The publishing industry’s intensified movement toward going “green” was highlighted by recent reports from three major trade groups—the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (PIA/GATF).
In this column, I summarize the major features of each of these reports, as well as note a bit of contention on some of the findings, that point to the why and how of going “green” for publishers and book printers. (For an extensive and very useful backgrounder, check out the article “The Green Team,” by James Sturdivant, in Book Business, February 2008, also available on BookBusinessMag.com).
Central to our industry’s business model is our reliance on trees for everything from printed pages to shipping cartons. This model has been assessed and critiqued by the environmental movement for its negative climate impact. Consequently, a number of market-based initiatives have emerged in recent years to provide guidance to the industry.
AAP’s Paper Issues Working Group (PIWOG)
PIWOG was established in June 2005 to provide AAP members with information and “a forum to discuss environmental issues relating to the production of paper used in books.” In February, it issued the “AAP Handbook on Book Paper and the Environment” (available for download at Publishers.org/main/Conferences/conf_Pub_01.htm).
The report reviews key issues, starting with the roughly 4 percent of the 23 million tons of paper made for printing and writing that went into book paper in 2006. It defines the term “recycled” and requirements for crediting the percentages of recycled fiber used in printing a book. It also addresses definitions and uses of post-consumer, pre-consumer and recovered waste, and classification of book returns.
The issue of how to classify and account for industry recovery and sustainability is significant in grading the effectiveness of industry efforts. Therefore, sources and production of paper and sustainable forest practices are explored, and certification programs are described in this 61-page report. It provides considerable background on the whole process of paper making and forest management, and offers publishers guidance on policy and practice.
The BISG/Green Press Initiative (GPI) Report
The BISG Environmental Committee was formed in 2007 to provide oversight for a study conducted jointly by BISG and GPI, an environmental advocacy organization. Findings from the study, “Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry,” were announced at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo in March, when a full report was made available to the industry. (The report is available [$95 for BISG members and $195 for nonmembers] at BISG.org/publications/index.html).
The report opens with the results of an industry survey on adoption of environmentally friendly practices by publishers, retailers, distributors, printers and paper mills, conducted by its research outsource, the Borealis Centre for Environment and Trade Research. However, the larger part of the report concerns itself with data and analysis of the climate impact and carbon footprint of the book industry, endangered-forest risk assessment, and recommendations and case studies for improving environmental performance.
A variety of charts show levels of industry participation in environmental programs, including an increase from 2.5 percent to 13.3 percent in usage of post-consumer recycled content in book papers from 2004 to 2007, and a preference by 94 percent of respondents for certification by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Although only 104 responses were received from the 1,000 stakeholders polled, the publishers who responded represented 45 percent of market share by revenue. As BISG Executive Director Michael Healy observed, however, “the report is only a first step. More work is needed to complete the picture.”
A major finding in the report shows that the industry emits a net 12.4 million metric tons of carbon, or 8.85 pounds per book, each year.
Bill Upton, president of printer Malloy Inc.—who is a member of BISG’s Environmental Committee and was a contributor to the BISG/GPI report—supports many of the report’s findings and recommendations. He does not, however, support the methodology used to calculate the industry’s carbon footprint. He has prepared a 17-page analysis (found at Malloy.com/CarbonAnalysis) that suggests that when forest regrowth and replenishment are taken into account, the estimated carbon footprint would be reduced to 4.8 million metric tons (or 3.43 pounds per book each year).
The Sustainable Green Printing Partnership
The Sustainable Green Printing (SGP) Partnership is self-described as “an independent, third-party registration organization formed in June 2007 as a collaboration between PIA/GATF, Flexographic Technical Association and Specialty Graphic Imaging Association with the primary goals of defining sustainable ‘green’ printing and identifying steps that help the printing industry establish sustainable (or ‘green’) manufacturing and business practices.”
The partnership will keep a national registry of SGP printers on its Web site (SGPPartnership.org). Its beta-test registration program is expected to begin this spring after a comment period on the proposed criteria. Initially, the program will be open to any printer, whether or not they are members of the three associations.
Moving Forward, Thoughtfully
When Tyson Miller founded GPI in 2001, demand from book publishers for recycled paper or forest certification was negligible in practice and not much greater in lip service. Miller jump-started a marketplace solution where there was an empty space. The GPI’s “Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use,” developed in collaboration with industry stakeholders including publishers, printers and paper companies, enabled enough publishers to sign on to a public commitment that, in turn, it provided heightened visibility for the mills and printers to promote the use of recycled paper, and incentives for more production managers and print buyers to specify recycled papers.
As I examined the documentation now available to us in the reports noted in this column and the resources they cite, two cautionary notes came to mind:
• We need to be careful that we do not begin to screen data that supports our premise to the exclusion of data that may suggest other conclusions or that would provide context that sets the publishing industry in the broader industrial spectrum. I believe Bill Upton’s paper, mentioned previously, supports this caution.
• A process of certification and audit of necessity creates its own procedural burdens, bureaucracies and paperwork. Large corporations may be in a position to allocate staff time to understand and satisfy these compliance requirements. Smaller publishers and printers may need to be cut some slack in this area (though many small publishers have been at the forefront of the “green” movement).
The AAP and BISG/GPI reports recommend strategies and practical steps any publisher can initiate. GPI reports that a Book Industry Environmental Council is being developed to provide a forum for tracking execution of environmental strategies, such as:
1. Reduce consumption and waste industrywide by addressing overprinting, reduction of returns, recycling and pulping of unsold books.
2. Monitor your office energy use, and explore “green” options in shipping.
3. Manage your print quantities to reduce returns. Incorporate demand printing wherever feasible.
4. Standardize your trim sizes and paper grades, and reduce basis weights.
5. Question your paper suppliers about their recycled-paper percentages and stocking practices, and ask for samples and specifications.
As a matter of course, every book launch and budget should incorporate resource utilization as another item on the agenda. It won’t take too long to get used to it as another checklist item. Companies that practice management by objectives, or perform annual personnel reviews, can also easily incorporate environmental-resource consciousness as part of the process.
Looking back to when John Muir called for the preservation of our wilderness in 1890, so much defined by forests, rivers, mountains and canyons, we can mark when the publishing industry was forever bound to the environmental fortunes of these organic resources that have so enriched our nation. Now, the carefree days may be behind us—but the rewards of the business of books still lie ahead as it connects to a “greener” future.
Eugene G. Schwartz is a regular contributor to Book Business. He is a publishing industry analyst, writer and editor-at-large for Foreword Magazine. A former PMA board member, he is president of Consortium House, a management and business consultancy to publishers.
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.