John Sargent is well-known in publishing circles for doing things a little differently than most CEOs (see his stance in the Department of Justice lawsuit over the agency pricing model), and that also applies to his approach to Macmillan’s environmental efforts. More than two years ago, Sargent named industry veteran and now consultant Bill Barry to review all of Macmillan’s operations with the goal of determining the most efficient ways to lower the company’s carbon footprint. In a meeting at Macmillan’s headquarters in the Flatiron Building last month, the two men discussed how, after reviewing reams of information that sometimes produce conflicting recommendations, they set a goal of reducing the company’s carbon footprint by 65% by 2019 from a 2009 baseline.

Like other publishers, Macmillan is focused on cutting carbon emissions from its paper usage, but, unlike most other houses, it is not emphasizing greater use of recycled paper; rather, it is looking to source paper from mills that are the most energy efficient. “We’ve challenged our mills to become more efficient producers,” Barry said. Macmillan’s analysis of a mill’s CO2 emissions includes not only how and where it sources timber, but also how its fuels its operations and transport materials. At the beginning of 2012, Macmillan bought nearly 60% of its paper from mills that run largely on hydropower and/or other renewable sources. It will use recycled paper where its benefits can best be optimized. Other steps Macmillan has taken to cut emissions associated with manufacturing include lowering the basis weight of its paper and changing the process of making jackets and covers that, according to Sargent and Barry, reduces emissions by two-thirds. Smaller print runs (brought about to some degree, but not solely, by higher e-book sales) and an overhaul to its packaging process have also contributed to a reduction in emissions and is in keeping with what Sargent calls the “basic truth” of sustainability—“using less is better than using more.”

In another step to use less paper, Macmillan will phase out its use of paper catalogues by this winter season and, to reduce gasoline consumption, the company plans to complete the switch of its fleet of company cars to hybrid by the end of this year. The installation of more efficient lighting in its warehouses cut energy consumption associated with lighting by 50% last year. But not all Macmillan’s plans for its warehouses worked out. At one point, the company had considered putting solar panels on its Virginia warehouse, but a review determined that the cost (about $1.5 million), without meaningful subsidies, would have been prohibitive (the company is now reviewing the possibility of using geothermal power in the plant). “You have to examine everything issue by issue,” Barry noted.

One of the best environmental moves Barry believes Macmillan has made is the purchase of carbon offsets in programs that have a social value. Barry said the purchase of more efficient stoves in Nigeria, for example, not only reduced the amount of wood needed to fuel the stoves, but cut emissions and freed the women to do other things rather than look for wood to keep the stoves fired up.

Sargent said that, overall, some of the initiatives the company has implemented have saved money, while others have cost money. It may take a few years to determine what the cost of a more sustainable business model actually is, but Sargent said that the von Holtzbrinck family, Macmillan’s owners, “are highly supportive” of the effort. To help ensure Macmillan is following the “best science” available, Macmillan is commissioning Hofstra University to do an objective analysis of its sustainability assumptions to assess if the company is moving in the right direction, and if it is not, “we’ll change things,” said Barry.