Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Disney and HarperCollins - RAN is just behind you!

We are following for some time after RAN's campaign aiming to ensure children's books are not printed on paper linked to Indonesian rainforest destruction. Their efforts, which included the release of a detailed report report a consumer guide, are focusing now on two publishers that are still: Disney Publishing and HarperCollins.

We were curious to hear how's the campaign is going and asked Robin Averbeck, RAN's forest campaigner and Lafcadio Cortesi, RAN's forest campaign director to tell us more about it.

Hi Robin and Lafcadio. Can you tell us more about this campaign and what you achieved so far?

RAN started this campaign in early 2010 by fiber testing three books printed in China on coated papers from each of the top ten U.S. children's book publishers. We were surprised to find mixed tropical hardwoods and/or acacia fiber, both from the clearing and conversion of Indonesia's rainforests, in 60% of the books we tested. We released these findings in a report in late May and followed it up with a lot education and outreach to publishers.

After a period of education and engagement with publishers, we decided to release a consumer guide in November, which ranked publishers based on their commitments related to Indonesian rainforests and their broader environmental policies and practices. We gave each publisher one of three designations: Recommended, Can do better, or Avoid. Recommended publishers were publishers that committed to phase controversial Indonesian fiber and suppliers APP and APRIL until reforms are achieved and had a comprehensive paper policy or a commitment to create one.

This group included Scholastic, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Pearson/Penguin Group, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan, and Candlewick Press. Publishers that can do better include Random House and Sterling Publishing. Both made commitments to improve their paper practices and phase out controversial Indonesian fiber until reforms are achieved but had not committed to eliminating controversial suppliers APP and APRIL. Lastly, publishers to avoid are Disney Publishing and HarperCollins, and they have made no commitments to protecting Indonesia's or other endangered forests.

When we started this work, only one company, Scholastic, had taken formal action to eliminate ties with APP and APRIL and phase out controversial Indonesian fiber from their supply chain, but after engaging the others through the report and consumer guide process, we helped the vast majority of major U.S. children's book publishers to realize their impact on Indonesia's forests, understand the severity of the problem, and take action. We plan to ensure that publishers really follow through and implement their commitments and also keep up the pressure on the remaining laggards of the industry, HarperCollins and Disney Publishing. Here’s a blog we just wrote about Disney’s recent paper policy, which sadly falls short for Indonesia’s and other forests.

Why do you think Disney Publishing and HarperCollins don't agree to join the other publishers in taking steps to protect Indonesia's rainforests?

The only way to really know is to ask Disney Publishing and HarperCollins. If I were to speculate, I would guess they haven't taken action because it costs more money to be environmentally and socially responsible, and they believe they can get away with business as usual by simply paying lip service to these issues rather than taking meaningful action.

Do you think readers care about this issue? If they do, is there any evidence that they're willing to take these concerns into consideration when buying children's books?

I know readers care about this issue. From our first emails about this work to our most recent blog posts, people are following this campaign and have a lot to say. Mostly, people are shocked to discover that some of their favorite books (even those about environmental issues) are being printed on papers contributing to destruction of some of the world's most precious rainforests. People downloaded our book guide in large numbers, and many contributed to our rainforest-safe book database by going out to their local bookstores and sleuthing for books printed on recycled and FSC-certified papers.

From your experience in this campaign - What are the most effective ways to increase book lovers' awareness and get them to do the right thing?

Well, book lovers by and large are people who already care about the environment. For us, any sort of educational outreach has been met with a very positive response. However, to some extent consumer choice is different in the category of books than it is for other paper products, like toilet paper for example.

If someone wants a certain book but it is printed on environmentally unsound paper, they can't just buy a different book and get the same product. That's why it's so important that consumers put their concerns directly to the publisher to advocate for changes. Right now, we have an email campaign to Disney where people can voice their concerns, but picking up the phone, sending personal emails and letters, writing concerns on publishers' Facebook pages, etc. are always great too.

Of course, buying used books or using the local library are also good environmental options that we support. However, for a reader, these options won't always yield the book that is wanted, so again, it’s essential for consumers to voice concerns directly to the publishers.

It’s also very important for authors to learn about and talk with their publishers about these issues – requesting that their books be printed on environmentally responsible paper. The authors we’ve spoken with care and some have already taken action.

What do you tell supporters who ask you whether buying e-books won't be the most simple way to solve the problem and hence publishers should be encouraged to move from paper books to e-books?

Well, we know that electronic devices don't solve our environmental problems, they usually just present a different set of challenges related to mining, disposal, etc. We haven't done a lifecycle analysis to compare environmental impacts of e-reader vs. paper, so we can't speak to comparative pros and cons. We can say, however, if you're using paper, make sure it's good paper.

What will be your next steps in this campaign?

RAN will continue to track the progress of publishers we included in our first consumer guide as well as others. We also plan to keep up the pressure on the remaining laggards of the industry, HarperCollins and Disney Publishing. You can look forward to more from us in the months ahead, and for anyone who would like to keep up with us, they can join our Rapid Responder list.

Thank you Robin and Lafcadio!

To learn more visit http://www.ran.org/bookguide

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!

* Photos courtesy of RAN

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