Blog Action Day: Publishing and the Environment

Fifteen thousand bloggers are joining together on Blog Action Day to write about the environment. No doubt many of the participating bloggers will be rabid environmentalists, but the majority of probably aren’t. I’m no tree hugger, and the hype hasn’t convinced me that man causes global warming. However, as a Christian, I believe that we must be good stewards of the earth that God has given us.

Genesis 1:26:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

My husband and I do not create hardships for ourselves for the sake of conservation. Both of us find relief from chronic pain in hot showers, and sometimes we take several showers a day. However, we are otherwise careful when using hot water, such as running the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads.

As much as possible, we reduce, recycle, and re-use. We don’t have to have the shiniest new gadgets. We drive cars that get good mileage, and we don’t drive a lot. We started recycling when the only things that could be recycled (at least as far as I knew) were newspapers and cans. Now, we recycle glass, plastic, metal, and all kinds of paper. Even before anything goes to the recycling bin, we’ve used it as much as possible. Instead of buying storage containers, we re-use plastic dishes and glass jars. We use the back side of paper for drafts, and after both sides are printed, I cut up less-than-full pages into notepaper.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry in general isn’t friendly to the environment.

I’ve heard that one-third of all the paperback books published end up in landfills without being sold. Books are sold to bookstores as returnable. If a bookstore orders more copies of a title than it sells in what it determines to be a reasonable time, the store can return the unsold units to the publisher. However, in the case of mass market paperbacks, only the cover, not the book, is returned. The stores strip the covers, send the covers back for credit, and throw away the rest of the books. That’s why you sometimes see a notice that if you bought this book without a cover, the publisher and author aren’t making any money. Imagine how many trees are being destroyed and how many garbage dumps are being filled with books no one has ever read! This problem is inherent in the publishing business model, and individual authors and consumers aren’t in a position to do much about it.

Some publishers are beginning to use recycled paper. While this doesn’t solve the problem of excess copies of the books being discarded, at least it does reduce the number of trees destroyed. And if paper recycling becomes more common, maybe the publishers will decide it’s more cost-effective to recycle the unsold books than to discard them.

Digital printing can make small print runs more cost-effective, and print-on-demand (POD) eliminates excess inventory. Using POD technology, books can be printed as needed. Instead of printing thousands of copies and hoping they sell, publishers can print only the number of copies that are actually sold to consumers. The term POD is confusing, because some subsidy publishers call themselves POD publishers. People sometimes confuse the subsidy business model with the printing technology, but any publisher can use the POD technology. Small presses and self-publishing authors, especially, can benefit from digital printing, either in small press runs or in print-on-demand, to avoid large unsold inventories. Anyone looking at POD needs to do due diligence as there are some less-than-scrupulous companies taking advantage of the POD term.

E-books can eliminate the need for paper completely. Electronic books, read on computer or hand-held reading devices, save trees and unsold copies don’t end up in landfills. You can read more in several other posts here, especially my e-book series. Of course, there are environmental issues with electronic devices themselves. However, according to the article E-Waste: The Final Frontier on Earth911:

“A full 99 percent of all materials that go through our doors are recycled—meaning that they go into reuse of some sort,” says John Shegerian, Chairman & CEO of Electronic Recyclers.

Eco-Libris is working to balance out the environmental impacts of the book publishing industry. You can plant a tree for every book you read. Sign up at Eco-Libris, decide how many books you want to balance out, and donate $1 each to have a tree planted.

Eco-Libris works with its planting partners to plant your trees in developing countries
Our planting partners are organizations that work in developing countries. Their planting and conservation activities are an integral part of their efforts to help local communities in these countries move towards a sustainable future. We make sure that your trees will be planted where they provide significant value for both the environment and the local communities, who are very much involved and play an important part in the planting projects.

You can make a positive impact on the environment without giving up any of the pleasures of reading. Look for books printed on recycled paper, patronize companies that use technology to avoid waste, read e-books, contribute to Eco-Libris, trade books with friends, or read books from the library.

Related Posts:
E-Book Series

[tags]Blog Action Day, environment, publishing[/tags]

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