Book business turning green

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The latest report about the publishing industry doesn’t compile sales figures, track the market for fiction or lament the future of reading. It does tell a great deal about books -- not what they say but what they’re made of.

“Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts” is an 86-page summary, printed on 50% post-consumer recycled paper and full of charts about fiber, endangered forests and carbon footprints. The news: The book world, which uses up more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year, is steadily, if not entirely, finding ways to make production greener.

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Tyson Miller, founder and director of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit program which has worked extensively with publishers on environmental issues. “We’re seeing a groundswell of momentum and real measurable progress.”


Commercially, publishers have certainly discovered the benefits of green, with bestsellers including Deirdre Imus’ “Green This!” and Al Gore’s companion guide to the Academy Award-winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Environmental themes can be found in novels, children’s stories and business books.

But reading books is healthier than making them. The climate impact survey, released this month and co-commissioned by Green Press and the nonprofit Book Industry Study Group, offers a mixed picture about industry practices.

There is great support in theory for going greener, but results are uneven. Just over half of publishers, for instance, have set specific goals for increasing use of recycled paper. About 60% have a formal environmental policy or are in the process of completing one.

Declining to name any specific companies, Miller said “the other 40% just aren’t taking the issue seriously or they aren’t willing to pay a penny more to move in the right direction. But,” he added, “critical mass has no doubt been reached and my sense is that the majority of those publishers that aren’t acting will step up and join their peers in this effort.”

Seventy-six publishers, representing just less than half of the market, participated in the study, along with 13 printers (about 25%) and six paper mills (about 17%).

A turning point came in 2006 when Random House Inc. said that it would increase its use of recycled paper, saving more than 500,000 trees a year.


Virtually all major publishers have taken some steps. Hyperion switched to soy-based ink. Penguin Group (USA) uses wind power. And Scholastic Inc. printed the deluxe edition of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on 100% post-consumer waste fiber. The Random House Publishing Group is experimenting with sending books online to media outlets.