The Future of Publishing is Wood-Free

The publishing world is changing, and whether in a screen or on the shelf, traditional wood-pulp paper must wave farewell.
Writers, and anyone in the publishing industry for that matter, use a lot of paper. This does not bode well for the trees. According to Hardy Green in “Pulpless Fiction” (The Business Week, June 23, 2008) an average of 30 million trees pay the price each year for our reading material. But the real environmental impact of print does not necessarily come from roots and leaves. For starters, transport emissions are surprisingly high from milling to printing to hauling books back and forth between the warehouse and the bookstore. Margo Baldwin, in “Zero-Waste Publishing” (Publishers Weekly, August 14, 2006) calculated that each book releases roughly 8.9 pounds of emission. In 2004, the gross sales of consumer books averaged a total of 188 million pounds of diesel fuel simply through transport. Solutions to this problem are three-tiered. The first tier, already in full force, is through e-publishing. It is relatively easy to do; many e-books require a simple Adobe Reader or Microsoft Player download (that is, if a reader didn’t want to buy a reader such as the Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook). The whole e-publishing industry works as a text-based equivalent of the iTunes impact on music or the Netflix impact on film. But this change is not as easy as it sounds. Jeff Hurst asserts in “e-Publishing” (Scientific Computing & Instrumentation, November 2000) that the academic world is concerned that e-publishing would make peer-reviewing much more difficult because it would allow anyone who wants to publish to do so, whether or not they necessarily should. However, the benefits in this increasingly digital age are pushing e-publishing through. Just the thought of carrying lots of information on small devices sends excited shivers down the spines of the more technical-minded, and the gold star from Mother Nature herself helps the eco-thoughtful to sleep a little better at night. But sadly for the traditional literati, the Kindle does not smell the way a 100-year-old binding does, and the satisfaction of turning pages cannot be matched by a simple scroll-down. The second tier, already implemented yet still kept rather under wraps, is the brain-child of and largely foreign to other booksellers. Amazon buys the books nonreturnable from the warehouse, then marks down excess inventory until it sells. Other major booksellers ship the excess books back to the publisher, often at least half of the original order. If other booksellers were to buy nonreturnable and simply mark down the price after a period of time, not only would they still make a profit off of the discounted books, but they would also save an average of 8.4 million gallons of diesel fuel, up to 30% of their time and the postage that sending the books back and forth would cost (Baldwin). Plus, since at least half these returned books are shipped to a landfill, the waste would drastically diminish. The third tier, which will be the biggest once it becomes more developed, is the development to find alternative methods to paper-making aside from traditional wood-pulp. The conservation of trees is not necessarily an issue, but rather the other elements that are involved in paper-making. There is research pending on more “green” paper, using fibers ranging from the bagasse plant (sugar cane), to kenaf (a long-fiber plant that originated in the East Indes and is grown in the U.S.). Kenaf, for example, can be produced at about half the cost-per-unit of wood pulp. Hemp is even a viable option; it can be recycled seven times, impressive compared to the four times for wood. Jim Motavalli states in “The Paper Chase” (E–The Environmental Magazine, May/June 2004) that hemp is stronger than wood, lasts longer, and the paper made from its pulp is both acid- and chlorine-free after treatments. Fortunately, the publishing industry is already beginning to understand the need for alternative methods of paper-making. Scholastic purchased 22 million pounds of FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council)-certified paper for the printing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the much-anticipated seventh book in the Harry Potter series. This is considered the largest paper purchase for a single book printing. According to Adam Dewitz from PrintCEOBlog, English-printed editions of HPDH saved 197,685 trees and 7.9 million kilograms of greenhouse gases. The eco-paper goes beyond the pulp, however. Mohawk Fine Papers announced itself as one of the top 25 largest purchasers of wind-generated electricity among manufacturing companies in the U.S. This increase, from 60 million to 100 million kWh RECs (renewable energy credits) now makes the company able to completely run both its New York and Ohio operations on completely wind-generated electricity. The future of publishing looks very green on the horizon, and as the Digital Age progresses the written word will see a new light. Whether pushing the button or physically turning the page, trees are on their way out. In their place is a breath of fresh, clean, and pure air, and in their wake is a small footprint