Despite the common idea that you need to be wealthy to really be green, there are many ways to both save money and be environmentally friendly. One of those ways, a personal favorite of mine, is buying used instead of new. Especially when you are buying books. Choosing to buy a used book rather than a new one saves a tree, lessens the impact from printing the book, and if you buy it from a local used book shop lowers the impact that shipping has on the environment.
But what about renting books? The Netflix CEO is taking the rental idea from movies to textbooks. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars buying new textbooks for a class you will only be in half the year you can now rent them for a fraction of the cost. It is definitely something I wish had been around when I was in college.
With all the college students needing a stack of text books twice each year, it doesn’t take much to see how many trees are being cut down to fill that need. Even when buying used students are often held back by the number of books they can find as not all students from previous classes sell their books back immediately and not all classes are offered each year or term. Being able to rent a textbook for your class and send it back to be used again is a great idea to cut out the new book costs, both monetarily and environmentally.
However, there is still the shipping costs you should consider. Packaging and fuel are still big environmental issues that shipping any package has. For renting textbooks from Netflix this comes up twice, in being shipped to you and you sending it back when done. It is also faced when students buy used textbooks online and resell them online later.
The financial costs may make this well worth it for most college students, as well as the bonus of saving trees from being turned into more new books. But how do the shipping costs, in terms of paper packaging and fuel used by the postal service, factor into this? Though, the money saved by renting books could mean students would have more money to spend on real food, instead of the prepackaged, low cost, unhealthy junk foods.
This is one of those areas that is not entirely black or white, environmentally speaking. I would love to hear your opinions on it!
Image source – Stephen Cummings via Flickr with Creative Commons
Carlota Bindner says
I finally finished my bachelors in 2007, after 5 years, and while there are a plethora of used textbooks out there, there is an unfortunate problem that this wonderful idea does not resolve. Inevitably every year textbook companies revise and edit current textbooks to produce new editions. And many teachers are often coerced into switching to these newer editions, which do not necessarily have many changes from the previous ones.
I still think this could definitely help reduce the purchase of new textbooks, especially if recycled packaging is used. I think it would further help if Netflix does create a program like this if they were to open more distribution centers across the country, they currently have 55, which helps to reduce the distance items travel. I know I would use this as I am going to be going back to school this summer.
Jamie Ervin says
Financially speaking its a WONDERFUL idea. I used to scour the second time around store near the University for textbooks and even used Amazon a time or two. Usually students can get away with a couple editions older than the current (something you must always check with the instructor on), in this scenerio, books can get an even longer life.
I would think the overall impact of shipping a rented textbook would be less than creating that book (in terms of paper used, energy, pollution created, etc…) and the knowledge that the book will be returned and used again. When students buy textbooks they often sit around the house for years and then end up in the landfill (I tried to donate many of mine, but stores like Goodwill won’t usually take them).
George Burke says
Hi, first of all, NETFLIX IS NOT RENTING BOOKS. We’re reading an article about Chegg, a fromer college-focused marketplace (think Craigslist for college) that recently changed business models to rent out textbooks. Chegg’s CEO is not Netflix’s CEO. I also wouldn’t consider this “Netflix” style rental because it’s not an unlimited rental membership, unlike BookSwim — http://www.bookswim.com, which rents out paperback & hardcover consumer books with no due dates, no late fees, and free shipping both ways.
As both with BookSwim, the very nature of book rental allows multiple people to enjoy the same copy of a book, which can reduce the number of copies manufactured – hence, less paper. And without the need to drive to the library or bookstore, USPS-delivered book rental packages won’t increase carbon output because the mailperson is coming to your door anyway.