overall rating:



Hannah Harrison
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I love reading. My love of reading is more specifically directed at a love of having, and being able to flick through, physical books that I can then display on my bookshelves. I don’t partake in fast fashion, but I would be lying if I said that my consumption of books is something I don’t feel guilty about. Since engaging more with climate advocacy and awareness-raising initiatives over the past year, I’ve begun to grapple with the incompatibility that I believe my book-buying habits have with the current emergency (which becomes particularly clear whenever I walk out of my local bookstore carrying books on the climate crisis).

Enter stage left: ThriftBooks. ThriftBooks is a large web-based used bookseller that aims to democratise access to reading in a way that avoids Amazon. I often find that the price of books is inaccessible, leading many people – not just myself – to not be able to purchase books on topics they enjoy. While libraries are a popular alternative that I myself have frequented (particularly in non-COVID times), owning a book, being able to make notes in the margins, and having it be your own continues to be compelling for many of us. ThriftBooks’ aim is to provide the best of both alternatives: to sell cheap books to keen readers in such a way that avoids Amazon and therefore minimise one’s carbon footprint. In my opinion, it does well at doing so, but of course, has ways in which it could improve the sustainability of its online presence.

What it's made of:


Amazon continues to monopolise the online shopping sphere, with COVID-19 lockdown resulting in Amazon sales rocketing to £20bn at the end of last year. Amazon’s exponential growth continues in spite of reports of unsafe and unethical staff working conditions.

What is perhaps more concerning about Amazon is its founder’s views on life on Earth. Bezos, much like other billionaires, has turned his eyes to a new frontier: outer space. Not satisfied with degrading the earth to within inches – and in some cases beyond – its ecological limits, billionaires like Bezos are now taking this harmful consumerist way of life to planets that are not meant for human life, and outer space itself. Indeed, around 50% of all books sold each year are sold on Amazon, which not only brushes aside thousands upon thousands of independent booksellers, wholesalers and libraries but puts more and more money into the pockets of Jeff Bezos. In an age of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, this has undoubtedly been made worse, with many libraries and independent stores being forced to shut, and squeezed out of their own industry by Amazon.

ThriftBooks aims to rectify this, offering readers an easier and cheaper way to access books, supposedly bypassing Amazon entirely. It also sells second-hand books, preventing them from going to landfill and allowing them to be loved again for a cheaper price. Moreover, ThriftBooks also sells new books, sometimes at a cheaper price than high-street retailers and Amazon.

Despite second-hand books making up a large number of the publications on sale, I was impressed with the large collection of books available on the website, particularly on the subject of climate change. I found all of Naomi Klein’s works, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, as well as a number of other books on similar themes, which very much satisfied my desire for books in this area. I was particularly impressed that both the hardback and paperback versions of All We Can Save were available, the paperback version having been released earlier this week. I was also pleased with the presence of a “Pride Month” section of the website, featuring literature by LGBT+ authors and about LGBT+ characters. While the naming of the section may give the impression that it may have been a temporary website feature throughout June, its presence when writing this review (in July) leads me to think this isn’t pinkwashing. Further, ThriftBooks have also ensured that they are offering books that represent people within the LGBT+ community; books with aro/ace main characters as well as gay, lesbian and trans characters are also available to purchase and are displayed on the website.

Further, I feel that it is important to mention that ThriftBooks also purchases books from charity shops. This allows individual charity stores to stay in business (and continue providing funds for whatever charity they are working for and volunteer opportunities for the local community) whilst also facilitating a wider variety of literature for ThriftBooks users to choose from. It is because of this that ThriftBooks has provided more than $100 million to charitable causes since its inception. 

How it's made:


The selling is done entirely online. However, any online presence can still have a carbon footprint. After putting the ThriftBooks website URL into the Website Carbon Calculator, it revealed that the website is cleaner than 53% of web pages tested (with only 0.86g of CO2 being produced every time someone visits the page). However, the page uses standard energy, not a green hosting site which could reduce its CO2 emissions by 9%. Examples of hosts include Kualo, Nimbus, Wunderism and Raidboxes.

To improve its website’s emissions, ThriftBooks could easily adapt some of the visual aspects of its site. Even something as simple as using system fonts with less variation where possible can reduce the website’s file weight (and therefore the energy required to power the site). Switching from bold to non-bold text, for instance, can reduce file weight by 250kb! I believe that making small swaps like this is completely feasible and should be a priority for ThriftBooks and similar services.

Who makes it:


ThirftBooks was founded in 2003 by Daryl Butcher and Jason Meyer and has since sold over 165 million books. From looking at their website, I found that ThriftBooks does show an understanding of the intersection between social justice and climate justice and applies this to their work. From their statement on ThriftBooks’ environmental impact, for instance, they declare that material they can't use are sent to recycling plants, "where each ton of 100% post-consumer copy paper (approximately 1.4 tons of books) saves 24 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 4,100 kilowatts of electricity, and 60 pounds of air pollution". Likewise, they also dedicate time and effort to making sure the benefits of reading are spread as widely as possible around the world. Indeed, their initiative ‘ThriftBooks Gives’ partners with non-profits to provide books and other resources for low-socioeconomic communities, including Title I schools, prison libraries, and international literacy programs.

However, what I would have loved to see would have been more explicit targets and goals for how ThirftBooks can continue to support the communities above and become as sustainable as possible into the future. I believe this is particularly important considering its presence in e-commerce today, compared to 2003.

What I believe is also important to mention is that ThriftBooks’ Executive Leadership Team is made up of 10 key individuals: these include the President to the Senior Directors of Procurement, to Operations and Data Science. However, out of these 10 people, only three are women. I would have preferred to see a more diverse group of people on the executive board to reflect the diverse literature advertised on the website; I believe this would cement the idea that reading is for everyone and that access to non-fiction or fictitious texts should be available to all, irrespective of gender, race, sexuality and so on.

In all, I believe ThriftBooks to be a good alternative to Amazon and would recommend buying from them if you are wanting a physical copy of a particular book. Of course, depending on how many books you read per year, the more sustainable option may be to ditch physical books entirely in favour of e-books. There are ways in which ThriftBooks can improve, but their overall mission to make reading more accessible in such a way that is not at the expense of the planet is sound in my opinion.