Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Random House's CEO is apparently stepping down, but how about his green legacy?

The New York Times reported yesterday that Peter Olson, the CEO of Random House and one of the most powerful figures in American book publishing, will step down in the next few weeks, according to two executives at Bertelsmann, the German media conglomerate that owns the division.

Random House is the world’s largest trade book publisher and naturally it's a big story. This story has also a green side and a very important one - how Mr. Olson's expected departure will influence Random House's paper policy that was initiated in 2006 and enjoyed his full support?

In May 2006 Random House surprised the book industry when they announced that they will raise the proportion of recycled paper used by the company to at least 30% by 2010 from about 3% at the time of the announcement. The reduction in the usage of virgin paper is expected to result in saving of more than 550,000 trees annually once Random House hits the target of the 30% level in 2010.

On Bertelsmann's website you can learn how Mr. Olson felt about the new initiative: "Random House CEO Peter Olson pegs the financial commitment involved at several million dollars. “We believe that our new paper policy is the right step at the right time,” said Olson. “And we hope that other companies who buy large volumes of paper in the marketplace will take similar measures.” "

I can't know it for sure, but this quote as well as other indications makes me feel that Mr. Olson, who runs Random House since 1998, was very supportive of this move. Another indication for that is his involvement with Random House efforts to green up their business. I learned from the 'Book Industry Environmental Trends & Climate Impacts' report that he chairs the company's green committee. This committee, according to the report, has taken more steps to address the environmental impacts of the company's operations. The company's headquarters, for example, received LEED certification.

Random House, according to the report, succeeded to meet its intermediate 2007 target of 10% recycled paper content and is now working on meeting its 2008 goal - 15%.

From the article at the NYT, I understand that Mr. Olson is leaving his position due to lower profits of Random House (operating profit declined 4.9% in 2007) that influence Bertelsmann's financial results.
It is not clear yet who will replace Mr. Olson, but my concern is that the new CEO appointed by Bertelsmann might see the company's green initiative differently - an excess expense rather than an investment that will pay off eventually both financially and strategically.

At the same time it seems that so far Random House is implementing the recycled paper policy with no major costs, so I hope that it will be taken into consideration when the new CEO will look for ideas where she or he can cut the company's expenses and I'm sure they will.

All in all, I hope that even after Mr. Olson will leave the CEO position, his green legacy at Random House will stay there permanently.

Raz @ Eco-Libris