Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Raz Godelnik from Eco-Libris talks about the future of the book.

raz2 I’m co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris, but first and foremost I’m the son of a librarian. Growing up in a house full of books and spending many hours in the public library where my mom worked, shaped my love of books, which eventually also brought me to start Eco-Libris with few great colleagues in a search of how to make reading more sustainable.

I was asked to write about something I’m very passionate about, so I decided to write about the topic that occupies me the most these days (except my little baby girl..): how we can achieve sustainable reading, or in other words – what are the main elements that can significantly impact the future of the book industry and determine how green it will be?

Before getting into it, I would like to briefly present Eco-Libris to readers who are not familiar with our work. Eco-Libris is a green business that works with book readers, publishers, authors, bookstores and others in the book industry to balance out the paper used for books by planting trees. The idea is simple: we aim to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of using paper for the production of books, work to decrease the number of trees been cut down for books and provide people and businesses with an opportunity to plant trees for their books. Our customers also receive a sticker made of recycled paper for every book they balance out saying “One tree planted for this book”.

We have partnered with three highly respected US and UK registered non-profit organizations that work in collaboration with local communities in developing countries to plant these trees. The trees are planted to high ecological and sustainable standards in Latin America and Africa, where deforestation is a critical problem. Planting trees in these places not only helps to fight climate change and conserve soil and water, but also benefits many local people, for whom these trees offer many benefits.

When we started Eco-Libris in 2007, we were quoting the figure of 20 million trees as the common estimate for the number of trees cut down annually for the production of books sold in the U.S. Last Saturday we reported on our blog that we are sadly updating this figure to about 30 million trees.

Jtreeust to be clear – most of these trees that are cut down for books are sourced from un-farmed sources (not to mention the fact that tree farms themselves have, in many cases, a devastating impact on native forests and indigenous communities). Mandy Haggith, the author of the new book “Paper Trails” explained this issue to the Independent recently: “No one likes to think of trees being felled, but many of us have a cosy image in our heads that it all comes from recycling or “sustainable” woodlands growing in neat rows, perhaps somewhere in Sweden. It’s a myth. Globally, 70 per cent of the 335 million tons of paper the world uses each year comes from natural, un-farmed sources. In Canada, the UK’s biggest source of pulp, 90 per cent of its output comes directly from its ancient forests.”

So what do you do? What should happen to make this update the last time we give a greater number? There are many things that can and should be done. I chose to discuss three key elements that can significantly impact the green future of the book industry and the number of trees cut down for books:

Putting a price on carbon dioxide – we have a fundamental problem – there is no cost on carbon dioxide to be taken into account when comparing virgin paper to greener alternatives. Hence virgin paper wins every alternative when it comes to the bottom line, especially in the short term. It’s true the premium on recycled paper is decreasing significantly and it’s now in many cases only a few percent, but even so – one of the reasons there’s still a premium is that we ignore the cost of carbon dioxide and act as if it doesn’t exist.

And it’s even more true when it comes to other alternatives which are more costly, such as agricultural waste (wheat straw for example – it was just used for printing the June issue of the Canadian National Geographic) or crops like hemp, which I believe to be a superior alternative to virgin paper on every environmental aspect but still lacks the economics on its side to become a significant option.

According to the report ‘Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry‘, which was published earlier this year by The Green Press Initiative and The Book Industry Study Group, the average carbon footprint of a book is 8.85 lbs, CO2 equivalent. Per book the added cost of carbon dioxide may not look significant (around 12 cents a book taking into consideration a price of $30 per ton of CO2), but when you think of hundreds of thousands  or millions of books it sure does make a difference.

Regulation is necessary. If we will count only on voluntary action, then we can expect only limited change that will take a very long time. I’m not sure we can afford such a level of change and therefore we need regulation to make sure ALL the book industry is on the same page and everyone sees ALL of the costs in front of them. That’s the only chance I believe to make sure a significant change will be achieved.

Increasing the book industry’s efficiency – According to the ‘Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry‘ report, 4.15 billion books are produced for the American market. Only 3.086 billion of them are being sold. It means that about 25% of the books produced are not sold at bookstores and are being returned to the publishers.

The results are disastrous. According the report, the U.S. EPA estimates that books accounted for 762,000 metric tons of paper in municipal solid waste. It results in methane releases that are calculated in the report as 8.2% of the total book industry’s carbon footprint.

There is something wrong with any operational system that functions only at 75% efficiency at best. The current status quo just doesn’t work well – not only that it costs the environment, it also costs the publishers. And now some publishers such as HarperCollins want to change this reality and shift the risk of unsold books to the bookstores. But again it’s not a win-win deal and maybe the publishers and the environment will gain in some way, but bookstores and the public (there will be less titles on the shelves) will lose.

