green book review

Eco-Libris coverage of the 'Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts' report


Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry - 3-part coverage of the report

'Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry' is probably the most important report that was published recently on the environmental impacts of the book publishing industry. This 86-page report, published on March 2008, was prepared by The Green Press Initiative (GPI) and The Book Industry Study Group (BISG).

Eco-Libris covered this report in a series of three articles, including an introduction, a review of the report and an interview with Tyson Miller, one of the people who led the work on the report. All the three parts were gathered into this page. We hope you enjoy them!

If you want to order the report, you can do it on GPI and BISG websites. A summary of findings is available on GPI's website.

Part 1 - Introduction

This is a very exciting week for the book industry and anyone involved in the efforts to green it up. The reason? 'Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry' has been published. This 86-page report was prepared by The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and The Green Press Initiative (GPI) (with support from a number of industry sponsors). 76 publishers, representing just under half of the market, participated in the study, along with 13 printers (about 25 percent) and 6 paper mills (about 17 percent).

Why is this report so important? because this is an up to date analysis of the industry's ecological footprint. This is the most detailed survey someone has done for years to receive a clear picture of the book publishing industry's environmental impacts.

These measurements will help not only to know better where the industry is standing now, but also to better plan how to move forward and green up the industry as well as to evaluate the progress later on. In one word: Benchmark. Or as BISG describes the report on its website - "a benchmarking survey which will establish a baseline for tracking climate impacts and progress by the U.S. book industry in environmental improvements."

The report also gives us a better perspective on the steps taken by few of the big publishers, such as Simon and Schuster, Random House and others in the last two years, and how much at all is already done within the industry both on the level of creating green policies and greening up the operations.

Here are few highlights from the report that were published by AP on their article 'Report: Book publishing industry getting greener':

- The book world (in the U.S.) uses up more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year.

- Just over half of publishers have set specific goals for increasing use of recycled paper. About 60 percent have a formal environmental policy or are in the process of completing one.

- Around 150 publishers, along with 10 printers and four paper manufacturers, have backed a treatise (initiated by GPI) supporting recycled paper and fiber from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

This introduction was originally posted at the Eco-Libris blog.


Part 2 - Review of the report

Firstly, I would like to give big kudos to both to The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and The Green Press Initiative (GPI) for the report. I enjoyed reading it and I found it thorough, well structured, substantial and very clear. Since the 86-page report is all about findings from the book industry, I would like to share with you the findings I found the most important in the report.

1. What's responsible for the biggest part of the book industry's carbon footprint? The answer is very clear from the report: forest and forest harvest impacts with 62.7% share of total carbon emissions. Second is paper production at the mills with 22.4% share.

The conclusion is very simple - the paper consumed for the production of books (1.6 million metric tons in 2006) is the main responsible for the industry's carbon footprint of 12.4 million metric tons or 8.85 lbs. of carbon dioxide per a book (2006 figures).

The report puts its finger on many environmental issues associated with the life cycle of books - from transportation and energy consumption by publishers and retailers to the huge amount of books that are printed but are unsold (more than 1 billion books in 2006!) and then are either returned for pulping or reach landfills. But it is very clear that the main environmental issue, when it comes to the industry's carbon footprint, is the amount of carbon taken from the forest when the trees are cut down for the production of paper. Any change in the carbon footprint of the industry should start right there.

2. The sources of paper and Endangered Forests: The report shows that the sources of paper used for the U.S. book industry are all over the world. The paper is sourced from the U.S., Canada, parts of Asia and Europe, and in addition wood chips, pulp and roundwood that are used by paper mills in these areas come from South America (Chile for example), Tasmania (Australia) and Indonesia.

One main problem with the use of forests in these areas as source of paper is that in many of these areas, trees are cut down in Endangered Forests, which results in significant environmental impacts. One result of this process is the conversion of reach ecosystems in these areas into tree plantations, which means severe damage to biodiversity, fundamental changes and losses in natural systems, severe impact on species, etc.

Two examples for such areas outside the U.S. are the "interior temperate rainforest" in British Colombia, Canada and the native siempre verde forests of Chile. In the U.S., a good example is the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forest of the Southeastern United States. Unfortunately, it seems that though the use of FSC-certified paper becomes more popular (though as you can read later, this is not totally clear from 2007 data), too little is done to protect these natural resources from the exploitation of industries, including the paper industry.

3. Some increase in the use of post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled paper: In the report it is estimated that the percentage of recycled paper in books was 5% in 2006, which is no different than previous data, but it also presents few more indicators that show that this assumption might be a bit conservative and the actual percentage might be higher.

For example, 13 printers who took part in the survey, reported on increase in the use of PCW recycled paper from 2,038 short tons in 2004 to 19,145 short tons in 2006. Also, the six mills that participated in the survey reported on increase in recycled content from 2.4% in 2004 to 13.3% in 2007. Of course, these data may be biased and hence the caution of the report, but nevertheless it seems that there is a growth in the use of PCW recycled paper, not only in absolute numbers, but also relatively to the total use of paper.

4. More policies, but not enough quantitative targets: Many publishers, printers and other companies in the book industry are developing or have developed environmental policies (60% of the companies responded to the survey). The Green Press Initiative Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use that was already endorsed by 150 publishers, is being used as a benchmark by many others in the industry.

This is good news. The problem is that some of the issues that these policies refer to lack quantitative targets, which are very crucial to the successful implementation of these policies (just think of the difference between saying 'I'll lose some weight this year' and 'I'll lose 10 pounds this year').

For example, only 11% of the companies that replied to the survey said they have quantitative targets for limiting the sourcing of fiber from Endangered Forests or High Conservation Value Forests. Only 14% have policies that advocate reduction of paper consumption. The only exception is with the increased use of recycled paper - 54% have quantitative targets.

5. Certified paper use: The report explains that due to partial reporting for 2007, total increases in certified paper use cannot be reliably calculated. Nevertheless, four of the six mills that replied to the survey reported on an increase in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper for books. The FSC certification is also the most preferred certification program on publishers and printers - 94% of the publishers that replied to the survey chose it as their preferred certification program (SFI reached the second place with 35%).

The report also brings few stories of publishers mainly that went through a process of green changes in the last couple of years, such as Random House, Scholastic, Lantern Books and others. These stories as well as the data and the analysis in the report are evidence of the change that is going over the book industry. It is only the beginning, but it's definitely there. Now the question is more and more not when or if the change will happen, but how long it will take.

All in all the report is very extensive, but there are still few points that I wanted to learn more about and I hope to see in the next report:

- There was no reference to the growing e-book industry. True it is still a fraction of the whole book industry, but it has the potential to grow fast with the last developments (Kindle for example), and we see more and more publishers that are experimenting with publishing digital versions of new titles. I think it's important to evaluate the environmental impacts of e-books and analyze whether or not e-book can be considered a green alternative.

- I also hope to have comparative data on the book industry in other areas such as Europe. Is the U.S. book industry in better or worst position compared to its European equivalent? are there any lessons it can learn from the experience of others? I think it would be interesting to get that perspective.

- What are the main reasons that stop publishers and other companies to go green? is it lack of supply? financial reasons? lack of green vision? The report brings a detailed list of the primary challenges in the process of going green in the book industry. What I would like is to learn more on the significance of each one of these obstacles that stop the industry from moving faster. Similar to the way the carbon footprint is analyzed by segments to see which is more significant in order to know where the focus should be, these obstacles can be further analyzed to learn which obstacles should be dealt firstly.

This review was originally posted at the Eco-Libris blog.


Part 3 - An interview with Tyson Miller, the Founder and Director of the Green Press Initiative (GPI)

Tyson Miller is the Founder and Director of the Green Press Initiative (GPI). Not only that Tyson Miller is one of the people who led the work on the report, but he is also one of the most knowledgeable people about the issues brought up in the report. In the last seven years he directs the Green Press Initiative (which he also founded) – a program which is catalyzing environmentally responsible book publishing in the U.S. He initiated the Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use, which more than 150 publishers have signed so far, and is also involved in the efforts of big publishers, such as Simon & Schuster and Scholastic, to develop green policies.

Therefore, I was very happy for the opportunity to have this interview with Mr. Miller, shedding more light on the report and its implications. I hope you'll enjoy it as well!

