Is Green Printing Possible?

A few years ago, green printing was the hot topic and pet project for production managers and print buyers throughout the publishing industry. This was fueled in large part by an announcement by Random House in May 2006 that they would go from 3 percent recycled content to 30 percent by 2010. Many publishers scoffed at this, because a lot of us had been printing with 30 percent recycled content or more for a few years, but we hadn’t been bragging about it. Now it appeared that we were going to have to start bragging or be left behind.

In 2006, I could bid almost every book with 30 percent recycled content (the minimum content required to use the sacred arrow triangle logo), and other printers even had sheets available with 50 or 100 percent PCW (post-consumer waste) content that were only a little bit more expensive than nonrecycled sheets. It was beautiful. And not only did many printers do right by us with the paper, they also worked with organizations like the Green Press Initiative, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

These days, sustainability concerns have been pushed into the background by an economic downturn and the rise of digital content and e-books. But on Earth Day 2011, I would like to think that sustainable practices and green concerns haven’t been sent to the landfill or shelved in the archives. The publishing industry remains a greener place than it was less than 10 years ago. Green is still here; it’s just like the firstborn child who’s feeling left out after the new baby comes along. I still think green when I bid a book with a printer. If I can make the numbers work, or even get them close, the book is going to have recycled content. And if we can’t make a book with an environmental message work on a paper with recycled content, it doesn’t get printed.

There are those who say that the printed book should go by the wayside in the name of the environment, that the e-book eliminates the need for a physical product. More e-books means fewer printed books, to a certain extent, yes. But fewer printed books means less business for printers, which means they have to cut jobs and raise prices. I’d like instead to take the middle road. I believe print and digital should exist side-by-side, that certain content lends itself better to one format or the other, and that there will always be readers who prefer one over the other. From where I stand, the mills and printers who have done the work and raised the bar on environmental standards are the ones with the best business practices, the best quality, and the best service. So in this fantasy of mine, only the green will survive, and we’ll all get to keep making, buying, and reading books in whatever format we like.

To see proof that the sustainable publishing movement is still alive and kicking, visit the website of the Green Press Initiative. These guys know their stuff, and they come at every issue from every angle. I bet they’ve tracked the carbon footprint of several e-readers in comparison with the average hardcover or paperback (if they haven’t, they should). It’s also worth looking up Eco-Libris, a really cool green publishing incentive program that does more than sell a product.

Haley Berry is the editorial and production manager at Fulcrum Publishing.