It doesn't take much reading between the lines: In the United States alone, paper is used to publish more than 2 billion books, 350 million magazines, and 24 billion newspapers annually.
The result? The paper used in printing these readables and other products accounts for about a fifth of the total wood harvest worldwide, and about 93 percent of today's paper comes from virgin trees. A single sheet might contain fibers from hundreds of different trees that have collectively traveled thousands of miles, potentially from timber logged in regions with ecologically valuable, biologically diverse habitat. All told, the paper industry uses 11.5 percent of the energy in the industrial sector. Additionally, paper and paper products make up about 40 percent of the municipal waste stream. When landfilled paper degrades, methane—a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide—is released into the atmosphere.
However startling the statistics, don't give up your love of the printed word quite yet. The digital revolution has made it possible for bookworms and newshounds to fire up ye olde PC and access a wealth of information (eco-related or not) and even catch up on the classics without touching a piece of paper. And although some (but not all) might be composed entirely of dead trees, magazines and books are often the first and most crucial step toward eco-enlightenment and education. Putting that dusty library card into action is an eco-friendly maneuver, as is seeking out readables printed on recycled content. And, most vitally, when you're all done with Donne, Domino, or The Daily Mirror take care to reuse and recycle.
Looking to start a new chapter in your reading habits? If reading about green reading on a green website isn't too meta for you, grab a snack, put your feet up, and move those peepers southward.
The green blogosphere
Not too long ago, a Google search for "green" may have yielded a mixed bag of results, many of them having to do more with color swatches than with the environmental movement. The blogosphere was also sparsely populated, inhabited mostly by diary-keeping teenagers, college students, and technophiles. However, the meteoric rise of blogging—many credit Gawker Media publisher Nick Denton for first pairing a weblog format with a traditional magazine business model—along with the strengthening of global eco-consciousness has led Internet users to turn up a lot more than just facts on fabric hues and paint shades.
Approximately 15.5 million active blogs—or blogs updated within a 90 day period—were tracked by the leading blog index Technorati in April 2007. One year later, in April 2008, over 6,700 blogs were tagged with the key term "environment" on Technorati. TreeHugger, a venerable green blog covering an extensive range of topics, leads the pack in terms of popularity. Founded in 2004 by Graham Hill, TreeHugger's popularity led to its acquisition by the Discovery Channel in August of 2007. In his own blog, Marketing Green, David Wigder admits that the art of measuring the popularity and influence of green blogs is not perfect (and rather confusing), although tools that track site traffic and external links from other sites are helpful. And whatever the numbers or rankings, green bloggers, like other bloggers, are increasingly influential and can compete with traditional news websites after building faithful readerships.
Overall, it's believed that popular green blogs and websites lure in more readers than environmentally focused print publications. Says GreenBiz.com's Joel Makower: "One of the realities of our day and age is that as communication and media flourish, discourse is happening in a lot more places. And good ideas flourish no matter where they come from."
Green book publishing
It's estimated that 30 million trees are used each year for books sold in the US—1,153 times the number of trees in New York's Central Park. In response to the environmental and social damage that stems from book publishing, over 160 publishers have adopted environmental policies or signed The Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper Use, vowing to use recycled content paper and/or sustainably sourced timber. According to the Green Press Initiative (GPI), these publishers include university presses and general interest publishers, including coffee table-friendly Chronicle Books and industry heavies like Simon & Schuster and Random House. Lantern Books was the first to sign on the green line. Additionally, Portland, Oregon-based virtual bookseller Powell's has partnered with GPI to make online browsing for recycled pulp fiction a breeze.
One of the world's most popular contemporary literary icons, Harry Potter, got the green treatment in his final 784-page installment, 2007's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Potter's American publisher, Scholastic, partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to print every copy with a minimum of 30 percent recycled fiber. Additionally, two-thirds of the paper used was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified, and copies of the "deluxe" edition contained 100 percent recycled paper produced in a sustainably powered factory. Greenpeace estimates that the effort conserved tens of thousands of trees. The initial print run for a previous Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was handled in a similar manner by its Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books. The company used strictly 100 percent recycled paper, saving an estimated 39,320 trees, 17 million gallons of water, and 1,885 pounds of solid waste, as well as energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
In terms of environmental influence in literature, a poll conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund cites Henry David Thoreau's 1854 Transcendentalist classic Walden and Rachel Carson's 1962 work Silent Spring as the clear front-runners. The former—a study in self-reliance and nature appreciation—details the author's two-year time-out in rural Massachusetts. The latter, a groundbreaking (and at the time, controversial) examination of the dangers of pesticides, is credited with sparking the modern environmental movement that led to the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Says the EPA: "Silent Spring played in the history of environmentalism roughly the same role that Uncle Tom's Cabin played in the abolitionist movement. In fact, EPA today may be said without exaggeration to be the extended shadow of Rachel Carson."
