Most industry members expected that when the “Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry” survey was released, it would show that, of all the activities connected with book publishing, the industry's use of paper has the biggest impact on the environment. They just didn't know how large that impact would be.

According to the study, released today, the cutting of trees accounts for nearly 63% of the industry's carbon footprint, while paper production and printing accounts for 26.6%. The major impact of harvesting forests is largely due to the loss of carbon dioxide storage that comes when trees are cut. (An opposing view maintains that the model used to determine the impact of tree harvesting does not take into account the planting of new trees and therefore overstates the impact of tree loss.) In all, it is estimated that the industry produced a carbon dioxide equivalent net emission of about 12.4 million tons in 2006, and a net emission of 8.85 pounds per book sold to consumers. Distribution and retail activities, which some industry members thought would be a major contributor to carbon emissions, given the shipping back and forth of books, accounts for a relatively small portion of emissions: 12.7%.

Tyson Miller, founder of the Green Press Initiative (see. p. 53), which along with the Book Industry Study Group, coordinated the benchmarking study, says the results underscore the importance of having the industry focus on ways it can reduce its consumption of paper produced from virgin forests. Andrew Van Der Laan, v-p of production planning at Random House and deputy chairman of the company's green committee, said Random's own carbon audits for 2006 and 2007 also show the outsized impact the use of paper by the industry has on the environment. “Our order of magnitude of the impact of paper use compared to other activities was very similar to BISG's,” Van Der Laan says. The twin findings reinforced Van Der Laan's conviction that the industry must focus on paper reduction rather than looking at buying offsets as the first option in reducing publishing's carbon footprint. “We should be redoing our processes before we try to buy our way out of trouble,” Van Der Laan says.

The two most efficient ways to lessen the industry's dependency on the use of virgin fiber are to increase the use of recycled paper or to increase the use of Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) fiber. Random House was the first major trade publisher to announce a program setting a target for increasing its use of recycled paper, with a commitment to print 30% of its titles on recycled paper by 2010. Van Der Laan says Random is ahead of schedule in reaching its target—the house has already reached its 2008 goal of having 15% of its coated paper and 10% of its uncoated paper made from recycled paper. Just as encouraging to Van Der Laan is the fact that Random has incurred no extra costs in using recycled paper. Van Der Laan attributes that to working with its suppliers in a partnership, and he expects that as more companies commit to using recycled paper, costs will come down. “Supply will follow demand,” he says.

Karen Romano, v-p, production and manufacturing at Simon & Schuster, hopes that is true. S&S announced its own targets for using recycled fiber in November, as well as a commitment to buy at least 10% FSC-certified paper. Romano says it has been difficult to find a steady source of supply for FSC-certified paper, and S&S is also monitoring the availability of recycled paper. The downturn in the housing market, which has resulted in fewer lumber scraps—a significant source of both fiber and energy for paper production—is one reason for her concern, as is the growing demand overseas for pulp, which has squeezed an already tight paper market. Still, Romano says, S&S believes it can work with its vendors to hit its 2012 target of having 25% of its purchased paper come from recycled fiber.

Penguin Group chairman John Makinson cites the uncertainty of the availability of used wood pulp as one reason the company has not yet made a recycled paper commitment, although he hopes to have a goal in place by next year. Ulf Hofverberg, marketing and sales director of SFK Pulp Recycling, which supplies recycled pulp to papermaker Glatfelter, explains that one reason for that uncertainty is cost. Despite growing interest in recycled paper over the last two years, he notes, the price for waste paper, a key ingredient in recycled pulp, has risen almost monthly, to as high as $240 per short ton.

The BISG survey did find that, according to information from six mills, the use of post-consumer content in book papers rose from 2.5% in 2004 to 13.3% in 2007, although the study acknowledges that the overall percentage of post-consumer content from all mills is probably lower than 13%. Reports from 13 printers also show an increase in the use of post-consumer-waste recycled fiber, with the total jumping 852% between 2004 and 2006.

If Van Der Laan's is correct that supply will follow demand, more demand should be forthcoming soon. According to the survey, all but 4% of responding publishers said they have at least addressed the question of increasing their purchases of recycled paper, with 54% claiming that they have already set targets. Far fewer publishers said they have set targets for limiting the sourcing of paper from endangered forests, although 52% reported that they have discussed the issue.

