Since 1975 we've been hearing about the "paperless office," but we still plow through forests of paper every year. The U.S. book publishing industry alone consumes an average 20 million trees per year to print books. The larger paper industry is logging 5 million acres of forests each year, and tree plantations are replacing natural forests at an alarming rate, reducing biodiversity. And these are just U.S. statistics. Virgin wood fiber used in paper products also originates in Canadian, South American, and U.S. forests, many of which are considered endangered (ForestEthics pdf).
One source of solutions: The Green Press Initiative organized by SEE Innovation in collaboration with the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation. The organization advocates paper use standards as follows:
a. 30% to 100% postconsumer recycled paper, processed chlorine free / 10% min. for coated
b. non-postconsumer recycled portion consisting of (in order of value):
c. pulp is bleached using Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) technologies
The site is pretty rich; it includes Tools and Resources including links to issues of the organization's newsletter and a book industry treatise on responsible paper use. They've gotten a lengthy list of publishers large and small to sign on to the treatise and commit to a more responsible approach in their paper-intensive industry.
At Worldchanging, we've done our best to do our part paper-wise with the Worldchanging book. Our publisher, Abrams, chose to use Opaque 100 paper from New Leaf, a 100% post-consumer waste paper which meets the high quality standards needed for a photo book, but offers the best environmental performance available. According to New Leaf's environmental impact assessment at the back of the book: compared to most books, the production of Worldchanging saved 3,846 trees, 1,651,641 gallons water, 2,765 million BTU's energy, 184,691 lbs solid waste, 360,244 lbs greenhouse gases.
Some people out there believe that we're on our way to a 100% digital literary culture, but the incredibly deep tradition of the printed page is likely to die hard. Meanwhile, adopting new ways to make, recycle and print on paper will help alleviate the impact of publishing while preserving the pleasure of page-turning.
Sounds like a great initiative. Continuing to reduce the amount of raw paper we produce, and the paper we throw away, should certainly remain a key element of our efforts toward sustainability. Indeed, we will never truly attain sustainability without completely revamping the way we use paper (as with so many other products).
I know its probably hopeless, but as I recently blogged, I think its time we had a tax on new wood pulp, to help rectify the undervaluation of our natural resources... and thereby make recycled paper more competitive with fresh. A few days ago I finished reading Gore's Earth in the Balance; I found that he called this a "virgin materials tax." Great idea. Hey, if we can tax Canadian wood imports, Japanese steel imports, and subsidize Florida sugar cane — in other words we mess with the markets all the time when it is politically expedient — then why not a virgin materials tax?
Thanks for the informative post, Jon. I wonder if you could link us to some places where we could work toward this on a micro-, home-office level. Even just a few good places that might sell recycled printer paper (and other earth-friendly office supplies) for home use.
Responding to Dave's Comment, here are some web resources to answer your question:
Conservatree's Guide to Copy Paper: http://www.conservatree.org
Reducing Use in the Office: http://www.nrdc.org/cities/living/paper/strategies.asp
The Green Office: http://www.thegreenoffice.com
Recycled Product Co-op: http://www.recycledproducts.org