As the effects of climate change continue to be felt in different parts of the country, companies within the book industry have stepped up their efforts to reduce their impact on the environment. Under the environmental policy that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt quietly adopted last year, the company aims to acquire 50% of its domestically sourced paper from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forests and 50% of its paper from recycled pulp by 2018. In addition, the new policy seeks to raise the level of FSC paper that HMH uses to print internationally to 20%, and to make sure that, by 2016, none of its paper is sourced from controversial places. In developing and monitoring the policy, HMH worked with the Rainforest Action Network and created its own Green Paper Task Force.
The HMH initiative means that “virtually every large book publisher now has some sort of environmental policy, though they vary greatly in terms of goals and commitments,” says Todd Pollak, project director for the Green Press Initiative, which has worked with the publishing industry for 15 years to establish environmentally friendly policies. The Green Press itself has undergone a recent transition, with founder Tyson Miller giving up his full-time role at the organization to become program director of the Dogwood Alliance, an Asheville, N.C.–based nonprofit dedicated to the conservation of forests in the South (Pollak has assumed most of Miller’s duties).
In late March, the Dogwood Alliance released the “Paper Industry Progress Report,” a study that assesses the forest management practices of the top five paper producers in the South. While the report found that all five have made progress developing sustainable paper policies over the past 10 years, some are doing better than others. The report includes “key takeaways” on the five companies:
◆ Boise/Packaging Corporation of America (PCA): “Needs to bring the PCA arm in line with the stewardship values of Boise, which is a leader on recycled paper and certification.”
◆ Domtar: “The leader on FSC-certified paper and valuing forest carbon; still lacks a conservation vision for protecting and investing in endangered forests and preventing the continued conversion of natural forests to plantations where they operate.”
◆ Georgia-Pacific: “Leader on protection of natural forests and identifying endangered forests; has yet to identify a preference for FSC-certified fiber.”
◆ International Paper: “Leader on funding conservation initiatives and expanding FSC certification; still needs to improve mapping and protection of endangered forests and valuing forest carbon.”
◆ MeadWestvaco: “Initiative working with private landowners to improve management; the company has failed to adopt a sustainable sourcing policy and is weak in all categories evaluated.”
Andrew Goldberg, director of corporate engagement at the Dogwood Alliance, observes that the new report shows that good progress has been made by the paper producers, but he added: “The sustainability demands of the 21st century require even more leadership and full participation by the industry. There is still significant room for improvement.”
Macmillan has been involved with its own efforts to protect American forests. In 2012, the company, along with National Geographic, Pearson, and Time Inc., joined with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative as an SFI Founding Forest Partner. Under the program, each company made a five-year commitment to increase its use of certified forest products. Bill Barry, a consultant on environmental matters for Macmillan, says that 96% of the paper that the publisher buys in the U.S. is sourced from either SFI or FSC forests. Barry and Lisa Williams, who joined Macmillan last year as manager of sustainability initiatives, traveled to Florida in late March to audit how the forests are managed by SFI. “It was great to see [the program] in action,” Williams says.
Under the direction of CEO John Sargent, Macmillan has set a goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 65% by 2020, from a 2009 baseline. Barry estimates that, through 2014, the publisher has cut its emissions by about 45%, and he believes that it is on track to hit its 2020 goal, although he acknowledges that, to date, most of the company’s progress has come from easy fixes—the “low-hanging fruit.”
Macmillan’s focus continues to be on supporting mills that are the most energy efficient, rather than on emphasizing the use of recycled paper. Sargent and Barry believe that sourcing paper from mills that run on hydropower and are near railways reduces emissions more than using coal-fired plants that produce recycled paper. While a number of publishers have increased their use of recycled paper, some are having trouble sourcing it due to a shortage of recycled fiber. The shortage began last year and has shown no signs of easing, Pollak says. He notes that FutureMark stopped production of recycled paper in its Alsip, Ill., plant earlier this year and closed another recycled-paper mill more recently in Michigan.
In addition to using less virgin fiber, last year Macmillan instituted a sustainability initiative for its U.S. and U.K. trade employees to help reduce carbon emissions. Staffers who sign up each receive $150 to make their homes more energy efficient; they can spend the money on such improvements as LED lights bulbs and weather stripping. About 1,500 people have signed up so far. Some employees have also undertaken other initiatives that align with Sargent’s basic beliefs about sustainability: “Using less is better than using more.” In late March, Tor/Forge announced that the catalogs it send to the media will henceforth be available in digital form only. “That is the kind of initiative you like to see,” Sargent says.
While most publishers have been distributing digital catalogues for a number of years, Macmillan is the first to switch its PW subscription to digital-only. The house now has a licensing agreement with PW under which all employees receive the digital edition of the magazine and have access to PW’s archive of articles and reviews. The move is another way to “reduce our carbon footprint,” Barry says, estimating that, for the year, carbon emissions related to the paper, printing, and delivery of the print edition of PW will be reduced by one ton as a result.
With its environmental plan firmly in place in the U.S., Macmillan began rolling it out to the U.K. trade group last December and will bring it to the trade group in Germany in December 2015. Neither Barry nor Sargent knows whether the green initiatives save the company money. “Looking to save money is not driving the decisions we make,” Sargent says. “We are doing what we think is best for the environment.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Tor/Forge was limiting its galleys to digital only; they are doing digital-only catalogs for reviewer and other media members.
Below, more on the subject of environmental sustainability books.Think Green: A Sampling of 2015 Titles