Love Books, Hate the Environment?

Ever wonder about the environmental impact of book and newspaper publishing? The billions of books, newspapers and magazines that are produced daily MUST have a major impact on the environment, right?

I'll be honest here. As a bibliophile and a greenie, I've been avoiding that particular question for some time. I stopped using plastic bags and bottles, switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), I compost and collect rainwater – all without complaint. But ask me to give up my books? Not bloody likely.

Like any book lover, I enjoy browsing the thousands of titles in my local book store, and I can't resist buying at least one every time I visit. But recently, the realization has dawned that my book habit may be at odds with my efforts to live a greener life. So, in an effort to reconcile the conflict, I decided to do a little research.

The Bad & the Ugly
According to a study by the Green Press Initiative, a non-profit group of publishers and environmentalists:

 "The entire paper industry, when accounting for forest carbon loss, emits nearly 750 million tons of C02 equivalent annually – nearly 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 136 million cars. The U.S. book and newspaper industries combined require the harvest of 125 million trees each year and emit over 40 million metric tons of CO2 annually; equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 7.3 million cars."

Whoa. That's BAD. That makes the book industry the fourth largest source of greenhouse gasses in the US. The Green Press Initiative boiled their study down to this basic fact: The entire book industry process from forest to retail store emits 8.85 pounds of CO2 per book.

Of course, this piece of information makes me want to run out and plant a zillion trees to replace the hundreds of books on my shelves. But, there is a bright spot – the fact that responsible publishers are reacting quickly to reduce the use of harvested trees used to produce published works.

The Good
Okay, this is "small g" good, but it's a start. Working with publishers, paper mills, printers and merchants, the Green Press Initiative developed the The Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use, a list of timely, actionable environmental goals for making publishing a more forest-friendly industry. Their efforts have led to changes in policy for over 180 publishers in the US and Canada resulting in higher recycled fiber use and a reduction of 1.4 million tons of greenhouse emissions.

As a newly responsible book buyer, I plan on choosing books printed by publishers who use recycled materials and avoid using virgin fiber as much as possible. Apparently the best way to do this is to check for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo. The FSC logo indicates that your book supports conservation, responsible resource management and indigenous communities. To get this certification, the product "must have flowed through the FSC "chain-of-custody" from the FSC-certified forest, to a paper manufacturer, merchant, and finally printer who have FSC chain-of-custody certification."

If you'd like to green your library, check out the PDF list of publishers with FSC certification.

1 comments
Posted by Hempster on April 20,2009 at 9:42 AM

Again with the trees! Why not hemp paper for reading materials? I believe the technology exists to banish the use of paper from trees - why isn't this factored into the mission to reduce the carbon foot print and save the forests? Until people become more socially aware of who is really running the show and how most of the environmental shames are related to big business and $$ - nothing will ever change. Stop taking all the spoon feed answers and think about it. I love reading too, but it would be nice if I had a choice in hard copy materials used to make the books.

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