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Book Publishers Go Green To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

By Desirée Kaplan

The publishing industry first became possible when Johannes Gutenberg created his printing press in Germany during 1440. The ability to disseminate widespread information quickly changed everything and the world has never been the same. As the publishing industry grew, so did its carbon footprint. In the United States alone, the publishing industry uses about 32 million trees annually to make books. On top of that, producing books emits over 40 million metric tons of C02 each year. 

Around the mid 2000s, the publishing industry took a hard look at the environmental impact it was creating. Book publishing has been designated as the third largest industrial greenhouse emitter when it comes to pulp and paper. This is problematic when it comes to waste management because 40 percent of solid waste in landfills is in fact paper. Many publishing houses assessed their environmental impact and decided to turn a new leaf. 

Publishers today are trying to tackle this issue and hundreds have already developed environmental policies to make publishing a more sustainable industry. Many in the industry have also signed the Book Industry Treatise on Environmentally Responsible Publishing. The good news is that there are ways to make books that don't require traditionally wasteful methods. 

For example, 4.9 million trees would be spared if the industry used about 30 percent post consumer waste. Companies can also prevent 2,108 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions if they replace one ton of virgin fiber with post consumer recycled fiber. These small pivots might not be a complete solution, but they’re an important start.  

Major publishing houses have taken steps to go green and are setting the standard for what can be done. For example, Hachette Book Group, one of the biggest publishers in the industry, created a comprehensive environmental policy in 2009 to set out goals to lower greenhouse gas emissions and find responsible paper sources. By 2013, the company had already moved the needle and the rate of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper used by the company had gone up to 84 percent and its use of recycled fiber rose to 10 percent.