Friday, May 14, 2010

Why should the book industry go green?

Our mission is to make reading more sustainable and to green up the book industry. Simple as that. But is it really that simple? and how exactly you do it? is it just good for the environment, or also for business?

We think of these and other questions every single day. We have our tree planting program, we support books that are printed responsibly and promote the implementation of sustainable practices, but we always look for more ways to get the right things done. Therefore, we start here a discussion about these issues that hopefully we'll get us as well as other people who are occupied with these questions some ideas on how make reading more sustainable.

We'll begin the discussion with the WHY question - why should the book industry go green? OK, obviously the industry has its carbon footprint (12.4 million metric tons - 2006 figures) and it would be better for planet earth if this footprint will be reduced, but what else? and even more important - can going green help the industry meet its current and future challenges?? Tough questions, but we're here to figure them out!

Let's start with some of the main 'engines' we identified that can possibly move the industry forward in a greener direction. Please not that they apply not only to publishers, but also to bookstores, distributors, authors, and anyone else who is involved in this industry.

1. The value of values - Jeffrey Hollender, in his new and fascinating book "The Responsibility Revolution" explains the value of values (real values) for companies and present a study of Prof. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School on companies and values, that concluded that in "companies where values and standards are widely shared, employees make better decisions, collaborate more effectively, and react to opportunities (and crises) more effectively." As Kanter explains "[values] are no longer afterthought.. but a starting point that helps companies find profitable growth".

Kanter's study focused on multinationals, but as Hollender justly adds "a genuine commitment to values can benefit a company of any size".
Chelsea Green is a great example -looking at their mission statement, it is no wonder they sustainably and successfully grow their business and even manage to do well in times of recession. Are all values necessarily sustainable? well, no matter how you look it, whether your values focus on the environment, local communities, employees or other stakeholders, these values are supporting either environmental or social sustainability, so yes they're sustainable. You just need to pick the ones that are right for your organization. So the bottom line is that having values and a sense of mission can not only create a good karma but also generate a real business value for publishers, bookstores and others.

2. Regulation - Regulation is still a more of a future issue than a present issue, but with the new Kerry-Lieberman Climate Law that was revealed this week, it looks like we're talking about the near future. Now, you might not think that this regulation will effect the book industry directly as it tends to focus mainly on the big emitters, but that's not totally true.

Firstly, such a regulation puts for the first time a price tag on carbon emissions and helps businesses to finally refer to climate change as what Prof. Andrew Hoffman of Michigan University calls "a market shift." This regulation
has the potential to change the business environment of many sectors, including the book industry - just think for example on possible changes in the cost of paper due to the need to take carbon emissions into account.

Now, how much impact a climate regulation can have on the book industry? we still have to see, but as Prof. Hoffman explains "the future is a carbon-constrained world and the time for action is now
Climate regulation creates risks and opportunities for almost every business (check out "The Carbon Hunters" to see one example
). Those who will be better prepared, by identifying the opportunities, managing the risks and adjusting their business strategy accordingly, will create significant competitive advantages for themselves. In all, this is also a good reason to green.

3. Business opportunities - The bad news is that for many in the industry going green means just paying more for recycled or FSC-certified paper. The good news is that a growing number of people in the industry begin to realize that going green is synonymous with the creation of business opportunities. In today's hectic business environment, where the
ways we find, buy and read books is constantly and profoundly changing, business opportunities can be the reason number one to go green.

Why going green = creating business opportunities? Because as Andrew Winston and Daniel Esty explain in their book "Green to Gold" going green can mean improvement of resource productivity, lowering costs upstream and downstream, promoting value innovation and developing breakthrough products.

You don't have to be an industry insider to know that there are so many wasteful practices (the return policy for example) and need to find new ways to make money. Going green is not a magic peel but it can certainly help with both goals. Just think about innovative products like the Espresso Book Machine or audiobooks that can be downloaded, or efficient models such as Print on Demand. These are all green win-win solutions. Starting to think green can definitely bring more of those.

4. Pressure from peer businesses - if this publisher is going green, maybe I should also do it? If this bookstore chain is adopting sustainable practices, maybe we better do it as well? I guess that here the fear that competitors might get a competitive advantage of these steps can drive companies in the book industry to match peers' efforts.

Is it an effective engine? only if companies will see business opportunities in it or feel that consumers demand it. If it's only a good-doing thing, it won't really influence them.

5. Consumers' demand - consumers want to see change and they exercise it in growing numbers.
As Joel Makower explains in his book "Strategies for the Green Economy" - "Vast majorities of consumers say they have adopted greener habits in their daily lives, and shop for at least some products with a keen eye on their environmental provenance and energy and climate impacts. In other words: the marketplace is getting greener."

Does it apply also for books? You Betcha. Many book readers are very passionate about the books they buy and and there are others, who might not be avid readers, but still look quite often for green products and would love to do it with books as well. Of course there are consumers that wouldn't really care, but I believe there are enough readers that would be interested to see their books going green. It's just a matter of awareness, relevance, availability of options and price.

The transition from print to digital is an important factor as many readers see e-books as a greener option, which hopefully will help to actually make it a a real greener option by pushing the e-book readers to produce devices that are more sustainable. At the same time, most readers will continue in the foreseen future to read physical books and there's a good chance we'll see a growing number of these readers ask publishers and bookstores to provide them with greener books. We'll further discuss this issue in our next post that will focus on green branding in the book industry.

Did we miss anything? if you think of any other engines that can drive the industry forward to the green direction please add your comment.

As mentioned, the next part of our discussion will be focused on the question: Can publishers build an effective green brand? We'll see you on Tuesday!

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!