Guest Column: 8 Steps to Going 'Green' Without Seeing Red
Just two or three years ago, “green” was a hot topic in publishing, as publishers competed to adopt meaningful paper policies, and several high-profile titles were published in environmental packages. But with the economic downturn, much of the talk of “green” initiatives was replaced by a new “green” imperative: the need to preserve profits and cash flow.
The new year is nearly upon us, and one of the early themes seems to be the beginning of an economic recovery, though a slow one. That recovery will restart many of the conversations about environmental sustainability, but publishers may be wary, given the uncertainty of the recovery.
So what concrete steps can a publisher take to go “green” without increasing costs—or even with a possible cost savings? The eight steps below offer some ideas on how to get started. They explore a range of options from cutting current costs to avoiding future costs and capturing lost sales, all of which will improve the bottom line.
1. Understand your impacts.
Just as with any other business issue, it’s important to understand your environmental impacts before you set out to reduce them. A good first step is a greenhouse-gas inventory, also known as a carbon audit. Several organizations provide excellent, free tools and comprehensive, step-by-step instructions for conducting your own audit, including the World Resources Institute and its Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGProtocol.org).
But a carbon audit won’t tell the entire story; if other issues like water use and waste are important to you, track those as well. Quantifying all of these impacts will help you see which areas offer the most opportunity for reduction, and also will allow you to match costs with emissions and prioritize projects with bigger payoffs.
2. Strategize with your supply chain.
Once you’ve completed your environmental audit, you’ll probably discover that the majority (90 percent or more) of your emissions aren’t happening under your roof; the carbon is generated at paper mills or printers, or as books are distributed across the country. This is surprisingly typical for consumer-products companies, many of which estimate that only 2 percent to 5 percent of their emissions are under their own roofs. But make no mistake, those companies understand that they still “own” those other 95 percent or more of total product emissions.
Therefore, suppliers and customers must be on board and actively involved in your efforts to source low-carbon paper, reduce manufacturing and transportation emissions, and recycle books that would otherwise be destined for landfills. And, as we’re seeing with increasing frequency, customers are developing their own sustainability requirements for products, like the Walmart sustainability index or the Indigo paper policy, which makes it imperative for publishers to talk to consumers about environmental initiatives or risk losing sales. Direct communication is an important channel for these supply chain conversations, as are industry groups such as the Book Industry Environmental Council (BookCouncil.org).
3. Think about paper.
There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about paper over the last few years, and many publishers have implemented environmental paper policies. And with good reason: Depending on how you calculate emissions, paper can score as high as 80 percent of total emissions. For smaller publishers, which may not control their office environments, warehouses or distribution networks, paper is likely to be the only major opportunity to affect emissions.
For all publishers, it’s important to think about a broad strategy for low-carbon paper sourcing, which may include recycled fiber, mills with low carbon emissions, papers made from alternative fibers, and suppliers that can minimize distribution and transport emissions. And while it may or may not be possible for all publishers to do this today across all the sheets they use, any cost-effective progress helps the industry move in a sustainable direction.