I try to be as aware as possible of the environmental impact of my actions, and as I set out to publish my first book, with the support of my publisher, Womancraft Publishing, I started investigating a book’s environmental footprint, in terms of the paper used, the ink, the resulting CO2 emissions, and the relative benefits of e-books versus print-on-demand books.
I found that there has been progress, but there is still a way to go for the book industry to be fully sustainable and caring of our trees and our planet, and I have therefore decided to offset the environmental impact of the production of my books myself, as follows:
I will plant a tree for every 44 printed books sold.
I will do this via TreeSisters, a growing global network of women crowd-funding tropical reforestation, and supporting the emergence of embodied feminine leadership. The funds they receive, which are earmarked for tree planting, are currently donated to the following beneficiary projects:
- Project Green Hands in Southern India, an amazing community-led agro-forestry project.
- Eden Projects, planting mangroves in Madagascar
- International Tree Foundation, restoring the green cover and watersheds on Mt Kenya
- WeForest, restoring wildlife corridors between protected areas in the Mata Atlantica forest of Brasil
At the same time, we need to continue pressing for things to change at the source. One major challenge is that the printers used in the major print-on-demand platforms are not yet offering post-consumer-recycled paper as a greener alternative to their customers. So I would like to encourage everyone, particularly if you’re an author or publisher, to please add your voices to those asking for this, by contacting your printers and referring them, for example, to the best practices put forward by Environmental Paper and the Green Press Initiative toolkit for the book industry.
Here are the details of how I came up with 1 tree for 44 books, as well as some interesting links for those who want to read further:
- The Green Press Initiative estimated that the entire US book industry, through all steps of production, retail, and publishing activities, emits a net 8.85 pounds, or 4.0 Kg of CO2 emissions per book. The largest contributor to this footprint (87% of total emissions) comes from the logging and manufacturing of paper.
- Analyses of the capacity of trees to sequester CO2 suggest that, on average, 5 trees planted in the humid tropics will absorb about 880 Kg of CO2 over their combined lifetime. This means that 1 tree could sequester 176Kg CO2.
- Using the US estimate (4kg CO2 emissions per book), the production of 44 books will result in 176Kg of CO2 emissions, which will be offset by planting 1 tree in the tropics.
Looking at CO2 emissions is one method to calculate how many trees need to be planted to offset the environmental impact of book production. An alternative method, is to look instead at the number of trees that were cut to produce the paper needed to make the books.
According to Conservatree, 1 tree makes 8,333 sheets (assuming standard non-recycled paper), which means that a book such as The Heart of the Labyrinth would use roughly 65 sheets. In other words, if I were only taking the paper impact into consideration, I would need to plant a tree for every 128 books produced.
By planting a tree for every 44 books sold, this therefore accounts not only for offsetting the CO2 emitted during book production, but also compensates for the trees that were cut down to provide the paper.
It is often thought that e-books are more environmentally friendly than printed books, and indeed, they don’t use paper. However, when you take into consideration the raw materials – non-renewable and some toxic – used in the construction of e-readers, along with the energy required for production and use, it appears that the environmental impact of an e-book will depend markedly on the user’s behavior, particularly: how long she/he keeps a given device, and how many books he/she downloads during the lifetime of the device. For more information, you can read the Green Press Initiative’s factsheet on the environmental impact of e-books.
The above estimates, which I have used in my calculations account for book production, but do not include distribution to the reader – as it’s difficult for me to estimate where they will be… and also because I believe in our shared responsibility.
Summary of relevant links & organizations: