Last week, the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) held a webinar outlining the recommendations of three newly-released guides to reducing carbon emissions, developed in cooperation with the Green Press Initiative. Based on a GPI report published in 2008, the guides set specific goals and ways to reach them in three industry sectors: publishers, printers, and paper manufacturers.

According to Todd Pollak, program manager at GPI and BIEC coordinator, the guides represent “a first step” toward the BIEC’s goal of reducing industry carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. The webinar, featuring BIEC members Pollak, Julie Louyer of Cascades Fine Papers Group, and Pete Datos of Hachette Book Group, presented six steps to reduce the industry’s environmental impact, any three of which would achieve that 20% reduction “assuming that the industry is averaging 30% recycled content by 2020,” Pollak noted.

Those steps include reducing the average weight of books by 3.5%, reducing the return rate from 25% to 22%, increasing energy efficiency by 4.5%, reducing books going to landfill by 25%, and aiming for 33.5%-or-more percent recycled content (as opposed to 30%).

The great majority of the industry’s impact, speakers reiterated, is through paper—its manufacture, transportation, and disposal. For example, each ton of recycled fiber that replaces a ton of “virgin freesheet” saves 8 million BTUs of energy (a 26% savings) and 5.6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The BIEC is confident that recycled fiber content will reach 30% by 2020. One approach the BIEC suggests is using lighter papers for reprints or “books from established authors” that are guaranteed to sell. Obstacles include not just an entrenched industry but consumer reaction; it’s possible that a lighter-weight book might seem less valuable in consumers’ minds.