Random House of Canada has published special collectors’ editions of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and Alice Munro’s Dear Life printed on paper made from straw rather than trees.

The Vancouver-based environmental organization Canopy worked with Random House and its imprint McClelland & Stewart to produce the special editions as way to raise awareness of alternative papers and to encourage the development of commercial-scale development of straw-based papers.

“Now more than at any other time in our history, we need to bring our intelligence and imagination to sustain our life support systems,” Munro commented. She praised Canopy for working “with a pure passion and unwavering conviction” to protect forests and inspire innovation.

Martel said, “Using straw paper for my book demonstrates that there are elegant solutions that keep the world’s towering trees standing.”

The signed special editions are printed on paper that combines chlorine-free wheat and flax straw with post-consumer recycled content. The flax-straw came from and was processed by Canopy’s technical partners, Alberta Innovates. The paper was produced by Quebec’s Cascades. The printer for Life of Pi was Friesens in Manitboa and Toronto-based Webcom produced Munro’s Dear Life.

The books are being sold on Canopy’s Web site as a fundraiser for the organization, with 300 copies of the Life of Pi priced at C$250 each and 50 copies of Dear Life selling for C$500 each. “Both authors and publishers have been incredibly generous with their support,” said Canopy founder and executive director Nicole Rycroft. “I think it is an indication of their commitment and interest in seeing us be successful in creating a new green resource sector in Canada."

The U.S. and Canada are two of the largest grain growing countries in the world, and the grain harvest produces enough left-over straw every year in both countries to keep more than 800 million trees standing, Rycroft says. “So literally this is an opportunity to turn straw into gold. We have a lot of straw, and we have publishers and other large companies who are willing to adopt and use these papers, not just for special editions but for all of their books and all of their business needs.” The missing link in the industry currently is pulping facilities, she acknowledges.

“There is a bit of a leadership gap between that of large publishers and printers and authors and the actions that we’ve seen taken by government and the paper industry to date,” she says.

Still, Rycroft is encouraged by the progress she’s already witnessed in the industry. “When we first started working with publishers back in 2000, no one in the U.S. or Canada was consistently managing to print on an environmental paper that was actually free of endangered forest fiber. And that was [because] they weren’t being commercially produced,” she says. “There’s essentially been a revolution within the industry in terms of its environmental footprint. There are now literally hundreds of publishing grade papers that are environmentally friendly or ancient forest friendly.” Straw-based papers are the next step in ensuring that there’s a secure supply of climate friendly and ecologically friendly papers available to publishers, she says.

Canopy is currently looking for a U.S. author and publisher to work with on a similar project in the U.S.