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What’s Big and Round and Hates People Who Read?

By Chris McRay

Yo’ Mama Earth. It’s true: the publishing biz is hard on the planet. But there are ways to make it easier on her. One of the best ways is to work with earth-friendly partners. So, how do you tell if a publisher, printer, or paper mill is environmentally conscious? Score them based on these three criteria.

1. Materials. Recycled paper and biodegradable glue are both widely available earth-friendly options. Most of the glues used in book binding today are biodegradable. Some are solvent-free and labeled as nonhazardous—even better! As for paper, due to increasing demand for earth-friendly products, many book printers now offer some recycled papers among their house stocks. However, make sure to ask how much recycled material is actually used in the paper. Recycled paper can also be significantly more expensive than a standard house stock, and a higher recycled content percentage translates into a higher price. Some printers only choose house stocks that have some recycled content. Usually the percentage is relatively low, but the papers are more affordable.

There are environmentally superior options for other materials, too. Many printers also use recycled binding boards, or boards with a percentage of corrugated material, which cuts down on paper consumption. Check out Green Press Initiative for updates on particular publishers, printers, and papers and a good look at the deforestation rate.

2. Tree harvesting. Because of the incredible amount of trees consumed every year for paper production (400 billion per year, according to, deforestation is a legitimate concern for printers, publishers, authors, and even readers. To watch out for all those falling trees, cooperative organizations, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), have been founded, with measurable success. SFI plants more than a million trees per day, and its members include book printers and paper mills. Find out how your favorite printer is getting involved. You can also contact paper mills and find out which ones use sustainable sources for their paper.

3. Energy use. Paper mills are huge consumers of energy. But many of them use creative methods to boost energy production and decrease consumption. Some mills accumulate the unusable scraps from trees, such as bark and knots, to be burned for fuel. Others have found alternative fuel sources such as used tires, which can provide a great deal of energy. A resourceful average-size paper mill is capable of producing enough surplus energy to power a city of thirty thousand. Though some of these alternative fuel sources can contribute to air pollution, they save on natural resources and space in the world’s landfills.

These three categories represent some of the best ways for printers and publishers to lessen their toll on Mama Earth. Although some of these options are less cost-effective than the tree-hater alternatives, increased demand and increased attention to publishing’s effect on the environment will make them cheaper and more widely available. Doing business with innovative, environmentally friendly printers, publishers, and paper mills will help encourage their practices. It’s one way to make Earth happy, and as everybody knows—if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Tags: beneath the cover, energy use, green printing, materials, recycled paper, tree harvesting

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