Saturday, April 12, 2008

How green is the book publishing industry? An interview with Tyson Miller, Director of the Green Press Initiative

After I wrote here about the publication of the of 'Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry', and reviewed some of the most important findings, it's time of the third (and last) part of our coverage of the report.

Today I am very excited to bring you an interview I conducted with Tyson Miller, the Founder and Director of the Green Press Initiative (GPI). The Green Press Initiative, together with the The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), initiated and prepared this impressive report that presents and analyzes the book industry's ecological footprint.

Not only that Tyson Miller is one of the people who led the work on the report, but he is also one of the most knowledgeable people about the issues brought up in the report. In the last seven years he directs the Green Press Initiative (which he also founded) – a program which is catalyzing environmentally responsible book publishing in the U.S. He initiated the Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use, which more than 150 publishers have signed so far, and is also involved in the efforts of big publishers, such as Simon & Schuster and Scholastic, to develop green policies.

Therefore, I was very happy for the opportunity to have this interview with Mr. Miller, shedding more light on the report and its implications. I hope you'll enjoy it as well!

Can you tell us about the work on the report - how many people were involved, who led it, how much time it took, etc. ?

It took about 9 months and was led primarily by BISG, GPI and our research partner, the Borealis Centre for Environment and Trade Research. We also were very fortunate to have a generous group of report sponsors and a diverse committee of industry stakeholders to help guide the process.

Over 1,000 constituents involved in all segments of the book industry were invited to take part in the survey that was the base for the report. Eventually 104 responded. Were you satisfied with this response rate?

I would have been happier with better participation...but it was the first effort and we were asking for a lot in terms of the time commitment to answer all of the questions. I'm confident that future studies will have a higher participation rate. Nevertheless, the data gathered accurately reflects trends and for publishers, at least, we had 45% of market share responding.

How difficult was the calculation of the book industry's carbon footprint?

Quite a challenge, but our findings were in line with the findings of several large publishers that have done their own carbon audits. I was surprised to see that the CO2 equivalent emissions connected to paper represented over 70% of the industry's emissions. I figured transportation would have had more of an impact.

You report that the average use of PCW recycled paper is 5% - what do you see as the main obstacle that currently stops publishers from using more PCW recycled paper?

We had to use the 5% figure as an estimate for the printing and writing sector. The actual trend for recycled fiber at the mill level was over 13% and had jumped sixfold from just 2.5% a few years prior. But since we only had 17% of mills reporting, we couldn't use the figure. My guestimation is that the industry is likely at about 15% recycled fiber. Either way, the biggest hurdle is cost and with increasing demand and a lack of corresponding infrastructure development, costs could rise.

How many of the trees cut down for the production of books are grown in tree plantations? what can done to stop the conversion of rich ecosystems into tree plantations?

Most of the world’s paper supply, about 71 percent, is not made from timber harvested at tree farms but from forest-harvested timber, from regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. (Toward a Sustainable Paper Cycle: An Independent Study on the Sustainability of the Pulp and Paper Industry, 1996)

Do you think that the effort to go green in the industry should be solely voluntary, or it might be that we need legislation to move faster, for example, a legislation that will tax paper sourced from non-sustainable sources?

I think that market transformations are inherently voluntary initiatives and are moving along at a pace quite quickly without legislation. Legislation could be useful for big-picture objectives like carbon-reduction emission reduction targets across all sectors.

What is the reason that e-books weren't part of the report and is there any plan to further explore the environmental impacts of e-books in the next reports?

In order to address e-books effectively, I'd need to look at a lifecycle comparison that analyzes the impacts of e-readers vs. paper as a medium. I do hope that we can explore much more in-depth in future iterations.

How's the U.S. book industry doing in comparison with the European book industry?

I haven't seen a benchmarking analysis from Europe...but I'd say we're on par or ahead.

What's the most important lesson we can learn from the report?

Likely that the emissions associated with paper constitutes approximately 70% of the industry's carbon footprint and also that the industry is really meaning making meaningful progress - a sixfold increase in recycled fiber at the mill level over the past fours years. I also found it telling that such a significant portion of surveyed companies had environmental policies that are completed or intended.

This report will definitely become an important benchmark in the industry. When we can expect the next report?

Hopefully we can track a reduced number of metrics annually.

What's next? are there any planned actions on an industry scale?

More of the same - we'll keep plugging away and supporting the leaders and those that aren't quite ready to lead.

I read in the report that there's a Book Industry Environmental Council in development - can you tell us more about it?

We felt that it would be great to have industry leaders helping to inform important priorities such as the development of a standardized tracking mechanism for monitoring environmental indicators and progress, determining parameters and protocols for reducing the industry's carbon footprint, guiding future revisions to the Treatise, and developing standards for an on-product environmental label.

Thank you Tyson for the interview! The report can be ordered on GPI and BISG websites. The summary of the findings is also available for view.

az @ Eco-Libris