With the announcement last week that the Hachette Book Group has adopted a new environmental policy, the Green Press Initiative, which supports and monitors the environmental programs of publishers, estimated that, based on market share, approximately half of publishers have now made public commitments to improve their environmental performance. Those that GPI considers to be leaders in the field have defined goals and time lines for reaching targets, particularly when it comes to paper usage, explained GPI director Tyson Miller. Some publishers, Miller noted, have environmental policies that call for them to reduce their carbon footprint only for their own operations. While this is an important step, Miller said not including the impacts caused by the production of book is a big oversight.

The 2008 study “Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry,” co-sponsored by GPI and the Book Industry Study Group, found that tree harvesting and paper production and printing accounted for a total of 65% of the industry’s carbon footprint, while a publisher’s office operations accounted for less than 7% (PW, Mar. 10, 2008). That is why Miller views Hachette’s policy—which commits the company to raise its use of recycled fiber to 30% by 2012 and its use of Forest Stewardship Council—certified papers to 20%—as so important. “Hachette’s policy is really meaningful on a variety of fronts,” Miller said. “Their short-term Endangered Forest, recycled and FSC goals are significant and will drive real supply-chain shifts. Additionally, their commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% actually does much more than any publishing company that says they are 'going carbon neutral’ without accounting for their paper-related emissions. Hachette is taking a comprehensive approach... which is the kind of leadership that we need.”

Other large publishers with strong environmental policies that incorporate paper targets include Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. In all, more than 200 publishers have commitments in place to increase recycled and FSC-certified fiber, and to lessen impacts on endangered forests. Pearson (including Penguin) and McGraw-Hill are among the large publishers who have environmental policies in place but no firm targets on increasing recycled or FSC-certified fiber use.

Some other major publishers told PW they are working on new policies. Macmillan CEO John Sargent said the company has taken steps in 2009 to lower its environmental impact across a wide range of business practices, and added, “We are going to be addressing sustainability in a much broader and deeper sense in early 2010.” John Wiley has been working with Business for Social Responsibility to devise an environmental plan that sets realistic and measurable targets to drive change in such areas as carbon impact, paper, vendor ethics, and community impact. An early focus has been on reducing its carbon emissions through adopting more efficient shipping. In terms of paper, in 2008 Wiley established global guidelines for environmentally favorable paper sourcing and procurement. The publisher is also working to lower its consumption of paper by using lighter weight paper and by using new print technologies. Under its paper guidelines, paper suppliers must have a sustainable forest management program certified by a recognized standards board.

Miller said that the recession has made it more difficult for some companies to adopt more environmentally friendly practices, but believes over time most companies will see the benefits of becoming greener. He noted that the industry has come a long way since 2001, when virtually no publishers had environmental commitments on record.