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.
4. Reduce and reuse.
Given all of the interest in recycling lately, it’s easy to forget that “recycle” is actually third on the list of tiered priorities (reduce, reuse and recycle). One publisher keeps the idea of “reusing” top of mind by making its interoffice envelopes out of discarded design layouts. Another reduces company waste by composting in the office. Others, of course, have reduced the basis weight of the papers they use, recognizing the large cost and environmental opportunities around paper.
Look for ways to reduce or reuse in your operations and production processes, because efficient use of resources saves dollars and carbon emissions. This might be by switching light bulbs in offices or warehouses—compact fluorescents use 60 percent to 80 percent less energy than standard incandescents and can save you about $30 to $45 over the life of each light bulb you buy. Or, it may be by printing double-sided (saving on paper costs), or any other number of efficiency improvements. And if you’ve already made progress doing this because of cost-savings initiatives, find ways to make those temporary reductions permanent even after the economy rebounds.
5. Talk to your employees.
Employees are the in-house experts who see waste and inefficiency firsthand, and more often than not, already have ideas on how to improve. And they’re going to be the group that’s asked to implement whatever environmental improvement initiatives you develop, so involving them early makes twice as much sense.
6. Understand government regulation.
Book publishing has been relatively free of environmental government regulation so far, but increasing concern about worldwide deforestation and sustainable fiber supply has led to legislation like the Lacey Act, which created civil and criminal penalties to protect plants and wildlife, including those that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. It soon will apply to books printed overseas. While publishers that use best efforts to source fiber from legitimate sources—in particular, certified sources—should avoid civil or criminal penalties, finished books made from dubious fiber sources could be seized as evidence. No one wants to explain to accounts or authors why books aren’t available on the release date, or lose sales during well-timed marketing and publicity plans. Understanding government regulation and enforcement efforts will allow you to stay a step ahead and avoid those onerous costs.
7. Nudge people in the right direction.
It can be hard to get large groups of employees to adopt environmental initiatives, but a nudge in the right direction can work wonders. Some publishers have found savings by investing in software that automatically turns off computers at night, or timers and motion detectors to turn off lights when no one’s around. Another great example is a publisher who switched from asking employees to request electronic pay stubs with direct deposit (opt-in), to asking employees to opt out of receiving electronic stubs (i.e., employees now automatically receive electronic pay stubs unless they specifically ask for paper). This lowers the number of people receiving paper pay stubs, and saves emissions as well as printing and postage costs.
8. Solve the returns problem.
There’s ample business rationale to reduce returns, but this also is the single “greenest” project any publisher could undertake. The “Environmental Trends” report, commissioned in 2008 by the Book Industry Study Group and Green Press Initiative, pegged industrywide carbon emissions at 12.4 million metric tons; at least 2.6 million tons, or 20 percent, of these emissions are completely wasted as returns. While this statistic is staggering, it represents a tremendous opportunity: It’s difficult to imagine any other industry that could achieve a 20-percent reduction in emissions by resolving one issue, while simultaneously growing the profitability pie for supply chain partners to share.
Not all of the steps toward a “greener” industry are easy, and most will require the active engagement of supply chain partners. The good news is that they are possible, and are likely to save you money to boot.
Andrew Van Der Laan previously led sustainability initiatives at Random House, and is currently consulting on strategy and sustainability projects for a variety of clients. He can be reached at email@example.com.