The ‘Green’ TEAM
According to one of the better-known accounts in the compendium of humankind’s greatest achievements, it was in the year 105 that a Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun invented paper, mashing up wood from a mulberry tree with fiber from bamboo. Thus was born a technology that would literally change the world, making possible artistic, scientific and religious revolutions, democratizing literacy and learning, and ushering humanity into the modern age.
In recent times, paper production has played a role in changing the world in other ways. The book industry alone required 3 million to 4 million tons of paper over just the last three years, which translates into the consumption of a lot of trees—at least 60 million worldwide, according to the nonprofit Green Press Initiative (GPI), including wood harvested in some of Earth’s most sensitive ecosystems, the Canadian boreal forest and the Indonesian rain forest among them.
And then there’s the proliferation of greenhouse gases. According to ice core data (which is data derived from a core sample of the accumulation of snow and ice over many years) compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, in Ts’ai Lun’s day, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was at around 280 parts per million, close to where it had been for millennia and where it would remain for approximately the next 1,700 years. Since the 1800s, the industrial revolution has fueled a spike in atmospheric CO2 levels without precedent in the last 650,000 years.
With the GPI reporting that the paper industry emits the fourth-highest level of C02 among manufacturers, these are not numbers the book industry can ignore, as there is widespread evidence of a correlation between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperatures. Deforestation from all causes is estimated to account for 25 percent of human-generated carbon emissions. Another concern is methane, produced by paper as it breaks down in landfills, which, the GPI says, has 23 times the heat-trapping power of carbon.
Therefore, like many paper-consuming industries in recent years, book publishers have found their environmental impacts coming under increasing scrutiny, and have been presented with, or have sought out, strategies for reducing them. What works best often depends on the size of a company, as well as specific manufacturing and supply chain considerations, making the equation of how best to be “green” without significant additional expense a complex one. The only thing certain is that, in an age when globalization equals a world of consumers concerned about the fate of the planet, dealing with the industry’s environmental footprint can no longer be put on the back burner.
Assessing the Real Impact
Any discussion of the best way to “green” the book industry has to begin with an understanding of the relative environmental impact of paper consumption. The image of old-growth tropical hardwoods being cut down by giant machines for pulp, furniture and building materials is a powerful one, but must be put alongside the fact that logging only accounts for about 20 percent of global deforestation, according to NASA Landsat data, with 65 percent coming from agriculture. (Animal and plant husbandry—the clearing of Brazil’s rainforest for ranching is a well-known example—has always been the No. 1 cause of forest loss.)
Then there’s the term “deforestation,” which in some contexts might well be replaced with the more precise “forest conversion.”
“… Harvesting followed by reforestation is not considered deforestation,” says Robert Cate Jr., director of corporate and environmental affairs at paper, pulp and forest products company AbitibiBowater Inc. “Deforestation is land-use change from forest type to nonforest type, such as urban sprawl and agriculture.”
By this definition, the paper industry has always practiced a form of sustainability in the forested land owned directly by the mills, notes J. Kirby Best, president & CEO at on-demand book manufacturer Lightning Source Inc.
“For every tree they take down, they plant two or three,” Best says.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification program, favored by many paper companies, provides guarantees that forests are well managed and that all wood used comes from legal sources. Because of regulated tree harvesting and forest-management practices in Canada and the United States, Best says deforestation is not an issue for Lightning Source, which only uses Canadian and American pulp.
On the other hand, forest-conversion practices, whether clear-cutting and replanting in the boreal, selective cutting on private lands or pulp plantations in the southeastern United States, are far from environmentally neutral. Cutting down natural forestland is considered a blow to biodiversity with serious consequences for animal habitat. In addition, according to the GPI, recent studies have concluded that the ability of undisturbed forests to remove carbon from the atmosphere is far greater than in previously clear-cut zones: Even forests last logged 70 years ago only store about half the carbon of untouched woodland.
Forest-conversion is a key issue among those who favor the more stringent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system, and those who prefer other plans, such as the SFI or Canadian Standards Association (CSA) programs. FSC seeks to minimize forest-conversion impacts by not certifying plantations that were created after 1994. Tyson Miller, GPI executive director, notes that it is widely lauded as the best practice on the ground because of its criteria associated with protecting endangered and high-conservation-value forests, and controlling large-scale clear-cutting. He notes that FSC is the only system that integrates social concerns into forest-management plans and requires consensus to any disputes.
