In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental records of 3 e-reader brands.

We also take a look at the dominance of Amazon's Kindle, toxic chemicals in e:readers and give our recommendations.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying an e-reader:

    • Is it a tablet computer? You may want to opt for a tablet computer instead, as the options in the guide are so limited. They have more functionality and there is plenty of software available for both Apple and Android platforms that lets you read e-books on your device.

    Best Buys

    There are no Best Buys in this sector

    Our recommended buy is Bookeen. It isn't a very ethical company but this is a very limited market and at least you won't be buying from Amazon.

    What not to buy

    What to avoid when buying an e-reader:

    • Is it owned by Amazon?  Amazon is a giant in the e-reader market through its Kindle brand. We have been spearheading a boycott of Amazon's goods and services. The company's poor tax record and many workers' rights abuses are just the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg.

    • Is it linked to the ivory trade? In 2014, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed Kobo's brand owners Rakuten as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory. Rakuten agreed to end all online sales of whale and dolphin meat, but we could find no evidence that it has stopped selling elephant ivory.

    Companies to avoid

    In this very small guide we are suggesting that consumers steer clear of Amazon in particular. Scoring 0/20 is no mean feat and consumers should be weary of the wider implications before being seduced by the company's cheap prices.

    • Amazon

    Score table

    Updated live from our research database

    ← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
    Brand Score(out of 20)

    Bookeen e-reader

    Company Profile: Bookeen

    Kobo e-reader

    Company Profile: Kobo Books

    Kindle ereader

    Company Profile: Amazon.com Inc

    What is most important to you?

    Product sustainability

    Our Analysis

    If you already have a tablet (see separate product guide to Tablets), we wouldn’t advise that you buy a separate e-reader. There is plenty of software available for both Apple and Android platforms that lets you read e-books on your device.

    But, if you don’t have a tablet, here are some reasons why investing in a dedicated e-reader might be a good idea:

    They can be lighter than a tablet or a book, yet store hundreds of books.

    • Most e-readers have an E-Ink screen which looks much like paper and is easier on the eyes than the colour LCD screen of a phone or tablet. It also won’t stop you going to sleep like the blue light emitted from an LCD screen can, so e-readers are better for late-night reading.
    • E-Ink screens excel in bright sunlight, which can cause reflections on the glossy screens of other mobile devices.
    • Most e-readers are around six inches and weigh around 200g, an ideal size and weight to comfortably hold for prolonged periods and carry around with you.
    • Battery life is also much better on dedicated e-readers compared to phones and tablets.
    • With Kindle e-readers you have to use Amazon’s online bookstore, while Kobo and Bookeen e-readers let you download content from other stores.

    Amazon's monopoly

    When we last looked at e-readers in 2013, we covered 15 brands. Now, there are only three main brands available in the UK, two of them from online retail giants – Amazon from the USA (Kindle) and Rakuten from Japan (Kobo) – and the third from a French company, Bookeen, which specialises in e-readers and e-books.

    Nook has decided to stop selling e-readers in the UK. Sony and Archos have also stopped making e-readers. Amazon, by far the market leader with its Kindle brand, may well have had a hand in squeezing out all its rivals.

    Conflict Minerals

    It has long been known that the extraction of minerals has become entangled with human conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

    Known as conflict minerals or 3TGs, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mined in the DRC have been linked to the funding of armed groups, and have helped to fuel a war for over twenty years. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the minerals provide a valuable source of income to rebel groups, militias, and criminal gangs. Some of the minerals are smuggled out of the country, along with the industry’s profits, leaving the DRC’s population of 77 million struggling to survive.[1] The minerals go on to be used in electronic products such as laptops, e-readers and mobile phones.

    All three e-reader companies score worst for conflict minerals. Read our feature on conflict minerals for an update on the Dodd-Frank Act.

    Toxic Chemicals

    Three chemicals are often used in electronics and have been highlighted by Greenpeace as the most hazardous – brominated flame retardants (BFRs), PVC and phthalates.

    BFRs and PVC are both organohalogens. Some well-known (and very hazardous) examples of organohalogens include PCBs, DDT, and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) – all of which are now globally banned by the United Nation’s Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty.[2]

    Toxic chemicals policy ratings

    Apple leads the way in the electronics industry having phased out PVC and BFR in its products, including its cables, way back in 2008. Apple products are also free from phthalates. So there is no excuse for other companies not to follow suit.

    To get our best rating for a toxic chemicals policy, like Apple, a company must have phased out the use of all three chemicals or have set a date by which it will have done so.

    Unfortunately, most companies get our worst rating for having no commitment to totally phasing out all three of these chemicals. Companies who get a worst rating for toxic chemicals could also not get a best rating for Environmental Reporting.

    All three brands get a worst toxics rating - Amazon, Kobo and Bookeen.

    Company Profile

    Founded in 2009, Kobo (an anagram of book!) is owned by the Tokyo-based Rakuten, Japan’s largest online retailer. The Japanese word ‘rakuten’ means optimism. It recently sold UK online retailer Play.com which used to be a major rival to Amazon in the UK. It still has an interest in Pinterest.

    In 2014, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed the company as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory. Rakuten agreed to end all online sales of whale and dolphin meat, but we could find no evidence that it has stopped selling elephant ivory. 

    Want to know more?

    If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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