Talking Green Publishing with Raz Godelnik

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Eco-Libris is a company created to help the book publishing industry adopt more environmentally aware practices. Activities include tree plantings in collaboration with organizations like RIPPLE Africa in countries like Malawi (shown in photo). I recently got a chance to ask the company's CEO, Raz Godelnik, a few questions.

Q: How did you first become involved in environmental causes, and how did you become involved in the specific cause behind Eco-Libris?

Raz: After I completed my MBA in Tel Aviv University, I worked as an economist and in several business development positions in high-tech and advertising industries. Following this, I served as an Advisor to Israel’s Minister of the Interior and worked on policy issues relating to foreign workers, refugees and citizenship which introduced him to social causes. It was very different from being an economist or in the high-tech industry. I felt like I was making a difference and doing something for the benefit of many groups that were, for lack of a better term, weaker groups in society. When I finished working at the ministry, I was determined to do something that would make a difference.

My interest in hemp and other environmental issues brought me to Hemper Jeans, an eco-fashion venture I co-founded that makes fashionable jeans from hemp, a more sustainable alternative to cotton. I also started writing about green business for a newspaper in Israel.

The idea of Eco-Libris started when I began thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (from the use of recycled paper to e-books) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about it.

The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only about 5% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet an online eco-friendly alternative (e-book), like magazines and newspapers. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version, unless you go to the library or get it from websites like BookCrossing or BookMooch, which are all excellent choices. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, so it seemed to me only natural to give book lovers a new alternative to make their reading habit greener -- planting trees for the books they read.

Q: I'm surprised to read on your website that even the "greenest" publishing companies don't often use recycled paper. What are the hurdles to overcome before this changes? Is there a visible difference when a book is printed on recycled paper that readers might resist? Or is it a matter of cost, or something else?

Raz: I know that it is common to think that the main problem is with the price, supply or quality of recycled paper, but I think this is not the main barrier -- recycled paper has achieved today a very high quality and it meets the same technical specifications and performs as well or even better in some cases than virgin paper. The cost is also more competitive than ever and even capacity is not an issue. Just look at the last Harry Potter that is a bestseller and was printed with partially or fully recycled paper worldwide.

Harry Potter is in my opinion a good example that this is mostly about awareness, will to make a change, vision and leadership. I definitely hope to see publishers follow this example and act to become greener. We also aim to become a strong voice of all the eco-conscious readers out there. I am positive that if publishers will know that many readers care about this issue, it will also contribute to move them towards printing books in an eco-friendly manner.

Q: Does Eco-Libris interact directly with publishing companies about these issues, and if so, at what level? What kind of response have you gotten from the publishing industry to your initiatives?

Raz: Yes, we certainly look to work with anyone involved in the book publishing industry, including bookstores, writers and publishers. We already correspond with few publishers and we receive very good feedbacks. There is more awareness to the impacts of printing books on the environment and to the need to make things differently. Our goal is to assist publishers to move in the green direction by balancing out books printed on virgin paper and increasing the awareness to the need to use more recycled paper. I see Eco-Libris as the first step towards sustainable reading and for many publishers looking to start making these steps, we're a perfect fit.

Q: To help put your company's mission into perspective, can you describe how the ecological impact of book publishing compares with, say, the ecological impact of newspapers and magazines, or (more broadly) of other industries more commonly discussed as environmental concerns, such as the automotive industry, the construction industry, etc.?

Raz: Deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change. If you look at the last IPCC report that was published this month, you can see that it is responsible for 17.4% of GHG emissions. Only energy supply and industry contribute more. You asked about cars - well, transport contributes 13.1%. Forests have also other important ecological functions, and anyone who is interested to learn more about this issue, the damages created by deforestation and the need in reforestation is invited to check out the Billion Tree Campaign of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The paper industry on all its uses (books, newspapers, catalogs, etc.) is a large consumer of the trees cut down worldwide. Just one example - 65% of the trees cut down in the Boreal Forest in Canada are used to make paper - 80% of it goes to U.S. consumers.

Q: I've noticed that your website doesn't address the ecological difference between hardcover and paperback book publishing. Also, what about the industry's "peculiar tradition" of printing and shipping huge runs of potential bestsellers, which are more often than not shipped back and pulped? Shouldn't we examine whether or not publishers like Random House are printing (and then destroying) far more books than they can sell before we call them "green"?

Raz: There are many issues related to the book publishing industry that have environmental impacts. Eco-Libris is focused on the usage of virgin paper for printing as we see it as the most significant issue. It doesn't mean that improvements shouldn't be made in regards with other problems like the current wasteful working models. On the contrary. Still, I think you would agree with me that the materials books are made from are the basic layer of the industry -- take care of it and you got yourself an healthy foundation that can guide to more changes on the way to making this industry eventually environmental friendly.

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