The eco-impact of magazines
According to findings by Co-Op America's Magazine PAPER Project, magazine production in the US requires 2.2 million tons of paper on an annual basis. Nearly all magazines are printed on paper sourced from virgin timber—around 5 percent is recycled content paper—resulting in the cutting down of over 30 million trees per year, the use of massive amounts of energy and water, and the generation of pollution. An average issue of Time magazine is responsible for a quarter-pound of greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1998, 18,000 different magazine titles were published, resulting in a total of 12 billion individual magazines in circulation. Only 20 percent of these were recycled, resulting in 9 billion magazines being landfilled or incinerated. In addition, out of the around 4.7 million magazines delivered to newsstands each year, 2.9 million of them are never read. If these discarded magazines were placed end to end, they would circle the earth 20 times.
Although the number of magazines pledging to use post-consumer recycled content paper is currently small—mostly environmental, nature, and outdoor-oriented publications like Outside, Sierra, Discover, and Terrain—industry insiders believe that publishers can reverse poor environmental records by using recycled papers along with more efficient management of newsstand distribution.
As the eco-ills of magazine publishing have come to light in recent years, industry goliaths, like Conde Nast (Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Domino, etc.) and Hearst (Cosmopolitan, O, Esquire, Redbook, etc.) have come under fire for hypocrisy. Although their titles provide extensive coverage of global warming and other environmental issues, the companies themselves have dubious environmental policies when it comes to paper use.
The not-so-green news
Newspaper publishers are making steady progress in using less newsprint each year, in part because of the paper industry shift toward recycled content newsprint; readers heading online for a daily news fix also drive the numbers down. In 2007, recycled paper represented 79 percent of the content used to make newspapers in the UK, and US publishers are also making strides: in 1989 American newspapers were made with around 10 percent recycled fiber, and in 2007 were made with about 30 percent. Still, the amount of virgin fiber used annually—around 6 million metric tons—is greater than the book, magazine, and catalog sectors combined. In 2007, the newsprint industry emitted 49 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, consumed 95 million trees, and released 126 billion pounds of wastewater.
The future: curling up with an e-book?
Tree-free e-publishing is a phenomenon that's had its ups and downs. It's currently thought to be on an upswing as the market for trade releases rocketed from $11 million in 2005 to $20 million in 2006. Although major publishers have been quick to jump on the e-book trend in recent years, it's been met by resistance from the general public because e-book readers aren't, well, books. To many, e-readers just don't offer the intimacy of words on a printed page no matter how close they come to mimicking the real thing or how easy they are to transport. Even Amazon.com's Kindle was greeted by lukewarm reviews. It has, however, opened the floodgates further for e-reader technology.
Researchers at the Finnish Forest Research Institute agree that advances in e-reader technology, along with environmental consumer consciousness, could lead to traditional printed materials being replaced: "The more consumers accept electronic media as a substitute for printed media, the easier it is for politicians and environmental authorities to regulate media that are environmentally more damaging."
- Forest Ethics
- Eco-Libris Blog
- Environmental Paper Network
- EcoBusinessLinks - Green Bookstores
- Slate - Should I Cancel My Newspaper Subscription?
- Los Angeles Times - Recycling hits publishing industry
- New York Times - As Environmentalism Grows, Online Publishers Go Green
- Beneath the Cover - What’s Big and Round and Hates People Who Read?
- US Energy Information Administration - Forest Products: Economic Profile and Trends
- Worldwatch Institute - Good Stuff? - Paper
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Reforming the Paper Industry
- Environmental Defense - Paper and Packaging
- Environmental Paper Network - Maximizing Recycled Content
- The Green Press Initiative - Impacts: Impacts on Climate
- BusinessWeek - Blogspotting: With 15.5 Million Active Blogs, New Technorati Data Shows that Blogging Growth Seems to be Peaking
- Technorati - Blogs about environment
- Pulse 2.0 - Discovery Channel Acquires TreeHugger.com Blog For $10-15 Million
- Marketing Green - Measuring Green Blogging Influence
- SFGate.com - Green Blogs: The Green revolution moves online
- The Green Press Initiative - Book Sector
- Lantern Books - ForeWord Magazine Celebrates the Green Press Initiative
- The Guardian - Boy wizard turns green
- The Green Guide - Greener Kids Books
- Environmental Defense Fund - What Is the Most Influential Environmental Book?
- US Environmental Protection Agency - The Birth of EPA
- Mindfully.org - Turning the Page: Environmental Impacts of the Magazine Industry Recommendations for Improvement, Executive Summary
- InfoWorld - Magazines vs. the environment
- CNNMoney.com - Not-so-green magazines
- The Newspaper Society - Newsprint & the Environment
- Newspaper Association of America - Facts About Newspaper Recycling
- The Green Press Initiative - Newspaper Sector
- msnbc.com - Publishers testing e-books for young people
- Forbes.com - The Future of E-books
- MediaShift - Web Leads, Print Pubs Improve Environmental Impact