Standards for Eco-Friendly Publishing

More and more publishers are beginning to concern themselves with the footprint publishing activities leave on our environment globally.

In January 2013 a one-day conference on green publishing took place in Mainz Germany.  During the conference, different perspectives, current status, and future outlook is presented. One of the current developments is their own initiative on green publishing or “Nachhaltig Publizieren.’’ The German sustainable publishing movement began after Oekom, a German publisher, took the initiative which was then adopted by others and set a standard for responsible publishing. There is speculation in the article as to whether this will become a national tradition or simply a short lived phase.

In the United States we have The Green Press Initiative (GPI) which sets the highest standards for sustainable, responsible publishing and grants publishers that meet those standards with certification levels marking them nationally as sustainable responsible publishers. The standard GPI uses is the Forest Stewardship Council which focuses on environmental sustainability and social issues, in contradiction several printers have adopted the Sustainable Forestry Initiative which focuses on industry and maintaining sustainability of productive capacities but with a drastically lower environmental standard. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture at left from showing the difference between the two standards impact on our forests is priceless.

GPI standard benchmarks include things like using Vegetable Oil based inks and high percentages of postconsumer waste fiber in pulp which are clearly two standards that move towards greater sustainability and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. But is the impact of using deinked market pulp as opposed to virgin Kraft pulp actually helping our environment or is it drastically or is it detrimental?

According to a “Carbon Footprint Assessment” study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology (2012) results are contrary to popular belief. The study shows that the impact of using deinked market pulp (DMP) is actually detrimental, “accounting for 54% of total GHG emissions and being 32% higher than reference virgin Kraft pulp.” For those not familiar with GHG it measures the impact of human activities on the environment and is expressed in units of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) Paperbacks produce 2.71 kilograms (kg) CO2-eq per book.

We have a long way to go before we can solemnly say that our standards for getting green books on the shelf are environmentally responsible. And while these standards promote healthier forests and less clear-cutting as seen in the photo above, parts of the process are suspect for dumping major amounts of carbon dioxide into our environment.

This begs to question if what we are doing is really just green-washing environmental issues. Further is there a reason that the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) in 2010 decided to discontinue work on the initiative?