There’s an urgent need for a solution that will be a win-win one, benefiting publishers, bookstores, the public and the environment. Can it be done? So far no one managed to find this solution. It’s a riddle that just waits for a creative and bright idea or maybe an algorithm that will figure it all out. Some say the only solution is books that don’t need to be returned at all – e-books. They say this is the solution and it brings us to the next element.

Developing the next generations of e-books – Is this the magic answer? Well, e-books don’t need paper and therefore no trees are cut down. They don’t need transportation or physical storage and therefore no extra costs and extra footprint are required to bring the book from the publisher to the reader. Yet, other factors to be considered, especially with regards to e-book readers such as their production, materials used, energy required for the reader’s use, and how recyclable they are.

So what’s the verdict? We still don’t know as we’re lacking a full life-cycle assessment of reading e-books using kindle or other similar electronic book readers. Until we have that, we can’t really tell if and to what extent e-books are more environmentally-friendly in comparison to paper made books.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the growing market of e-books, especially with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle. It’s still a fraction in terms of market share but not for long. Many publishers also offer more and more content online for free and it seems like the digital revolution has finally made its entrance into the world of books.

forest I also hope to see the prices of e-book readers going down so they will be affordable to many more and not just for a relatively small number of people who can afford it. If it won’t be affordable, it cannot be a true alternative.

As I said, I don’t know if currently e-books are superior or not to paper-made books, but I’m definitely sure that better environmental performance and better pricing will come with newer generations of e-book readers and therefore I hope to see them soon.

I haven’t mentioned many other important elements such as the recycled paper, FSC certification, print on demand etc., but I do hope I managed to capture few of the key challenges that can help bring the change we’re all looking for. We, at Eco-Libris, will keep working to offer readers and businesses means to make reading more sustainable and to strive for a world where reading books doesn’t have adverse effects on the environment.

The Foxes would like to thank Raz for this wonderful article.  Also Adnan Yahya on Flikr for the photo of the single tree, Duquesa Mercedes on Flikr for the man under the tree and pickselated/Jim on Flickr for the enchanted forest.

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve used to have full time job as a children's bookseller and she was the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love was definitely literature for children and teens, about which she has nerd-level knowledge. However she has since become involved in grown-up books and has co-written her first adult novel with Cath Murphy. Eve and Cath Podcast, blog and have far too much fun on their website Domestic Hell. Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website :

11 comments on “Raz Godelnik from Eco-Libris talks about the future of the book.

  1. marygm
    September 9, 2008

    It’s wonderful that people like those at Eco-libris are working to raise awareness and take action on this issue. Thank you.
    You mention libraries. What about more use of them as an environmental measure? Increased number of readers per book must be a good thing.

  2. rosyb
    September 9, 2008

    “woodlands growing in neat rows, perhaps somewhere in Sweden. It’s a myth. Globally, 70 per cent of the 335 million tons of paper the world uses each year comes from natural, un-farmed sources.”

    I’m one of those that thought that and am shocked to be informed otherwise.

    Thanks for an informative article. I don’t know a lot about this but I always feel very sceptical when people talk of ereaders being the answer. Mainly because when you look at other technologies – mobiles, computers, music players etc – it never seems to me as though they get sold once and once only hence reducing waste. Once a market is created businesses continue to bring out updates, newer versions, latest models etc to keep generating money. So it seems to me that somehow sustainability has to link to a market. Perhaps the answer lies more in trying to create markets for recycled paper or to get paper from other sources. Or to try and create markets for more sustainable products.

    But I have read a lot of unease on other blogs (such as Snowbooks blog) about the waste involved in returns. I wonder what a win-win solution might be. Perhaps improving and increasingly cheap digital printing technologies might help in that the publishers would not need to gamble on enormous print runs but could respond quicker and more flexibly to demand…Would that make any difference or is it not about that?

    Mary wrote an interesting piece called “Are there Too Many Books?” for the THursday Soapbox which discussed some of these issues too.

  3. RosyB
    September 9, 2008

    Here’s Eve’s article about books and the environment which I think discussed ereaders and pulping and a lot of the issues discussed here:

    And here’s Mary’s article about whether there are just too many books which looks at a lot of the issues above:

  4. Moira
    September 9, 2008

    Thank you for a very thoughtful, and thought-provoking piece, Raz.

    30 million trees. That’s astonishing and horrifying.

  5. chauffe-eau solaire
    September 10, 2008

    You mention libraries. What about more use of them as an environmental measure? Increased number of readers per book must be a good thing.

