink covers:
So… the total outlay in greenhouse gas emissions for this little experiment–again, this is based on loose estimates–comes to 150 tons of CO2 equivalent, similar to the output of 15 Hummers or 20 average Americans for an entire year, and a 16% increase over the carbon footprint of a typical print publication (based on calculations by Discover Magazine, Time, and In Style). The potential environmental impact of the E Ink covers increases even more when you consider that the units are designed to be disposable after one use and they’ll make it more difficult or impossible to recycle the paper portion of the magazines.
Not good, but everything we produce has a carbon footprint and in this case the stunt — disappointing as it may have been — isn't a permanent addition to Esquire's production process. The Real Cost of E-Ink [Fast Company via Collision Detection]
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14 Responses to The environmental cost of Esquire's e-ink cover

  1. grimc says:


    Fair point, makes sense. I still think a comparison between carbon production costs between a standard photoshoot and e-ink gadgets would’ve been more illuminating than comparing it to 15 Hummers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    so, could we get an estimate on CO2 generated for an average run of the magazine per week?

  3. horatio soggybottom says:

    I was pretty unimpressed by the low-techness of the e-ink on the Esquire cover. Having said that, i imagine that when it can be made to do something other than blink certain portions of the screen, couldn’t it actually be used to replace the rest of the magazine ala an electronic reader? Wouldn’t having a subscription that can be directly downloaded to a low-cost “shell” mitigate the carbon footprint of having to use paper and print off n numbers of “traditional” magazines?

  4. Secret_Life_of_Plants says:

    “…similar to the output of 15 Hummers or 20 average Americans for an entire year…”

    This says that a Hummer puts out more Greenhouse gases than an average American (person?) – even a person with a regular car and a house and a job etc.? Hmm. It could be true but that would be amazing since a Hummer isn’t always being driven but a person is always being a person eating, using electricity and water and gas, working, buying crap, etc…unless you are factoring the GHG costs of Hummer production… well, hmm.

  5. SamSam says:

    #3: Those calculations seem unlikely, and rightly so. I don’t know about hummers, but Google tells me that the average American creates 20-24 tons of CO2 a year.

    So 150 tons is equivalent to 6 or 7 people.

  6. Anonymous says:

    My god, a value-added object has an environmental footprint! Good gracious me.

    And not all objects are “necessary”, below wherever that arbitrary bar is placed!

    Oh, and the actual impact of CO2 in this form is, at the moment, unquantifiable except in comparison to other CO2 producers.


    Do any of the people originating this kind of environmental white noise have a shred of self respect or critical thinking skills?

  7. Skep says:

    This is silly. Shouldn’t we be talking about the carbon cost of printing and distributing glossy paper magazines? Especially since even recycling paper has a carbon cost…and and we really shouldn’t be cutting down trees to make paper anyways if we can make it out of lower impact materials like bamboo or industrial hemp.

  8. grimc says:

    What is the carbon footprint of the average magazine photographic cover? There’s getting the subjects to the studio (most likely not in Priuses, Priusi), except when the shoot is on location so the photographer, assistants and equipment needs to be transported by SUV and/or van; if the photographer is using film instead of going with digital, there certainly has to be some carbon costs associated with developing–and regardless of medium, all the gear and lighting use a lot of electricity; etc., etc.

    A comparison of footprints between Esquire’s e-ink cover and the typical magazine photoshoot would’ve been much more interesting and honest.

  9. DCE says:

    One could argue that the cover is an important first step toward reusable electronic ink magazines. By putting a stake in the ground, we’re that much closer to eliminating paper based magazines altogether – a clear positive for the environment.

  10. dculberson says:

    Grimc, except in the cases of absolutely tiny distribution numbers, the carbon cost of everything you list is going to be pretty minimal compared to the other elements of the magazine’s production and distribution. Remember, you can divide that cost out by however many magazines use that photo, so say 100,000 for a smaller publication, probably 1,000,000 plus for a really big one? So even if it’s hundreds of tons of CO2, it’s pretty minor compared to printing, distributing, and mailing the magazines.

  11. Bonnie says:

    If Esquire really wants to get my attention, next time they should pay tribute to low-tech mags by making an issue that’s completely handdrawn and handwritten to look like a zine!

  12. TiwazTyrsfist says:

    I just find myself wondering, What was the total carbon output of the process of researching and publishing these studies to see what the carbon output of Esquire’s E-Ink cover was?

    How many Millions of tons of CO2 equivalent were produced and released to power the computers, phones, faxes, cars, etc used by the researchers and writers of these articles?

    How much CO2 equivalent was released to print and ship the hard copies of these stories?

    What is the cost in CO2 equivalent for all the power to allow us to read and talk about this on the grand series of tubes?

    Probably that’s also Esquire’s fault.

    Fun Fact: Plants need CO2 to live.
    2nd fun fact: If you subtract the amount of CO2 that is used by plants, on average, across the USA, and it’s various holdings, and compare it to the CO2 emitted by the industrial concerns, automobiles, power plants, and human respiration in the same area, you find that the USA actually uses up slightly more (over a million tons annually) CO2 than we produce…
    The week that this study was released was, coincidentally, the same week the Kyoto Accord was amended to specifically exclude credits for CO2 sinks…

  13. frankiez says:

    Calculations of CO2 emissions start to be annoying… publishing these stupid calculations seems a plan created by people against gas emission reduction to cover REAL C02 “powerhouses”…

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