An FSC label is no guarantee that ecological harm is not being done, however. This was recently highlighted by a Wall Street Journal article about an Indonesian paper company whose “FSC mixed sources” product contained wood from clear-cut rainforest. (The loophole passed muster because the non-FSC-certified wood, which can make up 50 percent of a product earning a “mixed” label, came from a legal source).
The problem, FSC detractors say, is that a too-stringent program has few takers, and must therefore loosen its labeling standards if it is to have any real influence.
Because adopting use of FSC-certified paper across the board is impossible for most publishers, the “Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use” (developed by the Treatise Leadership Council, an industry stakeholder group) calls for an industry average of 20-percent FSC-certified (or equivalent) paper usage by 2012. The goal, says Miller, is to strike a balance between what is feasible, given current supply chain realities, and “the need to reduce pressure on standing forests and use the best management practices where harvesting is occurring.”
Forest-management complexities lead some to argue that, from a practical, end-point perspective, FSC, SFI and CSA certifications are not that different.
“If you were to compare the different standards on the ground [and] visit different forests, you would not be able to see the difference,” says Barry Graedon, AbitibiBowater’s manager of sustainable forestry. “All three are focused on sustainable management, responsible harvesting, resource management, soil and water conservation, wildlife habitat and biological diversity.”
When it comes to near-term conservation goals, the use of recycled paper is probably even more critical than forest management. New technologies have allowed forward-thinking paper companies to push the bounds of the possible when it comes to the use of recycled fiber.
“We developed a vision that none of our products would have less than 30-percent recycled content,” says Normand Lecours, vice president of sales and marketing at Cascades Fine Papers Group. The company made a strategic decision to eliminate virgin content and introduce a 100-percent post-consumer product line, which has proven very successful, he says.
“You talk about hitting the market at the right time,” says Lecours. “We’ve grown tremendously over the last three years.”
The level of customer response has allowed the company to set an unprecedented goal: expanding its 100-percent post-consumer-waste product line, which represented 25 percent of overall sales in 2007, to 85 percent of sales by 2010.
The recycling push follows the introduction (in 2005) of a $10 million bio-gas program, which captures methane released by decomposing garbage and pipes it to one of the company’s mills, where it substitutes for natural gas.
“From an environmental perspective, that represents about 20,000 cars removed from the road annually,” Lecours says.
AbitibiBowater has made a “very serious effort” to expand recycling capabilities since 2000, Cate says, investing millions in modernized equipment and facilities. The company now offers more than 40 grades of paper with recycled content, with the amount of recycled fiber dependent on the grade, the location of mills and other factors.
Such a focus on making recycled content available to customers is an industrywide phenomenon, according to an environmental benchmark study under way by the GPI and the Book Industry Study Group, and scheduled for release in March at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo.
The study will show significant progress on the recycled-fiber front, according to Miller. While specific numbers could not yet be released, “There’s been a near tenfold increase in recycled-fiber use from printers, and for mills, an over fivefold increase in the past few years,” he reports.
Given the industrial footprint of forestry and paper production, recycled paper must continue to be a key component of reducing climate impacts going forward, Miller adds.
“The carbon emissions associated with forest harvest … and paper production combined is 10 times that associated with book manufacturing, transportation and distribution, and publisher travel and office energy consumption combined,” he says, “so publishers’ focus on using more recycled and FSC-certified paper is the right place to focus.”
A ‘New Consciousness’
Environmental Defense, a Boston-based environmental advocacy group founded in 1967 as the Environmental Defense Fund, made its name leading the fight to ban the pesticide DDT and remove lead from gasoline in the ’60s and ’70s. Over time, the group moved its focus beyond the courts and public policy to work closely with the private sector.
Corporate partnerships are now one of the four “core strategies” used by the group to tackle environmental problems, most famously in working with McDonald’s to eliminate Styrofoam (and thereby, 300 million pounds of packaging waste) in the early ’90s. In recent years, the group has turned its attention to paper concerns, and found willing partners in the book industry.
