Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Green book of the week - Rethinking Paper & Ink: The Sustainable Publishing Revolution

If you're interested in making your reading greener then you know we are always looking for interesting resources that will help us to understand better how to do it.

Today we present you with one of the best resources on this topic, if not the best one -
Rethinking Paper & Ink: The Sustainable Publishing Revolution by Ooligan Press, which was released last month.

About the book (from the publisher's website):
Ooligan Press is committed to leading the industry in sustainable publishing. Rethinking Paper & Ink, the newest title in Ooligan’s OpenBook Series, offers an in-depth, critical examination of the current book publishing industry and discusses ways to achieve more sustainable practices during acquisitions, editing, design, printing, marketing, promotion, and distribution. Dedicated to transparency, accountability, and responsibility, each title in Ooligan’s OpenBook Series includes an audit detailing the choices made during the book’s production process. This effort enables Ooligan to outline the specific decisions they made and measure the impact of those decisions in order to inform others seeking similar sustainable options.

About the authors (from the publisher's website):
Rethinking Paper & Ink is a collaborative effort by students and a core teaching staff of publishing professionals at Portland State University’s Ooligan Press. This title is an expansion of a booklet of the same name that was written by Melissa Brumer and Janine Eckhart. Brumer and Eckhart were the founders of Ooligan Press’s Sustainable Publishing Initiative. Their initial booklet launched Ooligan Press’s BISAC Category: Business & Economics/Green Business.

We wanted to learn more about the book and the effort that was made to offer such an in-depth examination of the book industry from a sustainable point of view and therefore we got in touch with one of the authors, Natalie Guidry, who happily agreed to share with us her thoughts.

Hi Natalie. What brought you to publish this book?
Rethinking Paper & Ink
began its life in early 2009 as a grant-funded booklet written by Melissa Brumer and Janine Eckhart, the founders of Ooligan Press's Sustainable Publishing Initiative and OpenBook Series. When they began exploring ways to reduce Ooligan's impact as a publisher, they noticed that there were no current titles that explored sustainability in the book publishing industry and decided to fill that gap with their own research and findings.

As the remaining printed copies of the original booklet began to dwindle in late 2009, Jessicah Carver and I (then-managers of the Sustainable Publishing Initiative) decided along with the rest of Ooligan Press that the most responsible way to continue the project was to expand and update the original manuscript and publish Rethinking Paper & Ink as a full-length title. Because this edition is part of Ooligan's internationally-distributed catalog, we released it with the intention that more writers, editors, publishers, and book lovers from all over the world could get involved in the conversation.

What was the most surprising part you've learned while conducting the research for the book?
I was initially surprised that the book's environmental impact extended far beyond the paper stock and distribution. Every aspect—from the ink on the page to the coating on the cover—can release hazardous compounds that directly and indirectly affect the environment. It's easy to make the connotation between books, paper production, and deforestation, but the removal of biomass from forests isn't the only harmful practice in place.

You bring some interesting examples of sustainable leaders in the industry, but do you feel the publishing industry as a whole is interested in going green?
I do. Though the book publishing industry has a tendency to be a slow adapter to emerging technologies, it's begun to take more environmentally responsible choices in stride. There have been many examples: from massively popular titles like Harry Potter being printed on recycled paper stocks to the smaller publishing houses that have joined forces with the Green Press Initiative and other like-minded groups. Hopefully, publishers will continue to take advantages of the available resources in attempts to decrease their impacts.

How about consumers? Do most of them care about this issue? Are they willing to take action?
I definitely believe that consumers are interested in a more sustainable book publishing industry. Readers, as well as the consumer population at large, have been more eager to support organizations that want to improve the state of our environment. I know many bibliophiles who fear that printed book as we know it is on the edge of extinction and want to take great strides to prevent that from happening. Though e-books seem to be the biggest threat, there is also the threat of the long-term and permanent effects of depleting natural resources through deforestation. By choosing to support publishers and booksellers who are making responsible decisions, readers can actually influence the fate of the printed book.

How about ebooks? How do we green them up?
I think that the most room for improvement in the realm of e-books comes down to the device manufacturers and booksellers. Manufacturers can focus on making long-lasting devices using alternative energy—for both production and for at-home use—and digital booksellers can ensure that the servers that are hosting the e-book files are powered by renewable energy as well. Publishers can focus on being more selective as to which books necessitate a print run and which are perfectly fine being published only in digital format. Hopefully, publishers will begin to shift all of their mass market paperback titles so that they’re only released digitally, since many of these titles reach the end of their shelf life after a single read or before they’re even sold from the bookstore.

How we can create a win-win model in the industry where going green will also positively impact competitiveness and profitability?
As with all decisions related to sustainability, I think it’s going to be a balancing act that will be in a constant state of flux. I think it’s going to start with publishers demanding more sustainably alternative options from their printers, which hopefully leads to a ripple effect of those resources and processes becoming the industry norm. As demand increases and these options become more affordable, publishers will be able to implement them without completely demolishing their financial bottom lines.

Additionally, publishers can offer incentives to booksellers to prevent unsold returns that the current system allows—and even encourages. This is probably the worst fate for a book as it has already used up resources and emitted pollutants in its production stage, but never sees its end purpose of being read. Publishers like Chelsea Green have this system in place and it's ensuring that booksellers follow through with getting the title into a consumer's hands and justifying its print run.

When you finished writing, were you more optimistic or pessimistic comparing to the day you started writing?
I was definitely optimistic. Even though we spend a lot of time discussing the negative impacts of the book publishing industry as it currently stands, we also mention a lot of alternative practices that are becoming more widespread throughout the industry. It's exciting to know that the interest is there to clean up the industry as it stands. At some point, the more harmful practices that are in wide use won't be an option—whether it's environmentally, financially, socially, or any combination of the three. Businesses and individuals like those highlighted in the industry profiles throughout the book are leading the way in this transition through their dedication to the future of the book publishing industry.

What's the most important lesson we can find in the book?
I'd say that the most important lesson is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution to solve the current problems in the industry. What works for one publisher may not work for another, so it's important for each publisher to examine their current areas of improvement and develop their own set of best practices.

Who should read this book?
Though this book is probably most beneficial to those who work in the book publishing industry, it also provides insight into the entire publishing process for readers who are interested in becoming more informed on how their favorite books came to be. Informed readers can use their purchasing power to support publishers who are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact and influence other publishers to begin to make those strides.

Thanks, Natalie!

To learn more about Ooligan Press please visit http://ooligan.pdx.edu. You can purchase the book on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading