Conducting Environmental Audits

Every year, Ooligan Press publishes a book in our OpenBook Series that is sustainably printed as part of our ongoing commitment to environmentally conscious publishing. One of the components of this process is conducting an environmental audit on the printing, which is then written up and included in the front of the book for readers to see. The importance of sustainable publishing has been frequently expounded upon both by the publishing industry at large and by Ooligan Press itself, so much so that to say “sustainable publishing is crucial to our planet’s future” is a well-known fact. What many may not know, however, is the determination process by which a book is published environmentally. Namely, the audit performed on the printer to ensure the most sustainable practices and resources were used during the printing of the book.

An environment audit is, as the name suggests, an assessment of the printer’s environmental practices. As a designer, you may be involved in the gathering of this information, depending on the press you are working for. Before an audit is performed, bid requests must be sent with the specification of environmentally friendly processes and resources to various printers, which then draw up a quote for the publisher. Once a printer is chosen, the audit begins.

The information gathered is detailed and manifold—from quantities used to product brand names—and includes specifications on everything the printer uses in the printing process:

  • Cover paper
  • Text paper
  • Ink
  • Binding glue
  • Lamination for the cover
  • Brand and model of press the project will be run on
  • Chemical wash used to clean the press
  • Sheet size of the paper
  • The quantities (in weight) of each of the applicable items above

When the information above is gathered—and this may require multiple emails—the person conducting the audit researches the companies who manufacture the resources being used and gathers the data relevant to the audit. Knowing the sustainability aspects of each individual company involved in the book’s production helps us determine the environmental impact of the book.

The paper gets special treatment; the auditor uses a paper calculator, like the one created by the Environmental Paper Network that Ooligan uses, to determine the environmental benefits of this paper over regular, non-sustainable paper. Information such as number of trees used, amount of waste produced, and energy used in the manufacturing of the amount of paper the book requires is included in the audit.

All of this information is then added into a table that will appear at the beginning of the book along with our sustainable mission statement. It’s important to Ooligan Press that we are as transparent during this process as possible in order to allow readers to make the best sustainable choices they can. We also hope that our readers can take this information and expand their awareness of the impact the publishing industry has on our environment. As the negative environmental impact of non-sustainable practices—across all industries—becomes more and more evident in rising temperatures, retreating glaciers, and acidification of the oceans (just to name a few effects), the need for sustainably produced books is greater than ever.

