Publishers’ environmental efforts gained significant momentum in the mid-2000s, as companies large and small began to explore and implement practices to lower their carbon footprint. Business challenges caused by the financial crisis in 2008 and issues raised by the growth of digital published have kept environmental concerns from making headlines in recent years, but as another Earth Day approaches (April 22), publishers say their commitment to the environment remains as strong as ever.

Hachette Book Group has been one of the leaders in the environmental area. CEO Michael Pietsch notes that, for parent company Hachette Livre, social and environmental concerns are “core values” and that for HBG, “protection of the environment is an important objective for us, and I look forward to continued improvement.”

At the end of 2012, HBG set new green goals for the 2013–2016 period; in 2013 the company made progress on a number of fronts. The percentage of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper used by the company rose to 84% from 80% in 2012 and the publisher hopes to get to 90% by 2016. Its use of recycled fiber increased from 8% to 10% and it hopes to reach 20% by 2016. The company also expects to make itself greener when it moves to its new New York City headquarters since its new digs on Sixth Ave is an LEED Silver Certificate building.

Noting that, as a children’s book publisher, Scholastic “still publishes lots of ink on paper books,” company spokesperson Kyle Good says the publisher continues to look for ways to improve its paper procurement policies as one way to leave a cleaner environment for children. In 2012, 68.2% of Scholastic’s paper purchases were for FSC-certified paper, well above the 30% goal the company had set for itself in 2008. Scholastic, along with most of the rest of the industry, has had a more difficult time achieving targets for upping the use of recycled paper. The company was unable to meet its goal of having recycled paper account for 25% of its purchases in 2012, and moved its 25% target to 2015.

Scholastic’s inability to hit the 25% goal, “was not for a lack of trying,’ says Lisa Serra, senior director, corporate paper procurement, at the company. She cites a number of reasons why Scholastic couldn’t hit the original target, including the closing of de-inking facilities and mills that manufacture recycled paper. Another problem has been the high demand for recycled paper in China that has drained its availability for use in creating recycled paper in the U.S. “2012 Book Industry Environmental Trends,” a report just released by the Book Industry Environmental Council, shows that the average amount of recycled fiber content used in book production in 2012 was just over 20% after getting close to 25% in 2009. In addition to the closing of plants and higher demand of recycled paper from China, BIEC points to increase use of single-stream recycling programs in many communities as another obstacle in increasing the availability of recycled paper. Since single-stream programs allow people to mix all their recyclables together, the quality of the recovered paper is often not good enough to be used in recycled book papers.

The BIEC report, however, included some encouraging news about publishers’ use of FSC-certified paper, which rose to 47% of paper used by 13 paper manufacturers that participated in BIEC’s most recent survey from about 10% in 2007. The percentage of certified paper usage could continue to rise in the years ahead as the amount of book papers that come from certified forests (either by FSC or the Sustainable Forest Initiative) has risen sharply in recent years to 73% in the 2012 survey from 48% in 2009. The increase in certified paper use combined with a 48% reduction in overall paper use between 2006 and 2012 “means that the industry is relying less on uncertified virgin paper than ever before,” the report states. Todd Pollak, program manager for the Green Press Initiative which helped publish the report, calls the increase in the amount of FSC-certified paper available to publishers “a very positive sign,” but notes that finding solutions to reverse the decline in the use of recycled paper “should be a top environmental priority for the book industry.”

The increase in the use of certified paper is no accident, publishers say, but rather the result of their insistence that paper manufacturers source more product from FSC forests. “We pushed the mills to use more certified paper and they have taken our demand seriously,” says Serra. Macmillan CEO John Sargent says the mills Macmillan works with are also reacting to pressure from it and other publishers. In Macmillan’s case, the publisher is demanding that mills operate in the most energy-efficient way possible. Mills that use more renewable sources of energy, such as hydropower, “will be rewarded,” Sargent says, while mills relying on coal-fired plants will be penalized. Macmillan has made solid progress in reducing its carbon footprint and the company achieved carbon neutrality in 2013. Macmillan reduced its own carbon emissions by 40% and bought 50,000 metric tons of carbon offsets, explains Bill Barry who has been consulting with Macmillan on environmental issues for over two years. Macmillan’s goal is to reduce its own carbon output by 65% by 2020. To guard against any sense of complacency in its environmental efforts, in February Macmillan hired Lisa Williams as manager of sustainability initiatives to work on both external and internal sustainability efforts. Macmillan is also rolling out the company’s environmental policy to all of its trade operations across the globe, a move that Sargent acknowledges will be “complex.”

HarperCollins has also taken steps in the last 12 months to make its environmental policies a global effort, and has set a target of having 90% of its paper used in 2015 to have chain-of-custody certification (either FSC or SFI). Larry Nevins, executive v-p, operations, says HC hit its 2013 environmental goals, which included requiring that 80% of paper purchased by HC for use by printers in the states have chain-of-custody certification, and 95% of paper used by HC US children’s and adult books that are printed in Asia to be FSC certified. Among its 2014 projects are testing to ensure that the fiber used in paper manufacturing conforms to certification standards. Nevins says that while HC’s environmental programs have taken time and money, the company will continue to work to minimize its impact on the environment.

Stuart Applebaum, spokesman for the country’s largest trade house, Penguin Random House, says “harmonizing” Penguin and RH’s green philosophies is an important part of the integration process of the two companies. Applebaum notes that PRH is working with its vendors across production, operations, and fulfillment “to ensure service and support are eco-managed properly and appropriately.”

Improving its environmental practices is still a priority at Simon & Schuster, and the company upped its use of FSC-certified paper in 2013. Company spokesperson Adam Rothberg says S&S has had a more difficult time on the recycled paper front. In addition to recycled paper being harder to obtain, the decrease in unit sales of mass market paperbacks—where most publishers used recycled paper—has lowered the amount of recycled paper used by S&S. Rothberg also notes that in order to improve the quality of print books as a way to make them stand out from digital editions, recycled paper is often not good enough to use in the production of hardcovers. Aside from its paper efforts, S&S, says Rothberg, has done other things to lessen its impact on the environment. He points to S&S’s move to paperless royalty statements, a shift estimated to save one million sheets of copier paper a year.

It’s not just the large publishers who are working to lower their impact on the environment. PW interviews with a number of independent presses, many of whom publish titles about environmental issues, are deeply engaged in sustainable business practices. They, too, are using FSC-certified paper to print books, printing those books in North America, and digitizing the book production process. They’re also being proactive in recycling waste. Lerner Publishing Group, for instance, which owns its own bindery, recycled 690,000 lbs. of paper last year just from the trimmings taken from press sheets during the binding process.

New Society Publishers, which has published books about ecological sustainability for more than a quarter-century, encourages endorsers and reviewers to accept digital ARCs. The British Columbia–based company has been publishing 100% of its releases on FSC-certified, post-consumer-waste paper for more than a decade. Each New Society release contains a detailed “eco-audit” for both print books and e-books, indicating the ecological impact of its production. E-books also contain information about responsible recycling of electronic devices.

The eco-audit is something that Chelsea Green also has done for many years, explains communications director Shay Totten. Chelsea Green, which is located in White River Junction, Vt., is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and “has been working on [sustainability] issues long before there was a Green Press Initiative,” says Totten. All paper used to print books is FSC-certified and at least 30% PCW; one 2014 release, Hemp Bound, was printed on 100% PCW paper, as printing it on paper made from hemp was not feasible. The press has dramatically cut down on returns and shipping costs by doing its own fulfillment and also by selling books on a nonreturnable basis at deep discounts. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment, Totten says: Chelsea Green contracts with U.S. printers (and one Canadian), including Thomson-Shore which, like Chelsea Green, is an employee-owned company.

Not only is Fulcrum Publishing in Golden, Colo., using FSC-certified paper, printing locally, and being more strategic in shipping printed materials, it is also aggressively cutting back on work product shipments with more digital proofing and uploads. Fulcrum uses Edelweiss to send digital ARCs to reviewers and and Microsoft’s Sharepoint collaboration software to share work product with authors and illustrators. Fulcrum also offers employees a work-from-home option on a part-time basis and has cut back significantly on employee travel with more conference calls and Skyping. These measures, marketing manager Melanie Roth says, provide a “huge carbon savings, thousands of pounds of emissions that don’t occur per person over the course of a year.”

Portland, Ore.’s Microcosm Publishing is also committed to minimizing its environmental impact: not only are all books printed on FSC-certified, PWC paper, but some releases are printed on 100% tree-free paper with vegan bindings. Microcosm also re-uses every box and mailer received at its offices, and is moving towards paperless record-keeping. Local, work-related travel is by bicycle or tricycle, while interstate travel is always by train. The company provides incentives for its seven employees to walk, bicycle, or bus to get to work, and has 100% participation.

More than 75% of Milkweed Editions’ new releases and reprints are printed on PCW paper. On the rare occasions that new paper is used, managing director Patrick Thomas says that the press requests that it be FSC-certified, and works only with printers certified by the Green Press Initiative. To print its titles, Milkweed primarily contracts with Friesens, a Canadian company that operates on renewable energy and has plans to develop its own wind energy plant. As a result, Thomas says, Milkweed titles now “use far less water and generate considerably less greenhouse gas and solid waste.”

Milkweed’s offices in Minneapolis’s Open Book literary center are in the process of being redesigned to further minimize its footprint. A new, wholly sustainable carpet system is being installed and solar tubes are being placed in the roof to bring in more natural lighting. From now on, except for the short days in the dead of those long Minnesota winters, Thomas says, “We’ll almost never need to use our lights.”

Books with Green Themes

When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story by Linda Crotta Brennan, the first book in the Once, in America series, tells the story of Denis Hayes, who was selected by Sen. Gaylord Nelson to organize the first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970.

The Green and the Red by Armand Chauvel (trans. by Elisabeth Lyman). A love story between a vegetarian and a carnivore in a small town in the Brittany region of France, this novel deals with issues of the environment and sustainability in the realm of animal agriculture.

Overfished Ocean Strategy by Nadya Zhexembayeva offers five essential principles for business innovation to deal with the threat that overfishing poses for our oceans.

Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution by Doug Fine is a rigorous yet funny journey to meet the men and women who are testing, researching, and pioneering hemp’s applications for the 21st century.

Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White tackles an increasingly crucial question: What can we do about the seemingly intractable challenges confronting all of humanity today, including climate change, global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, and economic instability? The quick answers are to build topsoil, fix our creeks, and eat meat from pasture-raised animals.

The New Net Zero by William Maclay. Sustainable architect Maclay charts the path for designers and builders interested in exploring green design’s new frontier: net-zero-energy structures that produce as much energy as they consume and are carbon neutral.

Extracted by Ugo Bardi. Mineral treasures that took millions, or even billions, of years to form are now being squandered in just centuries—or sometimes just decades. Will there come a time when we actually run out of minerals?

Straight from the Earth by Myra and Marea Goodman. Vegetable-centric recipes from Earthbound Farm co-founder Myra Goodman and her daughter.

The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup—and One Family’s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest by Douglas Whynott. The author spent a year in the New Hampshire maple syrup trade, and here offers an inside look at the effect of global warming on syrup production.

The New Greenmarket Cookbook: Recipes and Tips from Today’s Finest Chefs and the Stories Behind the Farms That Inspire Them by Gabrielle Langholtz with GrowNYC. A cookbook dedicated to New York’s Greenmarket, the largest farmers market in the country.

Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island by Will Harlan tells the true and inspiring story of a rugged island and the remarkable woman who has spent decades defending it against those who would develop it—including the Carnegies, commercial shrimpers, and the government.

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford. New Morning Farm has died its annual death, and will slowly come back to life as the land warms and the seasons shift. Crawford’s memoir is the story of a man reconnecting with his past and a behind-the-scenes look at the realities of organic farming.

State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability by the Worldwatch Institute examines how leadership on sustainability is not absent; it just often comes from the bottom up rather than the top down, and action is being driven by local citizen’s, women’s, and grassroots movements around the world.

The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman, illus. by Grady Klein, tackles climate change from a new and innovative angle—humor and illustration.