  6. raz godelnik
    September 10, 2008

    Raz Godelnik is publishing an article on Vulpes Libris’ Environment Week about key elements that can significantly impact the future of the book industry and determine how green it will be.

    Thank you for all the great comments! Regarding libraries – A library book is a symbol of efficiency in many ways – one copy is being used by hundreds and sometime thousands of people. According to the book “Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet” (recommended!), the average North American library lends out 100,000 books a year, but buys fewer than 5,000 books. Because less books are needed to be printed, the library is saving a huge amounts of CO2 emissions, or for those who are in favor of figures – 250 tones of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

    The concept makes a perfect sense – maximizing the usage of every printed copy. Also, ‘reuse’ is a greener strategy than ‘recycle’.

    I am a big fan of libraries as I mentioned and we definitely recommend on this option. I also think that libraries gain strength, whether it’s in their traditional model, or in the shape of a book swapping online communities such as bookmooch ( that are thriving. Still, we have to admit that libraries have a limited ability to decrease the book industry’s environmental problems, as they usually don’t attract the majority of book lovers. Libraries will be part of the ‘basket of green solutions’ we’ll have, but we still need to keep looking for ideas and solutions that will change things for most of the book readers if not for all of them.

    All the best,

    Raz Godelnik

  7. Eve
    September 10, 2008

    Hi Raz and thank you for answering questions.

    I think one of the main problems with Libraries is the fact that they are seriously under threat in the UK just now. Alan Gibbons, a writer for children has launched a campaign called The Campaign for the Book – you can read about it on the Bookseller website: and on his blog : .

    So perhaps what is happening is that the first real solution to the impact of books on the environment is being eroded by a government who is supposed to be active in staving off this global catastrophe – not such a good move.

    It’s very interesting to me that the solution to the problem may come, not from modern technology, but by going back to one of the oldest ways to include everyone in the reading experience.

    I do think though for people like me, who can’t wait in a queue for weeks to get the top sellers, or are a little queasy about what the stains on page 65 actually are, or like to make notes in the margins and bend the corners of the pages down (I know!!!) then an e-reader might be a solution… I shall reserve judgement :):)

  8. Jackie
    September 10, 2008

    Very thought provoking article. I really don’t understand why publishers don’t print fewer copies of books, greatly increase the amount of recycled paper they use and otherwise make their business greener. I’m appalled at the number of trees used, until I read some of the environmental leaning articles on VL, including this one, I thought the book industry was more responsible.
    I’m a continual user of libraries and have been all my life. The ones in the U.S. are well stocked & convienient. I’m not sure how they are elsewhere, though I’ve heard troubling comments.
    For ereaders to become more viable, they need to be less expensive, not only the initial purchase, but all the subscriptions and add ons that are required for getting the most out of the device. They also need to be more usable for the ageing population, the small print is very unfriendly to poor eyesight, whatever the age of the user. It’s quite easy to find large print books nowadays, so the electronic devices need to be open to that market as well.
    Thanks to Mr. Goldelnik for the interesting post and I hope that EcoLibris will gain widespread success in educating and changing the industry to adopting less damaging practices.

  9. RosyB
    September 11, 2008

    “Many publishers also offer more and more content online for free and it seems like the digital revolution has finally made its entrance into the world of books.”

    I suppose the other element that needs to be thought about is how writers earn a crust from their books. With average incomes for writers decreasing I wonder how econtent and readers and libraries might affect writers incomes.

  10. Steve N. Lee
    September 11, 2008

    I posted this comment on Eco-libris, but I think it’s worth pasting here so it can reach as wide an audience as possible in that hope that other authors and publishers might learn something and take steps to address this situation.

    It is shocking just how many trees are used by the publishing industry.

    That said, publishers can do more, if they so choose.

    For example, my novel ‘What if…?’ was produced under the Green Press Initiative which uses recycled paper. It has a little plaque at the front telling readers what was saved by doing this:

    16 trees (40 foot tall by 8 inch diameter)
    6583 gallons of waste water
    2648 kilowatt hours of electricity
    726lbs of solid waste
    1426lbs of greenhouse gases

    I know some publishers and authors will be wary of using recycled paper but there’s really no need. The quality of the paper is outstanding. It has a good texture, nice heft, and excellent colour. In fact, it’s far superior to many books published using ‘traditional’ methods.

    I really do hope we can educate more publishers on the need to adapt and the options available.

    Good post, Raz. thanks,
    Steve N. Lee
    author of eco-blog
    and suspense thriller ‘What if…?’

  11. Amy
    February 13, 2009

    Awesome! I love this stuff. Without Ecology their is no Economy. Let’ work together to make a difference in this world!

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2008 by in Entries by Eve, Special Features and tagged , , , , , , .



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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