Design as Responsibility

Design introduces. It’s the first impression, the make-or-break handshake, and the direct eye contact of a product. If things go well, design might wine and dine you, and before you know it, you’re ordering dessert. Because when design does its job well, the transitions are smooth and the experience is effective.
For books, the primary function of design is to provide a good reader experience. Each step of the design process contributes to this big-picture goal, from designing the cover to laying out the interior content to printing and promoting a title as it finds its way into the hands of readers. As the design lead for Ooligan Press, I’m interested in looking at all sides of how design impacts an end product, including the accessibility of content, the sustainability of printing practices, and the reachability of target audience. Each of these areas invites room for improvement and worthwhile challenges. When we look at the effectiveness of a book’s reader experience, design is probably responsible.
How can content be easily accessible for a given user? With book design, having an end goal in mind can align form to function. Many ebooks and ereaders, for example, offer a variety of options in lighting, text size, and image captions for readers who are visually impaired. Design choices are also key for books with multiple languages (maintain the flow of the message), books for struggling readers (go with fonts that are easy on the eyes), graphic novels (poor placement of speech bubbles could ruin everything), or cookbooks (don’t split up a recipe—no one wants to turn the page with flour-covered fingers).
Other times, design plays a large role in delivering resources. This past summer, I worked with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop a toolkit document for social service agencies to assist residents of manufactured home parks through the process of relocation. The toolkit needed to be easy to use so that the correct information could be implemented in a variety of situations. This project gave me a closer look at how the effectiveness of user access rests on design’s shoulders.
Beyond the printed page, Ooligan commits itself to environmentally responsible publishing practices for the sake of sustainability. To remain accountable to this ideal, the titles in Ooligan’s OpenBook Series include specific audits that share decisions such as the types of paper, ink, and print methods used. These choices contribute to the environmental, economic, and social impact of publishing, and we want to operate Ooligan with this awareness in mind. The most recent title in the OpenBook Series is Siblings and Other Disappointments, which was printed in smaller amounts than usual to reduce paper and carbon use while promoting economic sustainability.
In our digital age, technology often closes the gap between author and reader: Twitter gets you recognition from celebrities that wouldn’t otherwise be reachable, and enhanced ebooks offer innovative interactions that invite readers to not only read a story but also participate in it. Every new product must also compete with a myriad of other media already out there, which makes curating an experience for a target audience all the more essential.
Airbnb recently updated their mobile app with user convenience in mind, making host-to-guest communication easier, thanks to a universal “design language system” that streamlines shared principles and design tools. For their new approach, they give a tip of the hat to architecture, which is literally built on the concept of sound design.
With book design, the same concepts could be applied. At Ooligan, each book is marketed to a specific audience, and keeping this audience in mind is helpful when shaping the experience to fit the user. For instance, what kind of cover will appeal to readers of young adult time travel, post-earthquake recovery stories set in Portland and Turkey? What font choices would be best for a literary short story collection centered on the theme of disappointment? What other elements would enhance or distract the reader’s engagement with the flow of a narrative?
More than readability (because this is already the baseline goal), reachability considers target audience to inform its design decisions down to every detail. Good design is thoughtful. It asks, “How can we do this better?” As with any product, the design of something may not always meet its intended mark. Still, designers can benefit from the reminder of responsibility. Considering accessibility, sustainability, and reachability can guide design decisions that will last far beyond first impressions.

Ooligan Reaches Out to Local Eco-Friendly Businesses

In 2011, Ooligan Press released Rethinking Paper & Ink: The Sustainable Publishing Revolution. Expanded from a pamphlet of the same name written in 2009 by former Ooligan students Melissa Brumer and Janine Eckhart, the book, which was jointly authored by Ooligan alums Jessicah Carver and Natalie Guidry, sought to increase awareness of sustainable printing practices in the publishing community.

The 2009 edition of Rethinking Paper and Ink was the first of Ooligan’s OpenBook series. Designed to minimize the environmental impact of book production, OpenBook is an auditing process that accounts for different production components and byproducts, including chemicals, greenhouse gases, energy, fiber, and waste; Ooligan produces one title using the OpenBook process each year. Part of what made this process possible for Ooligan was certification from the Green Press Initiative. The Green Press Initiative seeks to reduce the use of paper created from endangered forests and provides a forum for publishers and printers to discuss eco-friendly practices.

With a focus on paper production and converting biodiverse ecosystems into single-species tree plantations, The Green Press Initiative’s standards informed much of the OpenBook audit’s design process. From acquisitions straight down to the finished product, Ooligan considers every part of book production, and with the help of lessons gleaned from The Green Press Initiative, Rethinking Paper & Ink was our attempt to address these matters in a single comprehensive guide.

In some ways, we’ve succeeded. Take, for example, Macmillan Publishers, who use Rethinking Paper & Ink as an in-house guide to sustainability. When one of the Big Five publishers takes notice of a small-press book about sustainable publishing and begins taking steps to make their business more environmentally friendly, it’s not just a victory for your small press—it’s a victory for everyone. Outside the publishing world however, this little tome and its lessons remain a well-kept secret—even in the eco-conscious culture of Portland, Oregon—but we’ve decided to change that.

Over the coming months, Ooligan will be reaching out to the local eco-friendly business community and other organizations and educators concerned with sustainability. From the trendy little restaurant’s printed menus to the giant multinational corporation’s meaty advertising brochures, we interact daily with the world of paper and ink—and there are many ways sustainable publishing can be incorporated into standard business practices. By joining in the sustainability conversation in an active way, we hope to increase awareness of printing options and their environmental implications—and help everyone discover the best choice for their printing needs.