Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hunger Games and green reading

"The Hunger Games" had a record box office opening, taking in $155 million in U.S. ticket sales over the last weekend and setting up what promises to be one of the biggest film franchises of this decade. The movie is based on the book The Hunger Games, the first novel in the Hunger Games trilogy written by Susan Collins.

The success of the movie
helps boost the sales of the trilogy and Scholastic, the publisher of the Hunger Games Trilogy announced on Wednesday that there were 36.5 million copies of the bestselling trilogy in print, a 55 percent jump from the 23.5 million copies in print at the start of 2012.

Why I'm telling you all of this? Because I believe The Hunger Games phenomenon provides some important and valuable lessons for everyone who is interested in making books greener.

Let's start with a fact: According to Lisa Serra, Director of Paper Procurement at Scholastic, the hardcover copies
of the three books in the series (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay) are printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Chain of Custody-certified text stock containing 20 percent post-consumer fiber (source: Joshua Martin, Environmental Paper Network Director).

Now, let's move on to three assumptions:

1. If you are interested in reading one of the Hunger Games, most chances are that you don't find it too important what paper it is printed on - you won't look for another book if you will find out the trilogy is printed on 100 percent virgin paper, just like you won't buy it only because it's printed on 20 percent FSC-certified paper or even if it's 100 percent recycled paper. In other words: The sustainability level of the paper will not be a factor in your decision. Most chances are that you probably won't even think about it.

2. Those readers who will be concerned with the issue of the paper might consider reading the Hunger Games electronic version - the e-book costs just like the paperback ($5) and no paper is used at all. Couldn't it get any greener than that?

3. Scholastic probably knows that the fact it is using 20 percent FSC-certified paper doesn't really make a difference for the majority of readers. Most of them probably are not even aware to the fact that Scholastic is making this effort, or to the fact that after making significant progress toward its original targets for 2012, Scholastic decided to increase its 2012 goal from 30% FSC-certified paper to 35%.

As we already know a book is a unique product - it's not like toothpaste or a cleaning product where customers can switch to a competing product that is more sustainable and provide them a better value. If they want a certain book, they will just get it and there's no better example right now than the Hunger Games. Just think about yourself - would you avoid purchasing the Hunger Games just because it's printed on 80 percent virgin paper? Probably not.

You might be considering reading it on an e-reader or even going to the library to get a copy or e-copy of the book, but you certainly won't give it up for 'green' reasons per se.

So what lessons can we learn from the example of the Hunger Games and what actions can we take to apply them?

1. Readers will not be the drivers of change when it comes to printing books on a more sustainable paper (i.e. FSC-certified or recycled paper). Nevertheless, it is important to keep educating them about the impacts of paper, so even if it won't be a substantial factor in their decision making, they will still be aware of it.

2. Readers are moving to e-reading and many of them believe it is also a greener alternative since no paper is involved. It is important to make sure readers will know it's not always the case and be aware that e-reading also has its own footprint. It's also important to encourage readers to demand companies like Amazon to disclose the environmental impacts of the e-readers they sell.

3. Although readers might not be a major driver for change, publishers should make efforts to inform them on their efforts to green up their operations, especially when there is what to report on. Scholastic, for example, should try to make sure every reader of the Hunger Games in its paper version would know that the book is printed using 20 percent FSC-certified paper.

4. Publishers should think of their efforts to make their books more sustainable in terms of stakeholder engagement. Right now it looks like their best shot to generate both tangible and intangible rewards out of these efforts. Just think about the RAN campaign against publishers printing on linked to Indonesian rainforest destruction (Scholastic by the way was among RAN's recommended publishers) or the trouble Gibson Guitars got into when they were accused in violating the Lacey Act, and you can see how stakeholder engagement provide a great monetary incentive to shift to FSC-certified any recycled paper.

5. We still don't have the best answers to the question how to make reading more sustainable - technology provides hope and stakeholder engagement provide incentives, but it's still not enough to drive a change fast enough. Trees are still been cut in an unsustainable way and we know it can be avoided. We just need to keep figuring out how. Any ideas?

Please feel free to share add your comments and thoughts!


Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Plant trees for your books!