Does First “Green” Bible Signify Broader Shift Toward Environmentally Conscious Publishing? A Q&A with Green Press Initiative Director Tyson Miller
The publication of the book publishing industry’s first recognized “green” Bible earlier this month by Thomas Nelson, the sixth-largest trade publisher in the United States, may suggest that a major shift in environmental thinking is underway in the publishing world. The publisher worked on the project with paper manufacturer Domtar as well as the Green Press Initiative (GPI), a nonprofit that has worked for the past five years to help the book industry conserve environmental resources.
GPI Director Tyson Miller spoke with Book Business Extra about Thomas Nelson’s publication and how it fits into the “Treatise on Responsible Paper Use,” an industry-developed agreement that defines shared goals for improving environmental impacts associated with book publishing, to which more than 140 small- to mid-size publishers, 10 printers and four paper mills have made a commitment.
“We’re still waiting for a major house to get behind it in a public way,” Miller says of the Treatise. “We think that’s in the works, and those houses that have strong policies in place or in development are fairly consistent with what the Treatise is calling for.”
Extra: What does the publication of Thomas Nelson’s green Bible signify to the industry?
Tyson Miller: The Bible is one of the most widely distributed, oldest and best-known books in history. So, for me, the fact that a version is now being produced on FSC [Forest Stewardship Council]-certified and recycled paper is a sign that confirms the major shifts that are occurring right now within the book industry at large, from small to large publishers, and from paper mills to printers.
Extra: What connection did GPI have with Thomas Nelson on the publication of the green Bible?
Miller: [GPI] worked to educate Thomas Nelson about the core issues and options [associated with the publication], and acted as a bridge between [Thomas Nelson] and paper manufacturer Domtar. But ultimately, it is the leadership of these two companies that is most laudable. [The GPI] spread the word about this success because we figured it would be a window into broader shifts in the industry, with relevance connected to key social and environmental issues.
Extra: Generally, what has been the response to the push for more eco-friendly publishing in the religious segment?
Miller: It has been slow going, and I have been surprised. Stewardship of ourselves and others and our Earth are all foundational messages across most faiths. Oftentimes, the mentality is that if we spend a penny more, we won’t be able to produce or distribute as many books. I understand that predicament. But unfortunately, I don’t think this is a worthy excuse. We all need to do what it takes to live in a way that is socially and environmentally responsible, and it is a shame that many religion and Bible publishers are using paper that is sourced from an area of social conflict and an Endangered Forest region. Sometimes you get what you pay for. My hope is that [the publication of the green Bible] and the leadership of others [in this area]––like Baker Publishing Group, InterVarsity Press and Ave Maria Press––will be a motivating force.
Extra: Tell me about the 50 religious scholars, churches and religious advocacy organizations who have signed a GPI statement urging the use of more socially responsible practices in publishing.
Miller: The signatories to the “Statement on Responsible Paper in Religious Books” are religious scholars, individual congregations and religious advocacy organizations. We’re trying to get that list to 100 before it goes public. These signatories are saying, “We care, and this is important to us.” This is important because some religious publishers have said that they aren’t hearing about this from their constituencies.
Extra: Beyond religious publishers, what should all publishers take away from the news that the sixth-largest trade publisher in the United States is printing their most important title with consideration of its impact on the environment?
Miller: Many publishers already get it. In fact, there are nearly 150 in the United States with strong environmental policies now in place. The message for those that are still debating or procrastinating is, “Civilization as we know it will only prosper if we move beyond the profit—only understanding and taking real and meaningful steps to improve our impacts––and this applies to everyone, from citizens to corporations, book publishers to auto makers.” For those that haven’t acted, I encourage them to realize that the small things add up and to join their peer companies in shifting an industry in the right direction.
Extra: What are the limitations when using the FSC-certified and recycled paper grade that Thomas Nelson used on this piece? How is the technology evolving to address any of these limitations?
Miller: In the past four years, nearly 30 new recycled and/or FSC-certified book grades have been developed. The quality is really impressive. The big hurdle has historically been pricing. But premiums have fallen from [a range of about] 15 percent to 20 percent, to 0 percent to 8 percent. … Aside from that, the only real limitations to continued increases in recycled and FSC-certified paper use are not technical. They have to do with product availability, and the ability of paper manufacturers and the recycled fiber infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the marketplace. As more publishers do the right thing, it is and will be a self-reinforcing cycle of positive change.
Editor’s Note: Look for Part II of this series on the publication of the first green Bible—a Q&A with Thomas Nelson CEO Mike Hyatt—in the next edition of Book Business Extra.