Booksellers Find Ways to Greener Retailing at ABA Panel

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It was standing room only at ABA's Day of Education "Green Retailing" session on Thursday, May 29 at BookExpo America. Booksellers packed the room to hear panelists Suzy Staubach of University of Connecticut Co-op in Storrs, Connecticut, Natalie Freidberg of All Shades of Green in Los Angeles, and Ferris Kawar, vice president of sustainability at Greenopia, discuss strategies for lowering a retailer's impact on the environment using methods from the simple to the sublime.

L to R: Ferris Kawar, Natalie Freidberg, Suzy Staubach, and Oren Teicher.

With a nod to the overflowing ballroom, session moderator Oren Teicher, ABA's COO, began by noting that interest in all things green continues to grow and is "obviously something people are thinking about, talking about, and writing about."

Being green saves money, noted Kawar, and the bulk of those savings come from reducing energy usage. His shortlist of recommendations for booksellers included installing CFL and T2 light bulbs, installing or cleaning skylights, dusting light bulbs, shutting off computers overnight, unplugging electronics chargers that aren't in use, and installing low-flow toilets and no-flow urinals.

Janet Green of Bookworks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said of the panel, "Some of these basic conservation strategies just make sense. We have 12 computers that we leave on all night. [Kawar] said turn 'em off! I thought, 'Duh, why haven't we been doing that?'"

About the energy that must be used, Kawar said, "One of the most effective things you can do is pay a slight premium, just three to five percent more, to switch to purchasing renewable energy." The switch, which usually can be made by a call to the utility company, means paying "a few dollars extra" each month.

Kawar referred booksellers to the independently researched city guides of green businesses published by Greenopia. Guides currently exist for Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, with many more on the way. And Kawar noted that the various lists of green criteria in the guides can provide a self-diagnosis tool for bookstores.

Recycling is crucial for individuals as well as businesses, and the panelists offered insights on ways to raise recycling rates. Staubach said that, along with UConn Co-op's own extensive recycling, the bookstore positions recycling containers throughout the store for use by customers. Convenience vastly improves the recycling rate, she said.

But eliminating the need to recycle in the first place trumps recycling. Staubach recalled that the bookstore had always provided a pitcher of water for authors at readings. Then, in what is now a commonplace practice for many, the bookstore began giving authors plastic bottles of water. Finally, one author pointed out what a colossal waste it was. "She thanked me for inviting her, and she then harshly criticized me for giving her a bottle of water," said Staubach. The bookstore is now back on track, with the environmentally friendly glass and pitcher.

Using recycled packaging material, especially bags, is a unanimous "must" according to the panelists, but encouraging customers to skip taking a bag is ideal. Staubach described the highly effective UConn Co-op Cares Bag Program: Each time a customer declines a bag, he or she receives a wooden nickel to drop into one of several boxes that represent various green charities. The nickels are tallied up monthly, and each charity receives a donation. Customer response has been very positive, and bag use is down 80 percent, said Staubach.

The program is just what bookseller Julie Summerfield of Haverford College Bookstore in Haverford, Pennsylvania, was looking for. "I work at a college bookstore like Suzy, and one of my big goals has been to cut back on bags, so I wanted to hear how she was able to do that. I loved her Co-op Cares Bag Program."

Using a little creativity can go a long way in helping reduce a business' impact on the environment, said All Shades of Green's Freidberg. She then told booksellers how a "living wall" of plants on the south-facing side of her building "helps keep down the amount of heat and reduces air conditioning costs." All Shades of Green also created a garden that absorbs and filters storm runoff from the parking lot, as well as a rain catchment system, which collects water for the garden. (The All Shades of Green Read blog offers more about the parking lot makeover.)

To augment a bookstore's own green program, Freidberg recommended booksellers ask vendors to use both less, and recycled, packing materials. Kawar suggested initiating an incentive program for staff members who use eco-friendly transportation, as well as allowing some telecommuting if possible. "You can offer a day off for every 100 days that someone walks, bikes, or carpools to work," he said. "It makes for happy employees, and it really lowers the store's footprint."

For more ideas on Green Retailing, check out the downloadable Day of Education session handout; "The Top 10 Green Retailing Guide" by The Stella Group, Ltd.; and past articles from Bookselling This Week. --Karen Schechner