Friday, March 14, 2008

Phenix & Phenix interviews Raz Godelnik, Co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris is a great green business dedicated to making the publishing industry more environmentally friendly. They are proponents of "sustainable reading" and their mission is perhaps best summed up by their tag line: "Every book you read was once a tree. Now you can plant a tree for every book you read". Raz was kind enough to let us grill him about green efforts in the publishing industry:

Q: So, what is Eco-Libris? What do you mean by “sustainable reading”?
A: Eco-Libris is a green business that works with book readers, publishers, writers, bookstores, and others in the book industry to balance out the paper used for books by planting trees. About 20 million trees are cut down annually for virgin paper to be used for the production of books sold in the U.S. alone. Eco-Libris raises awareness to the environmental impacts of using paper for the production of books and provides book lovers with a simple way to do something about it: plant a tree for every book they read.

Sustainable reading, as we see it, is when books won’t have environmental impacts and that the process of their production will be done in a manner that can be maintained indefinitely without endangering our natural resources base. This is definitely far from the state we have today, when so many trees - one of the most precious natural resources, are being cut to sustain the growth of the book industry, not to mention the energy consumed in the process and the pollution it produces. In Eco-Libris, we offer the first step to make reading more sustainable. We believe it is of the outmost importance to emphasize the direct connection between the paper consumed in the industry to the trees that are being cut down, and we offer a direct action.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the organization?
For me it all started when I was 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 (such as the use of recycled paper) 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 feedbacks about the idea.

The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only less than 10% 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, like magazines and newspapers. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, because books are such a wonderful thing and an important part of our life, so it seemed to me only natural to offer book lovers a new alternative to make their reading greener--planting trees for the books they read.

Q: Just how much paper is used annually to print books?
According to the Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts Report that was published this week by The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and Green Press Initiative (GPI) more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper are used annually for producing books in the U.S. In terms of trees, we talk about 20 million trees, if not more, that are cut down to produce the paper.

Q: Is it enough to print books on recycled paper? What is a “certified forest” with reference to “virgin paper”?
Shifting to using of recycled paper is not the only step that should be taken, but it’s probably the most important one. Not only that you contribute by taking this step to cutting down less trees, you also support the fight against global warming – let’s not forget that deforestation, because of the release to the atmosphere of the carbon that is stored in trees, now accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

If any virgin paper content is still used for printing, using paper that is coming from certified forests is very much recommended. There are few certification programs and the best one is considered to be the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Using paper with FSC certification ensures that paper does not originate from trees in endangered forests, that the forests it is derived from were not converted to single-species tree farms after harvest, that the biodiversity and the resilience of ecosystems is maintained, that concerns of indigenous and local communities are integrated into the forest plans, etc.

Q: Would you say that the publishing industry has been an “un-environmentally friendly” organization in years past?
Let’s start with the good news - you can see a change in the publishing industry in the last couple of years, especially ever since Random House announced in May 2006 that it will raise the proportion of recycled paper it uses to at least 30% by 2010 from under 3% at the time of the announcement. We see more publishers involved in green initiatives and there are around 150 publishers that signed a treatise initiated by the Green Press Initiative, which supports more use of recycled paper and FSC-certified paper.

Yet, there is still a lot more to be done since the starting point of the industry is very far from being sustainable. The book industry (and it is the same with many other industries) didn’t deal with its environmental impacts for many years. Now it starts this process, but I really would like to see it moving faster and greener. We know many eco-conscious readers are looking forward to that.

Q: Where are the purchased trees planted?
Eco-Libris partnered with three highly respected U.S. and U.K. registered non-profit organizations ( that work in collaboration with local communities in developing countries to plant these trees. These trees are planted in high ecological and sustainable standards in Latin America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, and Honduras) and Africa (Malawi) where deforestation is a crucial 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, such as improvement of crops and additional food and income, and an opportunity for a better future.

Q: What can publishers, authors and literary publicists do to participate in the cause?
There are many ways to collaborate with us. Here are few examples - Kedzie Press, an independent publisher out of Seattle are using the Eco-Libris logo on their new books' cover design and pledged to plant a million trees with us by the end of 2009, Process Media from LA plant a tree with us for every book they sell on their website, Authors like Mira Tweti and Mary Kearns offered our stickers at launch and signing events of their books, planting a tree for every book sold. We will be happy to speak with anyone in the industry that want to go green – to receive further information just send us an email to bd[at]ecolibris[dot]net.

Q: What results have you seen from participation in this program?
Within only 8 months of operations we have balanced out more than 24,000 books which results in more than 31,500 new trees being planted! This is really great and we’re very proud in that, but it’s only the beginning and we intend to keep working hard to meet our goal: balancing out 500,000 books by the end of the year.

Besides that, we managed to raise awareness to these issues within authors, bookstores, online communities of readers and many others that collaborate with us. We feel that we help to increase the understanding to the need to go green both on the demand and supply sides of the industry and even more important – drive them into action.

Q: What advancements in environmentally friendly technology are you most excited about right now in the publishing industry?
A: I am very excited from the work on producing synthetic paper in a cradle to cradle manner, just like the book ‘Cradle to Cradle’ itself. As the authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart explain in the book, it is made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers – it’s waterproof, extremely durable and recyclable by conventional means. Above all – it can be broken down and circulated infinitely in industrial cycles made and remade as paper and other products. In other words: sustainable.

What other environmentally friendly suggestions do you have for readers? Do you have any tips for industry professionals like P&P?
A: For eco-conscious readers there are many steps that can be taken to go green such as:
  • Joining the local library.
  • Frequent more used book stores. It's cheaper and much more sustainable.
  • Support book publishers who print on recycled paper.
  • Check out for worldwide book swapping.
  • And support book publishers and writers who partner with Eco-Libris (you can see a list on this page:

Industry professionals can also take many steps to green their operations and business–starting from reducing the energy consumption and paper use in the office to greening their purchases and buying locally. When you buy recycled paper or envelopes made of recycled paper–look for local businesses that sell it and support them. From my experience, as members of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia that buy our office supplies from a local green business, not only that it’s better for the environment and supports the local economy, it’s even cheaper.

For more information on Eco-Libris, please visit their website. To check out our thoughts on going green, please visit the Eco-Libris blog. Many thanks to Raz Godelnik and the folks at Eco-Libris!

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