Neil Young's "Greendale" Puts 'Green' Production to the Test
Legendary rock musician Neil Young who once sang "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s," on his classic apocalyptic album "After the Gold Rush" continues his environmental advocacy with his newly released book "greendale."
From the content, which focuses on a tragic event that impacts three generations of an American family, to the production process, which relies on recycled paper and soy-based inks, the eco-friendly book is the latest manifestation of Young's "greendale" multimedia project. First an album, followed by a live stage tour and a feature film, "greendale" has now morphed into a companion book highlighting lyrics and stories behind the songs.
Because of Young's eco-friendly demands, "greendale" was no ordinary run-of-the-mill publishing project for its publisher Sanctuary Publishing—a division of Sanctuary Group PLC, a London-based multimedia group with offices in London, New York, Berlin, Houston and Los Angeles. Sanctuary eventually turned to Insync Media, a specialty printer based in Inglewood, Calif., to get the job done.
Gary Gonzales, sales representative at Insync Media, says he had been trying to land more printing gigs within the music industry at the time. One of his prospects was graphic designer Gary Burden of R. Twerk & Co., who was responsible for securing a paper stock to please Young. Burden is a longtime collaborator with Young, and has also designed album covers for Crosby Stills and Nash, The Eagles and The Doors.
Burden first contacted an Italian printing company. But the printer sent him paper samples made of groundwood. "It didn't line up with what Neil wanted to achieve," says Gonzales, which provided the opening he needed to promote his company as a 'green' printing facility that could match Young's eco-friendly desires.
Printers that have exceeded minimum standards set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for all print facilities in the U.S., says Gonzales, are considered 'green.' These exceeded measures include printers that use zero waste in their printing process. All materials that come in are also recycled, which includes all paper substrates, inks and solvents, and packing material that they come in. Plus it means that the printer has converted from a silver nitrate film-based system to an all-digital one.
Young has always been very engaged about the way his creative material is printed, going back to the days of his early albums, where he insisted on using certain paper stocks to give the project the right "feel," according to Gonzales. Therefore, when it came to printing "greendale," Gonzales says, "we needed an eco-friendly paper that would take the story's environmental overtones from the world of fiction to the world of reality. And we wanted it textured, in keeping with the book's homespun feel.
"Because of our knowledge of quality sustainable papers and processes, we were able to win Gary's and Neil's confidence, and they, in turn, influenced the … publisher that we were right for the job," says Gonzales. "It was my job to come back to them with a quality, textured sheet with the environmental composition they were looking for."
He sent samples of Domtar Feltweave, a premium textured sheet with a felt finish and 30-percent post-consumer content, produced by Domtar, a Montreal-based paper manufacturer, among other samples. Gonzales says Feltweave quickly emerged as a top choice.
"Its application in every aspect of 'greendale,' from the dust cover to the text stock, is a unique example of a premium textured paper meeting a highly specialized need," he says. "The fact that it was recycled, able to be precut to a no-waste size, in the right price zone and readily available made it easy to convince us, and the client."
When it finally came time to print, there weren't any challenges in regard to using recycled paper, says Gonzales. "It worked exactly as we intended. There were no jam-ups. It ran beautifully."
He adds that there is a misconception that using recycled paper means sacrificing quality or price. "That isn't the case. Today's recycled sheets are just as cost-competitive as virgin sheets, and they print just as well."
This misconception is one of the reasons why landing the "greendale" project was important to Domtar as well as Insync Media. Gina Pace, group product manager for text, cover and writing papers at Domtar, says that being selected for "greendale" was Domtar's opportunity to demonstrate the quality of its eco-friendly paper.
"Over the past 20 years, [recycled paper has] actually come an incredibly long way. The process that goes into making a recycled sheet has become so refined that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between what is and isn't recycled," says Pace. "More and more people are discovering what's out there, and they're pleasantly surprised."
But finding the right paper to match Young's criteria was not the only challenge. Finding eco-friendly ink was also necessary.
Gonzales says that since using petroleum-based varnish to protect the sheets from scuffing was not an option, his company had to formulate their own fast and hard-drying soy-based inks. Insync Media has its own ink plant just for this purpose. "We experimented until we found the right formula," says Gonzales.
Throughout the printing process, Insync Media relied on wet densitometer readings to make sure the reflective density of individual inks on the wet sheets and the dry sheets would match. Plus, Gonzales was present for all 46 press checks to give it a final human-eye check to make sure that the printing quality was consistent throughout the entire book.
Forty-six press checks might be more than some projects require, but as Gonzales explains, this is what was required for tight quality control, considering the components:
• 286 pages of text, which are 18 16-page signature forms—two sides (sheet-wise),
• two end sheet forms—two sides (sheet-wise),
• the softcover 'cover'—two sides,
• the dust cover for the 'hardcover' version,
• the tip-on "greendale" map for the hardcover version,
• the two different stickers for the outside of the shrink wrap.
Other production hurdles included bindery issues pertaining to gutter bleed, says Gonzales, such as ensuring that the borders on the outer edges of the pages were all aligned accurately and were uniform throughout the book. Plus they wanted to use the same press forms to produce a hardbound book and a paperback version, despite variations in binding specifications for each format.
In the end, Insync Media printed 10,000 soft cover and 3,000 hardcover books on the first press run. Gonzales says that since the "greendale" project was a success for both Young and the publisher, he expects a second print run is forthcoming.
—Brian R. Hook
Brian R. Hook is a freelance journalist who has written for dozens of publishers, including Dow Jones, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times and Kiplinger's in addition to various trade publications, mostly financial, business and technology related titles. He is a former news producer at KTVI-TV in St. Louis.