PubTalk: Green 2.0
Way, way back in early 2008, our sister magazine Book Business ran a long cover story (which I wrote) on efforts by publishers to go green. Back then, everyone in the industry, from New York executives to Canadian paper mills, was talking about ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Publishers were making commitments to increase use of recycled and lightweight paper, paying close attention to global sourcing, launching sites to educate kids and consumers about green practices and pushing corporate initiatives to switch out bulbs, carpool more and use less paper. For a while it felt like the story in publishing, a way for companies to burnish their image while demonstrating they were growing responsibly.
Then came the great recession.
After the economy fell apart in late 2008, one barely heard a peep about environmental issues. Talk turned to survival, righting the ship, retooling practices and moving forward amid rapid technological change. Companies worried about Apple, Amazon, Flipboard and Borders; there was little time or resources to devote to green initiatives. The idea of green as a publishing priority seemed dead as the dodo.
Lately, though, things have been picking up. With Hurricane Sandy, the Midwest drought and the hottest year on record in 2012, climate change is making itself hard to ignore. The recent controversy over Paperless 2013—a campaign to eliminate office paper use sponsored by the likes of Google Drive, HelloFax and Manilla (a bill management service owned by Hearst)—has rekindled the debate over whether print or electronic communication is the greener option.
The New York Times reported in September what many already suspected: the servers and data centers supporting cloud-based media suck up massive amounts of power and can be hugely wasteful. To enable our document sharing, video streaming and music storing, data warehouses use an estimated 30 billion watts of electricity worldwide, the Times reported, much of which originates from coal-fired power plants. The French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) calculates the carbon impact of a year of emailing as equivalent to three round-trip flights from Paris to New York. A report from the Green Press Initiative on the environmental impact of e-books points up the need for e-reader recycling programs, a reduction in toxic components in manufacturing and transparency regarding lifecycle impacts.