“A new consciousness about climate change has come seemingly overnight. 2007 was a pivotal year …,” says Rachel Beckhardt, project analyst for the corporate partnerships team at Environmental Defense. “It used to be inquiries only related to forest and wood. Now they want to know the true life cycle of the process … People are really concerned about where this paper comes from and where it’s going.”
To help publishers get a handle on these issues, the organization provides a “paper calculator” on its Web site (EnvironmentalDefense.org), which allows companies to get a sense of the environmental impact of a particular paper across its full life cycle. The calculator also creates equivalencies, such as how increases in recycled content equal X number of cars off the road. The calculator has been used by Random House and Scholastic, and has been incorporated into their goals for paper use.
For Scholastic, saving 8,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions by printing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” with 30-percent post-consumer recycled fiber in 2007 was a presage to a comprehensive corporate policy—developed in consultation with the Rainforest Alliance and GPI—which Scholastic announced in January. By 2012, the company will increase its purchase of FSC-certified paper for publications to 30 percent and its use of recycled paper to 25 percent, with 75 percent coming from post-consumer waste.
“Recycling is something we always did,” notes Francine Colaneri, vice president of manufacturing and purchasing at Scholastic. “The difference here was [that] our goal was a goal that would be challenging for us, that would enable us to bring products that are better than what was being done in the past, to satisfy our stakeholders and challenge the mills.”
The company hopes to facilitate industrywide change by encouraging stakeholders up and down the supply chain to use environmentally sound products and practices, which will, in turn, drive down prices and allow more publishers to participate.
“We have also done things from a product perspective,” Colaneri adds. “We worked with one of our mills to develop lightweight paper, reducing basis weight. We really think the ‘reduce’ side [of the conservation equation] is most important.”
Aside from manufacturing improvements, Scholastic has striven to cut energy costs in other ways, including an under-floor heating and cooling system, and efficient lighting at the company’s headquarters.
Scholastic is the latest in an increasingly long line of publishers making a commitment to “green” principles. The “early adopters,” according to the GPI, include Lantern Books (which prints nearly all titles on 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper and was the first publisher to publicly develop a policy); Baker Publishing Group (which in 2003 began the process of implementing a 30-percent post-consumer recycled fiber policy that was fully in place by 2006); and Harvard University Press (which currently has 30 percent of its titles printed with 30-percent to 50-percent post-consumer grade).
A major development for the industry came with Random House’s announcement of a comprehensive policy in May 2006. Working with the GPI, the world’s largest trade publisher became, in Miller’s words, a “catalyst” for the industry by committing to a tenfold increase in the company’s use of recycled uncoated paper by 2010, from 3 percent to 30 percent.
“We’re proud that our initiative set a benchmark for our industry. For us, this is not a competition, but a collaboration with our fellow publishers, paper mills and printers,” says Andrew Van der Laan, director and senior project manager of the publishing operations projects group at Random House. “It’s gratifying to see more environmental policies come forward from our fellow publishing companies.”
Van der Laan reports the plan is on track, with Random House exceeding its full-year 2007 goal of 10-percent recycled fiber by last October.
Beyond its environmental paper policy, Random House has, like Scholastic, embraced a number of other practices designed to reduce impacts throughout the company. A “green” committee, chaired by CEO Peter Olsen, identifies environmental initiatives across company divisions, and
s regarding its “green” initiatives.
“We have found that our initiative has had a strong impact, especially within the trade,” says Joe D’Onofrio, senior vice president of supply chain operations. “Over the last year, many of our accounts have made inquiries about our environmental policies, and we are increasingly being queried about them by our authors. We have publicized our initiative in both consumer and trade press, and also have posted it permanently on our Web site.”
Recognition of consumer and author interest has led to proposals for a “green” trademark that can be affixed to book labels. “We [GPI] are going to be creating a book industry Environment Council, which will oversee the development of a logo readily identifiable for customers to see,” Miller reports.
Challenges and Complexities
Of course, if going “green” were a win-win on every front, publishers across the board would be striving to match the goals of a company like Scholastic. Difficulties range from cost considerations to the realities of current supply chain capabilities and on-the-ground climate impacts.