The Carnivore Way by Cristina Eisenberg. The noted conservation scientist examines the relationship between people and predators through the lens of connectivity.

Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do by Wallace J. Nichols, foreword by Celine Cousteau, offers a practical approach to environmentalism based in hard science. Nichols is a widely respected authority on the connections between water and emotional, physical, and professional excellence.

The Carnivore’s Manifesto: Eating Well, Eating Responsibly, and Eating Meat by Patrick Martins with Mike Edison, foreword by Alice Waters. A revolutionary call to arms that will inspire, engage, and challenge anyone interested in the way we eat today. Martins is a distributor of locally raised meat through his company, Heritage Foods USA, which sends over 60,000 lbs. of meat every week to New York’s top restaurants. He is also a founder of Slow Food USA.

An Electronic Silent Spring: Facing the Dangers and Creating Safe Limits by Katie Singer outlines the technical, biological, and legal aspects of electrosmog. It presents testimony from leading scientists, policy makers and citizens, and provides ways to reduce our emissions and exposure.

The World We Create: A Vision for Hope for a Planet in Peril by Frances Beinecke, with Bob Deans. For four decades Beinecke has been a leader of the push towards clean air, fresh water, healthy wildlife and fertile lands. As she prepares to retire as president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, she lays out her vision for the future of the environmental movement.

America’s Public Lands: From Yellowstone to Smokey Bear and Beyond by Randall K. Wilson illuminates the origins of the public lands, including parks, monuments, forests, and wildlife refuges, that comprise some of our most treasured national possessions.

Limber: Essays by Angela Pelster. Whether Pelster is talking about an old mining town buried alive, a tree that belonged only to itself, or a mother buried with her children in the desert, her prose invites the reader to pause and wonder.

Grizzly Bears of Alaska: Explore the Wild World of Bears by Debbie S. Miller and Patrick J. Endres. With a new Disneynature film, Bears, coming out this Earth Day, interest in grizzlies will be at a high this spring. Grizzly Bears of Alaska celebrates these giants with fascinating facts and vivid photos by one of Alaska’s most prominently published nature photographers.

Compost: A Family Guide to Making Soil from Scraps by Ben Raskin makes composting easy and fun for the whole family.

We Love Nature: A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer. Two Wisconsin-based naturalists and environmental educators get parents and children excited about getting outdoors and closer to nature.

Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy Six-Acre Homestead by Jenn Woginrich. Essays about living on her own on her small self-sustaining homestead in Washington County in upstate New York.

A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk Through Gorongosa National Park by Edward O. Wilson. One of the world’s leading scientists and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner shows why biodiversity is vital to the future of the Earth and humankind, as told through the story of Gorongosa National Park, located in Mozambique.

Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York by Ted Steinberg explores the monumental struggle between New York (one of the most man-made spots on earth) and the natural world.

The New Art of Living Green: How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Live a Happier, More Eco-Friendly Life by Erica Palmcrantz Aziz and Susanne Hovenäs. A collection of proven ways to live green practically, and on a daily basis.

Organic Composting Handbook: Techniques for a Healthy, Abundant Garden by Dede Cummings. A comprehensive guide on composting.

Country Living Handbook: A Back-to-Basics Guide to Living Off the Land by Abigail R. Gehring. Step-by-step instructions, tips, and time-honored wisdom about living a self-sufficient life—from canning and preserving to keeping chickens, fermenting vegetables and soap-making.

Farmer’s Kitchen Handbook: More Than 200 Recipes for Making Cheese, Curing Meat, Preserving, Fermenting, and More by Marie W. Lawrence. A cookbook of seasonal recipes to make the most of a garden’s bounty.

Sun Power: How Energy from the Sun Is Changing Lives Around the World, Empowering America, and Saving the Planet by Neville Williams. A former consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy explains how America is on the brink of an energy revolution that can save the planet and increase peace and prosperity by harnessing the unlimited power of the sun.

Organic Lawn Care: Growing Grass the Natural Way by Howard Garrett. The renowned “Dirt Doctor” takes readers step-by-step through creating and maintaining turf organically.

All You Need Is Less: The Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity by Madeleine Somerville. A realistic and common-sense guide to adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle.