The newest report issued by the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) on the sustainability efforts of the publishing industry found that publishers are still working to improve their environmental practices. However, many houses are encountering obstacles that have proved difficult to overcome.

The biggest challenge unearthed by the study—which polled publishers, paper manufacturers, and printers and is called Book Industry Environmental Trends 2016—is the lack of availability of recycled paper. Responses from nine paper manufacturers found a significant decline in the amount of recycled paper used to make books in 2014, compared to prior years. In 2014, the average amount of recycled content from reporting manufacturers was 12%, down from 22% in 2012.

Although paper manufacturers said they are using less recycled paper in making the paper used in books, publishers said they used the same amount of recycled paper in their books in 2014, as the year before.

Todd Pollak, coordinator of BIEC, said the contradiction in responses is likely due to the wording of a question in the manufacturers’ questionnaire. The report said that, because of the question's wording, it is "likely that paper manufacturers included large quantities of paper that could have been used to make books, but that were ultimately used for other purposes.” Publishers and printers, the study said, reported on paper that was actually used to make books.

While the change in wording may have overstated the decline in use of recycled paper, Pollak said discussions with industry members throughout the supply chain found that it has been harder to get recycled paper in recent years.

Pollak pointed to several factors causing the reduction in availability of recycled paper, including the fact that a larger number of municipalities are mixing paper with glass and other products in the recycling process. He explained that the increased use of this “single stream recycling” process results in less recycled paper that can be used for books.

Other reasons for the decline in the use of recycled paper include the overall decline in paper consumption; increased competition for recycled fiber from overseas, particularly China; the closures of de-inking facilities; and the closures of mills that produce recycled content grades.

The study also found that paper manufacturers reported using less certified fiber (Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative) in their paper-making process. Publishers, however, reported using the same amount of, or more, certified paper.

Speaking to this discrepancy, Pollak said manufacturers’ interpretation of a question may have resulted in an understemitate of the amount of certified paper they are using. The report also pointed to the likelihood that manufacturers only reported that paper was certified if it had been ordered specifically as FSC or SFI and could be tracked in an audit, making it very possible that much more certified paper was used than reported. Indeed, 91% of publishers reported that they used certified paper in 2014.

Despite the problems with some of the questions, Pollak said the report shows the publishers are doing more to use environmentally-friendly paper. It also shows, he added, that more work needs to be done.

Accompanying the release of the report, the BIEC announced that Pollak will step down as coordinator of the BIEC in October and will be replaced by Valerie Lyle. Lyle was a founding member of the BIEC and previously worked in production at HarperCollins and Random House.