The Green Pages: Publishers Strive to Reduce Their Environmental Impact

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Paper Trail

The major environmental impact of publishing is the paper on which products are printed. Publishing companies are always trying to find ways to reduce the impact of their paper usage. That could involve using more recycled paper products, but it also has a lot to do with knowing the source of your paper, and in our global economy it is increasingly an issue of understanding what happens to it along each step in the supply chain. Pollak says one way to do this is to use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines when purchasing paper. Pollak explains that the group ensures and certifies that the forest land that was the source of the paper meets certain criteria, and that every company that purchases the paper along the supply chain needs chain of custody certification to ensure that certified paper or pulp isn’t being mixed with uncertified pulp.

According to Pollak, the FSC looks at a number of factors when certifying a paper source, including that the paper company protects indigenous people and doesn’t drive them from their homes to make tree plantations, that the paper supply comes minimally from paper plantations with trees planted in neat rows (a practice he says reduces biodiversity by 90%), and that the paper is not culled by clear cutting. Finally, the FSC certification seeks to reduce the amount of chemicals used in processing the paper. All of this can help reduce the environmental impact of the paper procurement process.

Gough says another thing to consider is the fact that trees can be replanted. He says that Reed Elsevier replants 96% of the trees used in its products. In addition, he says the company is part of a U.K. publishing initiative called PREPS that is made up of 15 of Britain’s leading publishers, most of which, he points out, are really global concerns. According to the PREPS website, "Together, these companies have set up a database to hold technical specifications and details of the pulps and forest sources for each of the papers they use." Gough says that by sharing this information, the companies involved can better ensure the sources of the paper they are using. He points out that working together in this fashion is not necessarily the norm for U.K. companies, but they have come together because of environmental concerns.

Ultimately, Pollak says that the best way publishers can reduce their impact on the environment is to use recycled paper instead of virgin fiber. "The largest [environmental] impacts of books are associated with paper. The solutions that are likely to have the greatest positive impact relate to paper use," he says. "The most important thing a publisher can do is to use
more recycled paper. Each ton of postconsumer recycled free sheet that replaces a ton of virgin fiber free sheet saves 24 trees, reduces green house gas emissions by 37%, energy use to create paper is reduced by 42%, and the amount of waste that ends up in landfill is cut in half."

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