Well, to be precise, traditional print books are made from trees. There’s much more that goes into the process of making a book or e-book, especially as new technologies develop and environmental action is taken. In honor of Earth Week, here are some inside tidbits about the sustainable (and not sustainable) parts of the publishing industry and how you, lovely reader, can be conscious about responsible reading!
- There’s a legit certification for sustainable publishing
Green Press Initiative (GPI) works to help publishers conserve natural resources and created the Environmentally Responsible Publisher Certification (ERPC) to help brand and spread the idea of sustainable publishing. This certification works like the LEED certifications for buildings: bronze, silver, and gold tiers show how far a publisher has gone to be eco-friendly. Supporting those publishers means supporting green publishing.
- E-readers Vs. Print Books
This is a tricky topic because of all the manufacturing and individual use of both products’ nuances. In fact, it’s so tricky that I’m going to summarize the info in a table:
Materials for E-readers
33 lb. minerals
79 gal. water
Lots of landfill waste
Materials for Print
2/3 lb. minerals (w/recycled paper)
2 gal. water
Massive emissions from tree harvesting
Emissions from E-readers
65 lb. of CO2
Toxic emissions from the minerals
Emissions from Print
7.5 kg of CO2
Traditional ink and volatile organic compounds
Usage for E-readers
No backlighting to read = less energy use
Needs electricity to charge
Ease of access
Usage for Print
Read w/o electric lighting = even less energy use
Can be shared/donated, generally longer lifespan
Disposal of E-readers
There’s way too much E-waste already
Improper recycling = common and workers in developing countries are exposed to the toxic minerals
Disposal of Print
A landfilled book releases twice the emissions than during manufacturing
It’s so sad =(
Upcycle if nothing else
In the end, how well you’ll be able to offset the purchase of an e-reader depends on your reading habits. Some studies say one must read at least 40 – 50 books, while others go up to 100+ with human health factored in. And, of course, these numbers are for e-readers. There are plenty of devices that have online reading capability that you might already own (and hopefully not replace every year).
- Orphaned Books
As in, print books that don’t get sold. Big publishers calculate for an initial print run—the amount of books printed for a launch—but their circumspection for customer purchases means a possibility of surplus. What do booksellers do with the extras? If they are trade books (hardcovers and high-quality paperbacks), the books are returned to the publisher, who then sell them to discount and online shops like Half Price Books or Daedalus Books. These are called “remaindered” books and cannot be returned to the publisher (marked by that ink slash on the bottom!).
However, if the books are mass-made paperbacks, booksellers tear off the cover, send it to the publisher for credit, and then send the rest of the pages to be repulped. However, these “stripped” books sometimes are stolen and sold in underhanded practices.
- This industry sounds incredibly irresponsible.
Well, I could say that with any industry. Remember that industries want to make a profit. The GPI noted that cutting the size of initial print runs and turning to printing on demand instead would substantially help the environment, although the uptake has been quite slow. Some practices have been improving even among the big houses, like Penguin Random House, to reach “climate neutrality” by 2030, or companies increasingly using 100% sustainably sourced paper or soy-based ink generally more recycle and health-friendly.
- What Can I Do? I’m Just Me
And that, lovely reader, is all you need to be. There are many individual choices that you can make to impact your book experience and the environment.
If you’re a reader:
Go to the library! Reading shared books keeps more out of the landfill and helps support authors.
Know your reading habits and think about the resources (e.g. electricity) you individually use to read
Buy books sparingly, used/recycled, and watch for seals and notes of post/pre-consumer content and responsibility certifications.
Look for chlorine-free (chlorine = toxic) and thinner paper (fewer trees used and less weight for transportation)
If you’re an author/publisher:
Sell to a library! Just as libraries help your potential customers, they can help you circulate books and buzz and reach new readers.
Inquire about the process and see where changes could be made to the supply chain—is the paper sustainably sourced? Can we consider moving towards achieving an ERPC?
Request limited initial book runs and suggest print on demand
Ask to use soy-based ink
Contact me and integrate me into your ingroup 〒▽〒
I’m joking-not-joking about that last bullet point, but I hope that these tips and tidbits give an inside peek into sustainability in the publishing world! Getting informed is the first step in changing our one and precious Earth for the better.
Happy responsible reading!
Sources (check them out!):