Green Press Initiative Sets Goals to Improve Book Industry's Ecological Footprint

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Many bookstores have gone green both in their title selection and store practices, but what about the environmental impact of the books themselves? Paper shipments to U.S. publishers each year are estimated to average 1.6 million tons, equaling about 30 million trees. The nonprofit Green Press Initiative (GPI) is working with publishers, authors, and other industry stakeholders to change paper use to better conserve natural resources and preserve endangered forests. Towards that goal, GPI has developed a "Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use" for publishers to pledge their commitment to "improving the social and ecological footprint of the book industry."

The Initiative, which is based in Asheville, North Carolina, was founded in 2001. Since then, its efforts have spurred a number of conservation innovations within the publishing industry, and the number of publishers signed on to the "Treatise on Responsible Paper Use" has grown exponentially.

"There are 180 publishers, printers, and mills who either have signed the treatise and/or taken the next step, which is to develop an internal paper policy with goals and targets in line with those of the treatise," said Erin Johnson, associate director of the Green Press Initiative. "In the past year and a half, Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster, three of the largest and most well-known publishers in the world, have implemented their own environmental policies."

The treatise serves as more than an outline of best practices. "The point of the treatise and policies is to reduce impacts," said Johnson. "For example, when the goals of the treatise are realized, the book sector will conserve the equivalent of over eight million trees and one billion pounds of greenhouse gases each year. In the near future, we will also begin to match the shifts in paper use to impacts in the forests."

Johnson also noted that the Book Industry Study Group and GPI will jointly release a brand-new "Environmental Trends Report" in March 2008. The study will outline carbon footprint measurements for books, as well as the footprint for their shipment.

Pointing to the significant increase in the use of recycled fiber, Johnson said, "We have reached about 40 percent of the publisher market-share formally committed and taking measurable steps to advance environmental transformations. Research findings indicate positive trends-with a six-fold increase in the use of recycled fiber in the past three years from approximately 2.5 percent to 13.3 percent by reporting mills, in addition to 94 percent of publishers and printers setting targets for FSC certified paper use."

Booksellers can participate in improving the book industry's effects on the environment in a number of ways, said Johnson. Besides becoming familiar with the "Treatise on Responsible Paper Use," she suggested that they highlight titles that were responsibly produced. She cited efforts by Portland, Oregon's Powell's, which created a "green aisle" to include those titles that follow the environmentally sensitive paper-use guidelines established by GPI. Johnson also recommended GPI's various educational programming, including two sessions that will take place at BookExpo America this spring (dates and times to be announced):

  • Environmental Trends: Where Does the U.S. Book Industry Stand Today?
    This session will explore findings from the groundbreaking and recently released "Environmental Trends" report. Topics covered will include the industry's calculated carbon footprint, trends in environmental policies, three-year shifts in recycled fiber use, the industry's connection to Endangered Forests, best practice recommendations, and more.
  • Climate Change and the Book Industry
    Many U.S. publishers, large and small, are responding to environmental challenges in innovative and successful ways. This session will focus on these innovations and how leading industry pioneers have conducted their own carbon audits, calculated the average carbon output from the lifecycle of a book, and taken simple steps to reduce climate impacts, use renewable energy, and more.

AAP Offers "Handbook on Book Paper and the Environment"

Another initiative to help reduce the ecological footprint of the book industry is led by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which has created a "Handbook on Book Paper and the Environment," a practical guide that it hopes will assist publishers in navigating issues relating to the development of environmental sustainability practices within the book publishing industry.

Developed by AAP's Paper Issues Working Group, the handbook is based on more than two years of consultations and discussions with organizations representing a broad spectrum of interests, including environmental advocacy groups, forest certification and standards bodies, environmental industry consortiums and associations, economists, paper mills, and others, covering a host of governmental, commercial, and environmental issues as they relate to book paper production and the environment.

The handbook is intended as an informational tool for book production professionals, their staff, and their executive management who are interested in creating workable independent sustainability programs, providing up-to-date information to assist in efforts to balance economic and ecologic realities.

"Handbook on Book Paper and the Environment" and an Executive Summary are available on AAP's website or by request to AAP's Tina Jordan (tjordan@publishers.org). Requests for additional information about the handbook or the Paper Issues Working Group should be addressed to Jordan or Ed McCoyd (emccoyd@publishers.org).

Read more about booksellers' and publishers' efforts to become more environmentally friendly. --Karen Schechner