The latest report about the publishing industry does not compile sales figures, track the market for fiction or lament the future of reading. It does tell a great deal about books - not what they say, but what they are made of.
"Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts" is an 86-page summary, printed on 50 percent post-consumer recycled paper and full of charts about fiber, endangered forests and carbon footprints. The news: The book world, which uses up more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year, is steadily, if not entirely, finding ways to make production greener.
"I was very pleasantly surprised," said Tyson Miller, founder and director of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit program that has worked extensively with publishers on environmental issues. "We're seeing a groundswell of momentum and real measurable progress."
Commercially, publishers have certainly discovered the benefits of green, with best-sellers, including Deirdre Imus's Green This! and Al Gore's companion guide to the Academy Award-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth. Environmental themes can be found in novels, children's stories and business books.
But reading books is healthier than making them. The climate impact survey, released Monday and co-commissioned by Green Press and the nonprofit Book Industry Study Group, offers a mixed picture about industry practices.
There is great support in theory for going greener, but results are uneven. Just over half of publishers, for instance, have set specific goals for increasing use of recycled paper. About 60% have a formal environmental policy or are in the process of completing one.
Seventy-six publishers, representing just under half of the market, participated in the study, along with 13 printers (about 25%) and six paper mills (about 17%).
Regnery Publishing, a conservative press based in Washington, DC, also has not set any targets and has no plans to do so. Jim Zerr, Regnery's director of production and distribution, said the reason was not ideology, but economics; recycled paper is more expensive than regular paper.
Compared to late 2001, when Miller began working with publishers, cooperation is easy.
Around 150 publishers, along with 10 printers and four paper manufacturers, have backed a treatise supporting recycled paper and fiber from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international environmental organization.
A turning point came in 2006 when Random House, Inc., said that it would dramatically increase its use of recycled paper, saving more than 500,000 trees a year.
Virtually all of the major publishers have taken some steps, from Hyperion switching to soy-based ink, to Penguin Group (USA) using wind power, to Scholastic, Inc. printing the deluxe edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on 100% post-consumer waste fiber.
Simon & Schuster and the Hachette Book Group USA are among those using e-book readers instead of paper manuscripts. The Random House Publishing Group is experimenting with sending books on-line to media outlets.
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