The fourth report issued by the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) on the sustainability efforts of the publishing industry found that publishers are generally still working to improve their environmental practices, but there remain obstacles that have proved difficult to overcome.
The biggest challenge unearthed by the study is the lack of availability of recycled paper. The survey polled three segments on the book industry—publishers (11 responses), paper manufacturers (9 responses), and printers (8 responses). Responses from the 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.
Though paper manufacturers said they are using less recycled paper in making print books, all 11 publishers said they used recycled paper in 2014, and all said they planned on using the same level of recycled fiber or more in 2015.
Todd Pollak, coordinator of BIEC, said the discrepancy between the responses from the manufacturers and publishers is likely due to the shift in wording of a question in the manufacturers’ questionnaire. According to the report, the wording of the question “makes it 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,” the report stated. Publishers and printers, the study said, reported on paper that was actually used to make books.
Though 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 the availability of recycled paper, chief among which was the greater use of mixing paper and glass and other products in the recycling process. The increased use of “single-stream recycling” results in less paper that can be used for books.
Other reasons for the decline in the use of recycled paper are the overall decline in paper consumption and increased competition for recycled fiber from overseas, particularly China; closure of de-inking facilities; and the closing of mills that produced different recycled-content paper grades.
The study, “Book Industry Environmental Trends 2016,” also reported a decline in the use of certified fibers by paper manufacturers in 2014, but the same, or higher use, of certified paper by publishers. Again Pollak said manufacturers’ interpretation of a question may have understated 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 Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative approved 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.
Lisa Serra, senior director of corporate paper procurement at Scholastic, said she believes the report accurately reflects what has been occurring at the publisher and printer levels in terms of paper usage and accepts the explanation that the change in wording caused manufacturers to misinterpret the questions on recycled and certified paper. She said Scholastic continues to look for new ways to source both recycled paper and certified paper. The company, one of the most committed to environmental efforts, was well ahead of its certified-paper goals in its last sustainability update in 2013, but because of shortages in recycled fiber, it had set a new date to reach its goal of hitting 25% usage of recycled paper until 2015. A spokesperson said Scholastic will release new data on its 2015 performance within the month.
The BIEC also announced that Pollak will step down as coordinator of the BIEC in October and will be replaced by Valerie Lyle, a founding member of the BIEC.