“Paper is a commodity, and, like any commodity, will always be subject to market forces,” notes D’Onofrio. “At present, book-quality papers made with recycled fiber are still not routinely available. The number of mills that can produce such papers from recycled fiber needs to increase, and we are also seeing much recycled fiber exported overseas.”
“Hopefully our suppliers will recognize that publishers, retailers, authors and consumers view ‘green’ production as a high priority, and they will move with the market to support our goals. But this will require a massive change to their infrastructure and is very much a long-term goal,” says D’Onofrio.
Van der Laan says that constant monitoring of the availability, quality and pricing of recycled fiber is key to Random House’s initiative. “As the demand for recycled fiber grows both domestically and abroad, and the price increases, our partnerships with our mills and merchants become ever more significant.”
Miller compares recycling to the oil and gas industry, with de-inkers playing the same role as refineries, and supply and demand intimately tied to infrastructure. “[One of the richest] women in China is a recycled-paper trader,” he notes. “We need to have more de-inking factories built. With publishers coming out with policies to increase recycled content levels to 30 percent and beyond, that sends a signal up the supply chain.”
Many are unaware of the influence of Chinese demand on the price of recycled fiber, according to Cate. “The American recovery rate is above 70 percent for newsprint, 50 percent for paper and journals,” he says. “The Chinese are starting up modern paper mills, and many of these are 100-percent recycled content. As they are getting fiber from North America and Europe, there is a tremendous demand, and recovered fiber is now at record prices.”
On the printing side, there is the ever-evolving effort to make available new paper grades that can accommodate both environmental and quality concerns. “We partner closely with our printers,” Van der Laan says, “testing new recycled papers … to make sure that our customers and readers will still receive the quality products they associate with Random House.”
The four-color paperback books that are Scholastic’s stock and trade can only utilize so much post-consumer waste before the paper content begins to change the look and feel of the product, Serra notes.
“Four-color does not lend itself to high-content post-consumer waste,” she says. “The same is true for one-color, high-bulk paper, because when you add a lot of post-consumer waste to high-bulk, it doesn’t have the same look. The challenge is: how to increase the amount of recycled paper, but still increase bulk?”
“It isn’t just a matter of quality,” she adds, “but the formulation of that paper doesn’t lend itself to high volumes of post-consumer-waste content, which is why the [Environmental Protection Agency] has only a 10-percent minimum requirement for coated paper—and we are meeting that 10-percent minimum on most of our coated freesheet paper purchases.”
For Simon & Schuster, a primary factor is availability. “Our target for FSC-certified paper is, in large part, based on the availability of FSC paper in grades that are compatible with our current product mix,” D’Onofrio says.
As understandings of climate impacts become more sophisticated, even the normally unquestioned propriety of recycling has come under scrutiny.
“It’s so easy to jump on the recycled-paper bandwagon, but the recycling process might have a bigger carbon footprint than reusable forest products,” Best says. “If they’re driving it to pulping stations, the use of fossil fuels involved with that might exceed the benefit of it. That’s why research is so important.”
Miller notes, however, research has been done that takes into consideration pulp transportation, along with many other environmental parameters, and the results show that the benefits of using recycled paper outweigh the impacts of the processes involved in producing (and shipping) it.
“Companies are now asking, in terms of climate change, ‘Is it preferable to get virgin paper from Canada or recycled paper from China?’ How do we reconcile transportation emissions?’” says Beckhardt.
“Just the fact that publishers are asking these questions shows the growth in the market,” she says. “We maintain recycled content is better, but it’s complicated, and as we move closer and closer to climate-change legislation federally, we are going to have thousands of issues to sort out.”
Since its formation in 2001, the GPI has labored tirelessly to create workable strategies for book publishers. The fact that almost 160 publishers have issued significant environmental policies or have signed on to the industry’s “Treatise on Responsible Paper Use” (nine printers and four paper mills have signed the treatise as well) is largely a testament to GPI’s tenacity in increasing awareness of the importance of the issue.
“Before we started our work, there wasn’t really a lot of information out there” for publishers, Miller says. “For smaller ones, it was just a matter of outreach … and there weren’t as many options” in “green” products on the market.
As more large publishers continue to adopt some or all of the principles advocated by the GPI, the industry will change for good—and, most would agree, for the better.