Can you tell us about the work on the report - how many people were involved, who led it, how much time it took, etc. ?

It took about 9 months and was led primarily by BISG, GPI and our research partner, the Borealis Centre for Environment and Trade Research. We also were very fortunate to have a generous group of report sponsors and a diverse committee of industry stakeholders to help guide the process.

Over 1,000 constituents involved in all segments of the book industry were invited to take part in the survey that was the base for the report. Eventually 104 responded. Were you satisfied with this response rate?

I would have been happier with better participation...but it was the first effort and we were asking for a lot in terms of the time commitment to answer all of the questions. I'm confident that future studies will have a higher participation rate. Nevertheless, the data gathered accurately reflects trends and for publishers, at least, we had 45% of market share responding.

How difficult was the calculation of the book industry's carbon footprint?

Quite a challenge, but our findings were in line with the findings of several large publishers that have done their own carbon audits. I was surprised to see that the CO2 equivalent emissions connected to paper represented over 70% of the industry's emissions. I figured transportation would have had more of an impact.

You report that the average use of PCW recycled paper is 5% - what do you see as the main obstacle that currently stops publishers from using more PCW recycled paper?

We had to use the 5% figure as an estimate for the printing and writing sector. The actual trend for recycled fiber at the mill level was over 13% and had jumped sixfold from just 2.5% a few years prior. But since we only had 17% of mills reporting, we couldn't use the figure. My guestimation is that the industry is likely at about 15% recycled fiber. Either way, the biggest hurdle is cost and with increasing demand and a lack of corresponding infrastructure development, costs could rise.

How many of the trees cut down for the production of books are grown in tree plantations? what can done to stop the conversion of rich ecosystems into tree plantations?

Most of the world’s paper supply, about 71 percent, is not made from timber harvested at tree farms but from forest-harvested timber, from regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. (Toward a Sustainable Paper Cycle: An Independent Study on the Sustainability of the Pulp and Paper Industry, 1996)

Do you think that the effort to go green in the industry should be solely voluntary, or it might be that we need legislation to move faster, for example, a legislation that will tax paper sourced from non-sustainable sources?

I think that market transformations are inherently voluntary initiatives and are moving along at a pace quite quickly without legislation. Legislation could be useful for big-picture objectives like carbon-reduction emission reduction targets across all sectors.

What is the reason that e-books weren't part of the report and is there any plan to further explore the environmental impacts of e-books in the next reports?

In order to address e-books effectively, I'd need to look at a lifecycle comparison that analyzes the impacts of e-readers vs. paper as a medium. I do hope that we can explore much more in-depth in future iterations.

How's the U.S. book industry doing in comparison with the European book industry?

I haven't seen a benchmarking analysis from Europe...but I'd say we're on par or ahead.

What's the most important lesson we can learn from the report?

Likely that the emissions associated with paper constitutes approximately 70% of the industry's carbon footprint and also that the industry is really meaning making meaningful progress - a sixfold increase in recycled fiber at the mill level over the past fours years. I also found it telling that such a significant portion of surveyed companies had environmental policies that are completed or intended.

This report will definitely become an important benchmark in the industry. When we can expect the next report?

Hopefully we can track a reduced number of metrics annually.

What's next? are there any planned actions on an industry scale?

More of the same - we'll keep plugging away and supporting the leaders and those that aren't quite ready to lead.

I read in the report that there's a Book Industry Environmental Council in development - can you tell us more about it?

We felt that it would be great to have industry leaders helping to inform important priorities such as the development of a standardized tracking mechanism for monitoring environmental indicators and progress, determining parameters and protocols for reducing the industry's carbon footprint, guiding future revisions to the Treatise, and developing standards for an on-product environmental label.

This interview was originally posted at the Eco-Libris blog.


Articles from the media on the report:

1. GPI's Tyson Miller Offers Insights on Report Detailing Book Industry Environmental Efforts, Bookselling This Week, Karen Schechner, April 16, 2008

2. Toward a Greener Future, Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot, March 10, 2008

3. Pulp fact: Books publishing gets greener,, Associated Press, March 10, 2008

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