Eco Libris: Book Industry Announces Carbon Reducion Goals

book industry environmental council logoEditor’s note: This post was originally published on April 22, 2009 at the Eco-Libris blog.

Happy Earth Day everyone!

We wanted to write a special post for Earth Day and fortunately we have great news to report: The Book Industry Environmental Council announced last week it has set goals for cutting the U.S. book industry’s greenhouse gas emissions in 20% by 2020 (from a 2006 baseline) with the intent of achieving an 80% reduction by 2050.

This is very exciting news and as the Council pointed out in its press release, this industry-wide commitment is a global first in publishing and hence has tremendous importance.

Because of the importance of this move and its implications for the book industry, we thought it’s important to take closer look at it and analyze it from strategic and operational points of view. Hopefully later on we’ll also bring you an interview with one of the Council’s leaders.

So let’s start with our analysis, which will be presented as a series of Q&A:

What is the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC)?

The council, coordinated by the nonprofits Green Press Initiative and the Book Industry Study Group, includes representatives from more than 40 publishers, printers, mills and other stakeholder companies that together account for about 60 percent of the market share. The council is currently focusing on three priority areas: Tracking environmental progress of the book industry, setting an industry wide goal for greenhouse gas emissions reduction and establishing a label to identify publishers that are leading the way in reducing environmental impacts.

What is the baseline of the new goals?

The baseline is the 2006 figures of 12.4 million metric tons CO2 equivalent. This baseline was established in the report ‘Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts: Findings from the U.S. Book Industry’ that was published on March 2008 by The Green Press Initiative (GPI) and The Book Industry Study Group (BISG).

Why now?

Why not? actually the timing is great with first steps taken in Washington to formulate climate regulation, growing awareness of both companies and customers of the environmental impacts of the industry, growing sense of urgency, and an understanding that if approached now, climate change can become an opportunity for the industry instead of a risk.

And what about the economic recession? Well, with the right strategy companies can build solutions that not only will reduce their carbon emissions, but also lower their costs and create more business opportunities (finding the way to reduce the number of returned books is just one example), so it can become a win-win model that will also benefit the bottom line.

Is it doable?

The targets and their time frames are certainly reasonable. Nevertheless, there are two elements that are crucial to the success of the Council’s initiative:

1. Strategic approach – publishers and other companies involved in the industry should approach their carbon reductions strategically and systematically – that’s the only way to make sure they will gain the most out of it by creating a shared value – meaningful benefit for the environment that is also valuable to the business. This win-win model is crucial to ensure the success of this initiative. We’ll review the process in the next answer.

2. Federal carbon regulation – without putting a price on carbon emissions, whether it is through a carbon tax or a cap and trade system, I don’t think there are sufficient economic incentives for publishers to implement climate change policies in accordance with the Council’s goals. Fortunately, we see it coming with the first step taken by the EPA last week.

According to the EPA’s estimations, carbon prices will range from $13 to $17 per ton in 2015, and rise by about 5 percent a year, reaching $17 to $22 per ton by 2020. It means that we’re talking about potential saving of 50-60 million for the industry. This figure may not sound too impressive, but in a growing competitive business environment, these savings can certainly make a difference for many publishers and increase their incentive to act faster and better to reduce more carbon emissions and hence reduce costs.

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