Beyond Paper

While the use of paper is the largest contributor to the industry's carbon footprint, it is certainly not the only factor. Transportation of titles—the study estimated that shipments of books traveled 1.25 billion miles in 2006—and the disposal of returns into landfills also make a significant impact. Some publishers believe that the way to reduce the carbon footprint of these activities is to overhaul the returns practice. Margo Baldwin, president and publisher of Chelsea Green, last year began a Green Partnership Program, under which retailers who buy titles nonreturnable and agree to create a green display at least once a year get better discounts and free freight, plus other benefits. About 33 independents have signed on to the program, and sales to those accounts are up significantly. But Baldwin admits she is frustrated by the reluctance of booksellers to shelve books in green sections. “Booksellers seem hesitant to move outside their traditional sections,” she says, noting there is “no green BISAC code.”

Thomas Nelson has also instituted a program aimed at cutting returns. CBA stores that participate in the Easy Returns program are encouraged to take markdowns on certain titles, rather than return the books. Through January 31, 480 stores had signed on to the program.

Steve Davis, senior v-p of operations at Borders, says that if Borders “never had to send a book back, that is something we would welcome.” He says that while Borders is interested in discussing changes to traditional returns policy, “there is a long way to go” before any serious changes are made.

Baldwin believes the only way a dramatic change in the returns policy can occur is if the major publishers get on board, and she is hopeful that may eventually happen. “No one would have predicted a few years ago that the use of recycled paper would gain so much traction among publishers,” Baldwin says.

Publishers' carbon footprint from such things as office energy use, the internal use of paper and travel contributed 6.6% of all industry carbon emissions. Several publishers have begun to attack the issue of paper use by distributing manuscripts electronically in-house. Late last year, the S&S sales division launched an electronic manuscript program, in which all sales reps were given an e-book reader instead of photocopied manuscripts. S&S, which is also testing the program in its editorial department, estimates it could reduce the number of galleys reproduced for the sales group by 20,000 annually. Hachette Book Group USA also began an electronic manuscript project last fall, distributing 50 Sony Readers to editors, publicists and sales staff. The project has since been rolled out to most departments, and a total of 275 Readers have been given out so far, resulting in dramatic paper and cost savings. And Ted Treanor, CEO of Rosetta Solutions, says he has received lots of feedback about the potential for his netGalley service, which can send and track electronic galleys, to reduce publishers' paper consumption.

The use of e-galleys is just one way publishers are developing programs to limit their environmental impact. The study found that 59% of the respondents—which included publishers, retailers, printers, paper mills and distributors—have formulated or are working on company-specific environmental policies. Five companies reported they have incentives in place for employees to meet environmental goals. Such incentives include days off and gift certificates for carpooling; free public transportation vouchers; hybrid cars for sales reps; and work-from-home options. Among the many other steps publishers are taking to cut down on waste are increasing the use of digital catalogues, instituting recycling programs for technology trash, and using green cleaning supplies.

While GPI's Miller supports all those efforts, for him the most important action still revolves around decreasing the use of virgin fibers. “It you want to have a carbon-neutral policy, you can't get there without doing something about paper,” Miller says. And while Miller is encouraged about the steps publishing has taken over the last few years to move toward more environmentally sensitive policies, he notes that publishing remains way behind the newspaper and packaging industries in its use of recycled paper. The study cites two goals developed by GPI with input from more than 25 stakeholders and included in its position paper “Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use”: increase the use of recycled fiber from a 2005 estimated average of 5% to 30% by 2012, and increase the use of FSC or equivalent certified paper to 20%.

Michael Healy, executive director of BISG, believes the report has met its objective of establishing industry benchmarks that “can lead to an informed debate about the type of best practices and standards the industry may want to establish.”

Publishing's Carbon Footprint By the Numbers

3.086 billion: Number of books sold, 2006
4.15 billion: Number of books produced, 2006
1.6 million metric tons: Amount of paper consumed for books
25%: Average book return rate
5%: Amount of recycled paper in books
8.85 lbs. CO2 equivalent: Carbon footprint per book
12.4 million metric tons: Total carbon footprint of book publishing

Source of Carbon Emissions in the U.S. Book Industry

Segments of the Industry Share of Carbon Emissions
Source: Enviromental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry
Forest and Forest Harvest 62.7%
Paper Production, Printing 26.6%
Landfill Releases (methane) 8.2%
Distribution and Retail 12.7%
Publishers 6.6%
Carbon Storage in Books and Energy Recovery -16.8%