Since the Book Industry Study Group published its benchmark study "Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts" in March 2008, on publishing's impact on the environment, the industry has made important strides in improving its environmental record. "I'm pretty pleased with how publishers have responded," says Tyson Miller, executive director of Green Press Initiative, about publishers' efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Still, much work needs to be done in circumstances that are much tougher than existed a mere 31 months ago.

The Great Recession and the rapid shift of the industry from print to digital has dramatically altered the publishing landscape and changed business models, forcing publishers to implement sustainable business practices as margins tighten and houses balance print and digital operations. And the changes in the economy have made it more difficult, and expensive, to buy recycled fiber, the key ingredient for many who study the question of making publishing more environmentally friendly. Random House, for example, one of a handful of large publishers to have a paper policy, has had to extend the time frame to reach its objective of using 30% of its uncoated paper grades from recycled fiber.

Originally, Random had set 2010 as the year to hit the 30% target, but has since recalibrated. Now, says Michael DeFazio, v-p, director, production planning and paper, and co-chair of the Random House Green Committee, Random expects to hit the 30% mark in 2013; interim goals are 22.5% for 2011, and 25% by 2012. DeFazio cited the lack of good, affordable recycled paper as a major hurdle in hitting its original goal. Earlier this year, Scholastic reported that its use of recycled paper rose to 19.8% in 2009, from 15.1% in 2008, but use of FSC-certified paper declined to 17.3%, from 19.7%. With more FSC paper available this year, Scholastic remains on track to hit its target of having recycled paper make up 25% of its paper use by 2012 and to have FSC paper be 30%, also by 2012. The Hachette Book Group, the most recent major trade publisher to adopt an environmental policy (in November 2009), also hopes to reach its target of using 30% recycled paper by 2012 and upping its FSC use to 20%. But Pete Datos, v-p, inventory and procurement of HBG, and chair of the Book Industry Environmental Council, acknowledges that the paper market "has become more volatile." While some areas of going green will pay for themselves, using more recycled paper is almost certainly going to cost more, Datos says.

Higher costs are something John Sargent has built in to Macmillan's new sustainability efforts. Macmillan doesn't have a paper policy with announced targets and dates, but the company is in the final stages of doing an analysis that Sargent says will dramatically alter the way Macmillan operates, from creating galleys through selling remainders. By January, Sargent expects to have a good understanding of the specific issues that will allow the publisher to develop a long-range plan. "We want to set a 10-year target that will reduce our carbon footprint by a large percentage," Sargent says. "It will touch every business process." According to Sargent, sustainability is now one of Macmillan's core missions, along with sales and profit growth.

While there are many variables to consider when adopting an environmental policy, Sargent says the clearest place to draw a line "is at the forest." Many publishers agree, especially concerning endangered forests. Karen Romano, v-p, director of production and manufacturing at Simon & Schuster, says the company is much more aware of where its suppliers are getting their timber from and last month added a provision in its contracts with overseas printers requiring them to eliminate the use of paper from controversial sources, or that may contain fiber from endangered and old growth forest areas. Thanks to better tools from both the AAP and BIEC, S&S "knows its supply chain better. We know what is in our fiber basket and where the fiber comes from," she says.

Currently, the most sensitive spot is Indonesia. In October, a roundtable was held in New York that brought together U.S. publishers and Asian printers and print brokers to discuss ways the entire publishing industry can work together to curb the deforestation of large swaths of Indonesian forests and peatlands, which is contributing to making Indonesia the third largest global greenhouse gas emitter. The meeting, both Miller and Datos say, was productive.

Indonesia is the focal point of the Rainforest Action Network, whose forest campaign director, Lafcadio Cortesi, was recently in China talking to Chinese printers about the importance of proper sourcing of paper from Indonesia. Last week, the organization issued a report and consumer guide on children's books, rating how 11 of the country's largest children's publishers fare in adopting policies to phase out use of controversial Indonesian paper suppliers. Most U.S. publishers have been responsive to calls to help preserve Indonesia's forest and peatlands, Cortesi says. "We've had more engagement over the past four months," he says. "Everyone recognizes this is a significant issue."

While banning purchases from controversial Indonesian suppliers would "put publishers on the right side of human rights," Cortesi says, it also helps to ensure that they are in compliance with the May 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act, which bans commerce in illegally sourced plants and their products, including timber and wood products. Cortesi notes that a number of other industries are moving to cut ties with companies engaged in questionable logging practices, and explains that the goal of RAN is not to penalize publishers but "to change paper suppliers' practices on the ground."

One factor that both Cortesi and Miller use in judging a publisher's commitment to environmental concerns is whether they have a paper policy with announced goals, and policies to meet those goals. That's because the logging and manufacturing of paper is the greatest contributor, by far, to the industry's carbon footprint. According to the Green Press Initiative, the U.S. book industry used 1.24 million tons of paper in 2009. GPI's project manager Todd Pollak estimates that if 10% of that paper was post-consumer-waste recycled paper the carbon footprint would be 7.23 million tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. If the pcw portion was bumped up to 15%, the CO2 equivalent would fall to 6.95 million tons. At present the GPI, in association with the BIEC (which GPI coordinates), is working on gathering a pcw figure for the industry. In the "Environment Trends" report, the pcw average was put at 5%.

The industry's increased use of pcw is just one of the encouraging signs Miller sees in publishers' commitment to improving their environmental policies. He notes that more than 50% of publishers now have environmental commitments on record. Time lines and measurements of how much recycled and FSC paper are used are important, Miller says, because publishers "just can't talk about it. They have to have targets and goals in place."

Besides higher use of pcw and more environmental commitments, other positive developments Miller sees are more signatories to GPI's Book Treatise on Environmentally Responsible Publishing, which now has 227 publishers, 29 printers, and six mills on board.

The BIEC now has 30 active members and action plans, which, in addition to doing annual surveys of recycled and FSC fiber usage, include preparing a more in-depth study similar to the first "Environmental Trends" report. An eco-label program is being developed and a returns committee has been established to look for ways to reduce the number of books in landfills. One of the first things BIEC did was to draft a climate goal, committing the book industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020 (from a 2006 baseline) so as to achieve an 80% reduction by 2050, a goal still in place.

The recession has certainly slowed the industry's momentum toward creating more sustainable business practices, but has not killed it. "I'm encouraged that there hasn't been too much backsliding," Miller notes. Pushing ahead with green initiatives remains a top priority at Random, DeFazio says, "even as we and our vendors face some hard realities now and ahead." Being environmentally responsible, observes Datos, "is important to our various stakeholders, including authors, employees, and management."