As we enter 2009, it’s clear to any reputable scientist that our planet is in peril. As one expert put it, we are using the resources of three planets and we only have one. It all seemed to come into focus after Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Suddenly, en masse, we had an environmental epiphany. It was time to get serious. Each one of us—individuals and institutions alike—have begun to look at ways to reduce our impact on the planet. The publishing industry is no different. And let’s face it, the publishing industry generates a lot of pollutants. We need to cut trees to generate paper, truck the wood to mills, apply a chemical process to generate the paper, ship the paper to publishers, run presses to produce the books and magazines, and then get them to the readers. There’s pollution in every step of the process. What’s more, since trees are carbon sinks, meaning they absorb carbon dioxide, and we cut down massive amounts of trees every year to create that paper, we are eliminating a resource that could help us solve the problem.
Of course, there is a paper-free digital solution, but even that is not pollution-free. To set up a digital publishing model requires a data center with computers running on lots and lots of electricity. It doesn’t kill trees, but it’s not a panacea either.
However, before you sink into despair, know that the publishing industry recognizes the problem. As a matter of fact, publishers were looking at going green long before it was fashionable, and they are working very hard to produce the books and periodicals we so love while reducing the environmental impact.