Publishing’s Carbon Footprint

BISG and the Green Press Initiative Release Environmental Benchmarking Survey

In 2007, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) set as one of its research goals the measurement of the U. S. book industry's environmental impact. Partnering with the Green Press Initiative (GPI) and hiring the Borealis Centre for Environmental and Trade Research, BISG pursued this goal through the development, collection, and analysis of an Environmental Benchmarking Survey. On March 10, 2008, the final report was released, indicating the current carbon footprint of book publishing in the United States, as well as tracking efforts by many publishers and vendors to reduce the climate impact of our work.

The number? The U.S. book industry emits 12.4 million metric tons of carbon per year, or a net 8.85 pounds per book. Steps the industry is beginning to take to reduce this load include increasing the use of recycled or environmentally sustainable papers, reducing overproduction, and reducing office and plant energy use.

The Survey subcommittee and Borealis Centre had two main hurdles to cross in producing this survey and report. The first was simply to understand the extent of publishing activities that needed to be measured. Impacts of forest harvest and paper production were obvious, but then came the related question of how much the stored carbon in printed books offset this. The final calculation of the carbon footprint had to account for every step, from the obvious energy consumption of printing and binding to the less obvious amount of travel and transport involved in the industry, including the shipment of books from manufacturing to warehouse to store to customer, as well as staff business travel.

The second hurdle was obtaining the data from a wide array of industry players. Publishers, paper mills, printers, distributors, and retailers were all targeted, and a total of 104 firms participated in the survey. The survey report notes that a possible limitation was self-selection bias—that is, companies with environmental policies in place might have been more likely to respond to an attempt to benchmark the industry's environmental impact. However, a significant share of key segments responded, including 45% publishing market share and 24.6% of printing market share.

AAUP members were invited to take part in the survey, and many did so. Several university and scholarly publishers, represented in the AAUP by the members of the Eco-subcommittee of the Design and Production Committee (once the Eco Task Force), have been at the forefront of environmentally sustainable publishing. Eighteen AAUP members are signatories to GPI's Treatise on Responsible Paper Use.

The full BISG/GPI report, "Environmental Trends and Climate Impact: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry," is available for sale at the BISG web site. Another useful tool for publishers who wish to pursue environmentally responsible practices has recently been released: In February 2008, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) issued a "Handbook on Paper and the Environment," a practical guide to issues of sustainability. Sessions on "The Green Challenge" are planned to address these issues at the AAUP annual meeting in Montreal this June.

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic and Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP