Books on 'Green' Paper

How much good could a do-gooder do, if a do-gooder did good with wood?

That question -- in some form -- seems to have occurred to former President Bill Clinton when he was writing "Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World," a very very very well-meaning 2007 book urging all of us to acts of charity and responsibility toward each other and the environment. But, what about all the trees that had to be cut down to print the book? Would all that pulp -- gulp -- offset some of its positive impact on the planet?

In "Giving," President Bill Clinton highlights some of the ways people have given back to society. (Chip East -- Reuters)

The tip-off that this concern arose is a cryptic notice on the book's copyright page: "This book is printed on Strategic Hi-Bulk Light Natural text paper made with recycled fibers, part of the Domtar EarthChoice family, a full line of socially and environmentally responsible papers. This paper contains fiber from well-managed, independently certified forests."

Above that wording are two symbols. One looks like the outline of a tree and says "FSC." The other is a recycling triangle that says "25%." I got the general idea, of course. But for a precise translation of the eco-speak and accompanying hieroglyphics, I called the book's publisher, Knopf, and spoke to Andy Hughes, its director of production.

Hughes said the "FSC" tree logo means that the Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit organization, certified that the wood fiber used to print Clinton's book came from well-managed tree plantations in the United States and Canada and not (Gaia forbid) from endangered or old-growth forests in, say, the Amazon basin or Indonesia.

The "25 %" symbol means that a quarter of the fiber was recycled -- in this case, Hughes specified, from "pre-consumer waste," that is, waste from the papermaking and printing process, not "post-consumer waste" such as recycled newspapers. Using post-consumer waste, Hughes said, would require de-inking (which uses energy) but, more importantly, would make it impossible to determine the source of all the fiber; some evilly-obtained rainforest pulp might slip in.

Paul Bogaards, Knopf's executive director of publicity, said the request to use FSC-certified paper originated from Clinton: "Absolutely, he wanted his book to be from sustainable sources."

According to Hughes, using paper from certifiably sustainable forests is "a little bit more expensive, but it's not punitive, and we're making it work. It's in our interest, it's in the environment's interest. It's just the thing to do." Random House, Knopf's parent company, has "corporately instituted ..... a multi-year program to accelerate our use of FSC and recycled papers," he added.

Translation: You're going to see more and more books published on "green" paper, and publishers are going to let you know it, too.

Before Clinton, one of the first authors to insist on recycled paper was, naturally enough, Wangari Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for organizing Kenya's Green Belt movement, which mobilized thousands of women to plant trees to restore the country's depleted forests. Her 2006 memoir, "Unbowed," was printed on 100-percent recycled paper.

Now other authors are asking for similar consideration. Bogaards said Oliver Sacks requested, and got, environmentally-certified paper for his latest book, "Musicophilia."

Have you noticed any others? Would you pay a few bucks more for a book printed on environmentally kosher paper? Maybe more to the point: Are you ready to stop purchasing books UNLESS they're printed on certified Earth-friendly paper?

By Alan Cooperman |  September 19, 2008; 7:54 AM ET Alan Cooperman
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"Cradle to cradle" by Bill McDonough is a fantastic book about sustainability and is printed on "paper" made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers that can be recycled indefinitely. It's a great book to raise awareness of how our everyday products affect the planet, and neat technologies and uses that can reduce or minimize our impact. The book's "paper" is a prime case study in the text. It's a must-read.

Posted by: DC | September 19, 2008 10:02 AM

The Green Press Initiative has been working for several years to get the U.S. book industry to adopt greener standards.
Last time I checked, they'd gotten more than a hundred publishers to make some commitment to follow GPI's recommended best practices.
A group called Markets Initiative has been working on a similar project in Canada. There's more recycled paper stock out there, too, from companies like New Leaf Paper.

Posted by: Jennifer Howard | September 19, 2008 11:32 AM

The last Harry Potter was printed on FSC-certified paper with 30% post-consumer recycled fiber.

It definitely makes me feel better about buying a book if it's on recycled paper, but I don't know that it really affects my purchasing decisions. The greenest way to read books is to get from the library, obviously, so that's what I usually do (it helps that it saves money, as well).

Posted by: julia | September 19, 2008 12:30 PM

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