Printing on Green Paper

On the last page of the 2010 Broadview edition of Cranford appears an “FSC” logo and a little notice informing the reader that using 941 pounds of recycled paper to print the book—rather than 941 pounds of paper from pulp taken from newly felled timber—saved 8 trees. We are told as well that it had a positive effect in reducing the book’s “ecological footprint” so far as water consumption and air emissions are concerned. It’s all pretty modest, of course—but when you remember that this is only one printing of one of Broadview’s roughly 500 titles, it’s not trivial either; the total number of trees saved per year because the company follows such practices is just over 1,000.

With just under 150,000 books sold in a year and total annual sales of not quite $4 million, Broadview is a pretty small publisher. What if other publishers—including the large publishers that each have sales of more than $4 billion a year—were doing the same?

No doubt naively, I had until very recently assumed that they were probably doing just that. At Broadview, printing on recycled paper whenever possible has by now become pretty much second nature.* There are still some titles that have special requirements for which we are unable to obtain recycled papers, but in recent years far more than half the books we have published have been printed on paper that is at least 30% recycled stock, and that is certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)—the most widely-recognized body setting environmental standards for forestry practices. These days over 70% of our books are printed on 100% recycled stock—and are also FSC certified.

Printing on 100% recycled stock has become so easy to do in Canada that I had assumed that publishers not only here but also in the United States, the UK, and elsewhere would be following practices similar to Broadview’s. But recently I did a little comparing, looking at the paper used in 10 books from our Broadview Editions series, and then doing the same with 10 Norton Critical Editions, 10 Penguin Classics, 10 Oxford World’s Classics, 10 Bedford editions, 10 editions from Hackett Publishing, and 10 Dover Thrift editions. I was not surprised to find that the least expensive editions (from Dover) did not include notices as to any recycled paper or any FSC-certified stock having been used. The surprise was that the same was true of almost all of the Oxford and the Penguin and the Hackett and the Bedford editions. In fairness, that sample does not reflect all the publishing these firms do. I’ve checked further, and discovered, for example, that quite a few Penguin editions do now use at least 10% recycled stock (and are FSC certified). Several publishers (including Pearson, Dover, and Oxford University Press Canada) now display on at least some of their books the “Green Editions” logo. But unlike the FSC, “Green Editions” does not appear to set independent standards; so far as manufacturing goes, the “Green Editions” logo provides assurance only that the book is printed in “plants governed by US environmental laws,” which, we are assured by, are “some of the toughest in the world.” And (again unlike the FSC), the “Green Editions” program does not itself provide any assurance as to the percentage of recycled paper used; it indicates only that a book includes at least some recycled stock, and leaves it up to the publisher to say how much. As an indicator that there’s been at least some thought for the environment, a “Green Edition” logo is better than nothing—but it’s worth looking carefully for the publisher’s statement on exactly what percentage of the paper is recycled.

Of our main competitors, only Norton consistently mentions using recycled paper—and their norm seems to be 30% recycled, not 100. I would take it from the research that our Managing Editor, Tara Lowes, and our Vice President, Leslie Dema, have done, that few if any of the large US and UK firms have gone even so far as Norton has. Dover has declared its intention to move “by 2012” to using 30% recycled stock for its books. Publisher’s Weekly recently reported that the co-chair of Random House’s “Green Committee” is hoping to bring that company to the point where 30% recycled stock is the norm for them by sometime in 2013.

It’s all an awfully long way from 100%!

What will it take to bring further change? In my dreams I can imagine a world in which academics who have been choosing Dover or Hackett or Penguin or Oxford start to switch en masse to Broadview Editions. I know nothing that drastic is likely to happen. But if you chance to meet publisher’s reps from other companies and feel inclined to mention that this is one of the things you think matters—and that you take it into account in choosing course texts for your students—I’m sure you’d be heard!

Don LePan
President and CEO

*I should make clear that I don’t deserve any special credit on this score personally; Tara Lowes, our Managing Editor, was much faster than I was to see the case for adopting sustainable practices. And environmental activist Nicole Rycroft helped a great deal to change our habits—as she did those of many other Canadian publishers when she led a campaign in the early years of this century to build demand from publishers for recycled paper at the same time as pressure was being put on printers to increase supply.

Posted on March 26, 2012