Gore Documentary Inspires Publisher to Produce First “Green” Bible: A Q&A with Thomas Nelson CEO Michael S. Hyatt
“An Inconvenient Truth,” the 2006 documentary that focused on climate change, won more than just two Academy Awards—as it turns out, it also won over Thomas Nelson’s Michael S. Hyatt. Hyatt, the president and CEO of the largest Christian book publisher in the world, took the inspiration he gained from viewing the film and carried the message back to work with him.
Last month, Thomas Nelson published an industry first—a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified “green” Bible, which contains paper made with 10-percent post-consumer recycled fiber. Some industry experts suggest that the publication of “The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible” signifies a major shift, not just for Christian or religious publishers, but for all trade publishers, toward more eco-friendly business practices.
The publisher worked with printer Domtar and the Green Press Initiative (GPI)––a non-profit organization that has worked for the past five years to help the book industry conserve the environment––to create this environmentally friendly version of the holy book.
In the last edition of Book Business Extra, GPI Director Tyson Miller spoke about the project. In this edition, Extra talks with Hyatt about the lasting impact “An Inconvenient Truth” will have on his company, as well as the industry as a whole.
Book Business Extra: Take me behind the scenes of the genesis of the “green” Bible. How long ago did the idea arise at Thomas Nelson, and how did it evolve into the published book?
Michael S. Hyatt: I would say that probably about a year ago, we started wrestling with the question of how we, as a publisher, could be more environmentally responsible. Personally for me, it started when I saw Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It had a profound impact on me. After seeing that, I started asking my family and coworkers how we could become more eco-friendly. Talk of the “green” Bible began in February after a meeting between our production group and the GPI. The GPI was very informative about how we could publish more eco-friendly products and other things we could do to help the environment. We determined that we would publish a “green” Bible and a “green” trade book [Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope”] to learn about the process of “green” publishing, better understand the challenges and identify the market for these products.
Extra: What factors do you think have contributed to no one else going to print with an environmentally friendly Bible before now?
Hyatt: It was difficult to find a paper that was FSC-compliant, lightweight and durable. A Bible is generally not less than 1,000 pages, and a study Bible is 2,000. This [“green” Bible] is about 1,700 pages.
Extra: What was the most difficult part, from a technical standpoint, in the development of this Bible? In what aspects did the folks at Domtar help out in making this a reality?
Hyatt: The most difficult part of producing the “green” Bible was making sure the paper was FSC-certified, along with the mill and the printing plant. All three had to be certified to ensure that we did, in fact, watch all environmental factors. We had a meeting with Domtar to discuss the factors that had to be met. They were willing to share in some of the expense of the paper and introduce us to people who were involved in certification. It was a process and a little bit of a community effort.
Extra: What limitations are there when using the FSC-certified paper grade you used?
Hyatt: The limitations include guaranteeing the availability of the paper and confirming that even though FSC paper is used, the Bible is lightweight and durable. We determined that only [a percentage of recycled-content paper] could be used without incurring breakage issues.
Extra: Who do you hope will be the target market for this Bible, and why would this edition appeal to them over other editions you publish?
Hyatt: For many consumers, eco-friendly products are very important, and buying and using these products is an outward expression of their values, a daily and practical practice of their beliefs. I would have thought originally that it would be people who were on the cutting-edge with environmental issues and a little left on their political slant. What we’re seeing is that it’s pretty much everybody––well, everyone under the age of 35 really. As Christians, we believe the whole world is a gift from God, and we have a stewardship that we have to take care of it. I questioned, why aren’t more Christians at the forefront of this? If anyone has the reason to [be], it’s us. We feel an eco-friendly Bible will appeal to many Christians across a wide range of ages and theologies who have embraced the Bible’s message of stewardship as an important aspect of their walk of faith.
Extra: With so many editions of the Bible in print, what methods do you employ to help market each new edition of the Bible, including this new “green” edition, to existing audiences and new audiences?
Hyatt: At Thomas Nelson, we employ a wide range of marketing tactics for each new edition of the Bible, as each one is published with a particular target market in mind. … The people with an affinity for this new edition of the Bible are probably going to be people on the Internet. … The Internet communities will be important to us, as will target publications. We’re doing everything we can to get it out—e-mail, newsletters, blogs and Web sites. Our retail partners have been enthusiastic. And we will devote marketing resources to staff training, merchandising in-store and promotion of this Bible through catalogs and retailer Web sites.
Extra: How will the reaction to this Bible affect the rest of the Bibles and other titles you release in the future? Are there plans in place to continue the push for more environmentally friendly printing on upcoming titles or your backlist titles?
Hyatt: Absolutely. We really did this as a way to learn about “green” publishing. We produced “The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible” and Brian McLaren’s “Everything Must Change” in hopes that we could learn. Our long-term goal is to publish product that is both eco-friendly and economically viable.
Extra: Can you tell me a little about the other environmentally minded actions the company has implemented in its daily business?
Hyatt: We have created an Environmental Task Force [at Thomas Nelson] to determine what our carbon footprint is, so we can begin taking measurable steps to reduce that footprint. We’re working on that now. … We knew there were things we could do differently that would be easy. We have 700 employees, and we used to have Styrofoam cups in the offices. They’re not too environmentally friendly. So we provided everyone with a ceramic cup and got rid of all the Styrofoam cups.
Peter Beisser is a regular contributor to Book Business Extra. He previously was the managing editor of several North American Publishing Co. titles and has written extensively about the publishing industry.