Writing a novel about a future where most life on Earth is dead or dying, and the trees that form the magical link between all living things and their magic are no more, it would be hypocritical of me to not be aware of the carbon footprint of sharing it with the world. Given the publishing industry consumes approximately 30 million trees and has a carbon footprint equivalent to 12.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, I have tried to consider solutions to ensure I can be as close to carbon-neutral as possible. (Yes, I know, that got depressing quickly.)
Let me be completely transparent and up-front. I make no claims to be scientifically minded, and many of the papers, websites, and statistics I read seem to disagree and provide a different set of numbers. However, they do all agree on the fact that publishing is terrible for the environment.
As a tiny cog in a very large machine, how much impact can I have? Well, the answer is disappointing. I can do very little. Nonetheless, I have been a great believer in the “Every little bit helps” attitude for most of my life. This is my approach on this issue too.
None of us can claim we are perfect. We all contribute to the climate crisis, but the majority of us try to do our best. However, I have put in the effort to mitigate as much as I can.
When faced with the quandary many authors face—whether to go down the traditional or self-publishing route—I researched the environmental impact of both. Honestly, neither route is without consequence, but self-publishing is the lesser of the two (by quite a margin) due to the carbon produced by the transport involved.
See the statement in the report Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Why and How Publishers Should Aim for a Greener Supply Chain: “Today’s Industry often relies heavily on large print runs and long shipping routes to reach worldwide markets, while at the same time polluting the air and water, wasting energy and natural resources, and causing irreversible harm to our planet.” (See the link to the document in the footer. It makes interesting and educated points worth reading.)
The traditional publishing route involves Paper Mill – Print Service – Shipping to Storage – Shipping to Warehouses (often worldwide) – Customer. Self-publishing ensures the chain is shortened to Paper Mill – Print on Demand Service – Customer. While the latter minimizes the need for much of the shipping, it is still not perfect.
Print on Demand services also remove the overprinting of books that end up in landfills. Did you know 30 percent of manufactured books don’t sell? How much does that notion hurt a booklover?
Nonetheless, many of the publishing houses are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, and, with time, this balance may improve.
Next comes the concept of encouraging readers to buy e-books rather than physical books. Although, if we are being honest, some of us love the feel (and smell) of a book. So, I accept this is beyond my ability to control. But, where possible, please consider Digital First.
Personally, as somebody who suffers from a chronic illness, I benefit from reading e-books. Although, I cannot deny my love of displaying my favorites on a bookshelf, like trophies.
It needs to be pointed out before anybody screams back at me: I did say I wasn’t an expert, and I’m just trying to do my bit. Digital books, Kindles, eReaders, etc. are not without a carbon footprint. This is where it gets complicated.
Not all eReaders/Kindles are equal. Some come with a higher eco-price than others. However, it is estimated that a single Kindle has a carbon footprint equivalent to fifteen books purchased in person, or thirty books purchased online.
If you are a bookworm like me, that is soon balanced out. I read that many books in a few months. But, some readers don’t. Therefore, the decision as to which works best for you, and your conscience, has to lie with you, the reader.
If the average estimated carbon footprint of an eReader is equivalent to 168 kg (370.4 lbs) and the estimated carbon footprint of a book is roughly 7.5 kg (16.5 lbs), you need to work out the maths for yourself. Although, how many of us just had a brain-melt at the idea of doing maths?
If like me, that made you want to turn the page or go and do something else, I understand. So, I’ll end by advising and encouraging Digital First. The rest is up to you.
There are publishing houses and smaller independent printers that have made great strides in reducing their carbon footprint. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the cost became prohibitive. I do, though, have high hopes, as costs come down and my sales numbers go up, I can revisit this.
Thankfully, all the major Print on Demand services are at least making use of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®) certified paper. After this initial step in the chain, it gets impossible to quantify the damage being caused.
Faced with the realization that, even with self-publishing, encouraging Digital First, and using Print on Demand services to reduce waste, I would still have a negative impact by publishing.
I then spent far too long researching carbon offsetting. What I came across was (the Greenpeace article linked below explains this better than I could ever hope to) that it wasn’t really a solution. It is rather like eating apples and replacing them with oranges.
Nonetheless, it was my best option. Then came the researching how to do it. Eventually, I settled on Ecologi, a tree-planting organization that is growing daily and making massive strides toward repopulating the trees. This is an impossible task, but we have to try.
As such, I have opened an account related to my author activities. At my current estimates, at least 20 percent of all my profits would need to be invested in Ecologi to stand any hope of balancing my eco-balance sheet. Although, this will need to be monitored, and I intend to revisit it in the future.
Please head over to my Ecologi page to have a look. Or, even better, consider gifting some trees to leave the world a healthier place.
To find out more about ecologi and what they are doing to replant trees, throughout the world, click HERE
Gift some trees and add some beauty in an ugly world, by visiting Beverley's ecologi page.