It was in the tissue aisle at the grocery store that Tyson Miller realized his calling. There, amid boxes of Puffs and Kleenex, Miller, a longtime environmental activist, had a knee-jerk reaction to what he saw as an incredible waste of natural resources. “I was thinking, man, we're cutting down forests to make all this?” he recalls. Miller, who soon discovered that the tissue industry isn't so careless—it uses about 50% recycled paper—was nonetheless now a man on a mission. He wanted to change the way industries use paper. And, he figured, what better place to start than with one of the biggest paper users: publishing.
Miller, who started his career in education, founded the Green Press Initiative in 2001. The nonprofit is dedicated to making book publishing a more environmentally sound process.
But Miller was steeped in fighting for the environment long before he had his paper epiphany. It was on a summer break, before starting his sophomore year at UCLA, that he became an environmentalist in the truest sense of the word. An avid backpacker, Miller ventured into the mountains of southwestern Colorado and emerged a different person. “I think I connected with nature in a way I hadn't before,” he says on the phone from his home in Asheville, N.C. That connection drove Miller to make some changes back at school; he switched his major to environmental studies.
After making a documentary about environmental education programs as a college project—Generation Earth was eventually seen by more than two million students—Miller took a job running Los Angeles County's environmental education program for secondary schools, which seemed like a logical fit but, driven by a desire to affect change more dramatically, he left and went into the nonprofit world.
His first stab at changing the paper industry came with the establishment, in 1997, of the Recycled Products Cooperative. Through the Coop, which was founded with just over $5,000, he negotiated pricing agreements for recycled paper for major corporations. The Coop's pricing model guaranteed that companies would pay less, or the same, for recycled paper than they were already shelling out for the nonrecycled, or virgin, product. The Coop, which is still in business, is, like GPI, focused on stopping deforestation and reducing, in Miller's phrase, “the climate impact” from widespread paper use.
Despite the success Miller had with the Coop, he got a wakeup call about how much more he could be doing. During one of many fund-raising marathons, he received a letter from a foundation that said it didn't support efforts to influence change company by company but, instead, by entire industries. “That letter got me thinking,” Miller says. “Where are there entire market segments that I could focus the same amount of energy on and bring about much bigger change? The book industry just popped in my head.”
Although progress has come slowly for GPI, which has two part-time employees and is about to add a full-timer to focus on the newspaper business, Miller has made significant strides. More than 150 publishers have signed on to GPI's paper policy, which gives guidelines for using more recycled paper. But the breakthrough, according to Miller, came in 2006, when Random House, the biggest trade publisher, announced a commitment to use more recycled paper. Now, Miller thinks it's only a matter of time before the other big houses follow suit.
Still, Miller has challenges ahead. “As much as companies are paying more attention to environmental and social issues, people still look at them as add-ons. Now it's about how we get past that ingrained social value.”
Name: Tyson Miller
Company: Green Press Initiative
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Education: UCLA; major in environmental studies
Previous job: Director of the Recycled Products Cooperative
How long in current job: Seven years
Dream job: Writer (fiction and nonfiction)
Passionate about: Making book publishing a more environmentally conscious business