Momentum Building for Green Books
The U.S. book publishing industry consumed approximately 1.1 million tons of book paper in the year 2000. That required cutting down an estimated 25 million trees.
Figures for 2001, published in 2002 by the American Forest and Paper Association, report 914,000 tons of paper were used for U.S. book publishing. Trees required to meet demand: 19 million.
Yet the average recycled content level (by fiber weight) across printing and writing grades is only 5%. The disparity between the ecological impact of publishing versus the meager levels of recovered materials in paper is driving responsible publishers to be part of the solution, instead of the problem.
To date, 35 progressive U.S. book publishers have signed formal commitments to maximize their use of post-consumer recycled paper, and eliminate all use of paper that contains fiber from endangered forests.
Recently some 25 publishers, printers, suppliers, and manufacturers met in New York to explore how to inspire environmental innovation within the industry. The meeting was coordinated by the Green Press Initiative, a non-profit program, and was a successful first step.
Some of the participating companies included Person (parent to Penguin Patna), Weyerhaeuser, R. R. Donnelley, Oxford University Press, New Leaf Paper, Lantern Books, Lindenmeyr, the Association of American Publishers, Midland Paper, Workman Publishing, Maple Vail Book Manufacturing, Fraser Papers.
Representatives from the Markets Initiative, a Canadian non-profit environmental group, were also on hand. They spoke about how paper consumption is affecting Canadian frontier forests, and how Canadian publishers are successfully using recycled papers that are free of endangered or ancient forest fiber.
The facts are sobering. In the Canadian Boreal forest, over 65% of the trees cut are used to make paper. In the temperate rainforests of British Columbia, over 40% of trees cut are used to make paper.
These are unhealthy and unsustainable rates of forest consumption, which prompted the Markets Initiative to motivate Canadian publishers to change their practices. Their efforts included asking publishers to support a common vision for preservation, and to implement policies consistent with that vision.
They pointed out that companies such as Home Depot, Kinkos, and Ikea have successfully implemented environmentally conscious policies, and challenged book publishers to do the same.
So far 35 Canadian publishers have signed commitments to phase out their use of papers made with endangered and ancient forest fiber, and to maximize use of post-consumer recycled paper.
As a result, in the last 24 months, 4 million books have been printed on paper that's "ancient forest friendly". This includes the most recent printing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
McClelland and Stewart, Harry Potter's Canadian publisher, was present at the New York meeting. Their representatives discussed how nearly all of their titles are now printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper, with chlorine-free processing, at complete cost parity compared to virgin fiber paper.
One of the participants asked why the focus on book publishing when it represents such a small portion of the paper market? The answer is threefold:
1 Twenty-five million trees represent a significant and unnecessary depletion of natural resources to supply fiber for book paper. In many cases, post-consumer recycled paper can be just as cost-effective as virgin paper for books, yet without the negative environmental impact. As such, the effort to educate and motivate publishers is warranted.
2 A random survey of 1,800 North American readers found 80% saying they would like book publishers to implement policies that preserve endangered forests. Fully 84% of readers said they'd be willing to pay more for environmentally friendly books.
3 This initiative is part of a broader movement to catalyze socially and ecologically responsible paper production and consumption. There are now multiple organizations with programs in place that focus on inspiring innovation within the catalogue, magazine, copy paper, and newsprint sectors.
President Kennedy challenged U.S. citizens and industry with these words on May 25, 1961: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
Skeptics thought it was a Quixotic quest. Eight years later, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin planted an American flag on the surface of the moon.
It cost $9 billion in U.S. dollars, adjusted for inflation. But the social, economic, technological, and political impacts of that journey are still reverberating. (NASA is planning another moon shot for 2009, and there is serious talk about establishing the first moon colony.)
Ultimately, 12 U.S. astronauts made the trip to the moon. The people who built the U.S. space program didn't achieve their historic successes by looking skyward and saying "we can't do it; it's too far away."
They succeeded because they believed the benefits were worth striving for and investing in. They believed the mission requirements, while daunting, could be achieved through invention, innovation, and teamwork. They were right.
This is the perspective we're asking book publishers to adopt. As a next step, the Green Press Initiative is coordinating an industry working group to develop a blueprint for transformation, and to explore strategies for overcoming barriers.
With proper planning, patience, and stakeholder participation (read: teamwork), this industry transformation will succeed. This success will serve as a model for other publishing sectors, bolstering the broader goals of transformation within the overall paper production and consumption system.
If you would like to participate in the working group, contact Erin Johnson at Erin@GreenPressInitiative.org.
Tyson Miller is founder and director of the Green Press Initiative. He can be reached at Miller@GreenPressInitiative.org.