How to Go Green: Books (for Authors)

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[by The Green Guide Girls™, Cindy Katz & Jennifer S. Wilkov]

A book is published somewhere in the world every 30 seconds, writes Gabriel Zaid in "How Many Books." Fifty years after the introduction of television, says Zaid, the number of titles published worldwide each year has increased fourfold from 250,000 to 1 million--from 100 books for every million humans to 167. That translates into a lot of natural resources that are required to make these books, and this process clearly has a huge impact on the environment and our planet.

As we wrote in our book, The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing, we know that everything begins in that moment of decision, that one breath when you say to your publisher, book manufacturer, printer, and book consultant, "would you like to publish my book?" We also know that in the same breath there is one question that has the power to transform the industry as we know it: "how do we make THAT book 'green'?"™

The information in this Green Guide was provided by The Green Guide Girls™ from their book, The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing.

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Top Tips for Green Book Authors

  1. Ask and do tell
    Let your publisher, book manufacturer, printer and book consultant know that you want to make your book "green." Ask them our famous Green Guide Girls'™ question, "How do we make THAT book 'green'?"™ and then find out how familiar they are with environmentally sound publishing practices and who they work with that can provide these services for your book.

  2. What's a green book anyway? Find out and ask more questions!
    Green book publishing is defined in many different ways. Essentially it means that ecologically sound practices can be used in the production of your book--from cover to cover and end to end. That means your book cover, paper, and ink could be provided using green resources. In The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing, you can find eight different definitions from some of the top leaders in the green book publishing industry. Ask your publishing team to go green and define for them what this means for you. The spectrum of the process is easy for any author to understand and inquire about. Green alternatives are available for any piece of the puzzle. All you have to do is determine how green you want your book to be. If you are not sure, ask more questions about each step.

  3. Find a publisher who is already using environmentally friendly practices
    "Now, it is easier than ever," says Tyson Miller of The Green Press Initiative."With over sixty environmentally responsible book papers available and stocked by over twenty book printers, the book industry is in the midst of a transformation--with over 140 publishers with environmental policies in place." So if you think it's going to be tough to publish a green book, think again. It's easy to find a publisher who can provide ecologically sound processes to manufacture and print your book. Tyson also says, "asking questions of the publisher and/or doing research to find out which publishers are already using environmentally friendly practices is one of the best starting places. It perpetuates the message and helps support the existing green momentum."

  4. Authors don't necessarily need to be experts
    As Tony Crouch from University of California Press says, "The authors don't need to necessarily be experts. The authors need to speak to the experts. We need to help them understand it is easy to make anything 'green' anywhere in the spectrum, from a little bit green to all-out green."

  5. Get under the covers
    Pick up any hardcover book you have in your home, office, school, or library and look at it. It is sturdy because it has binder board underneath the front cover, the spine or side of the book, and the back cover. A piece of cloth or paper that includes your cover design is wrapped around these boards and glued together. Some hardcover books have a second piece of paper wrapped around it where the flaps fold inside the book. This is called a dust jacket cover. This thicker piece of paper has been painted and treated with your cover design and then wrapped around the hardcover of the book. But it is not glued to the binder board. So it is the piece of paper that wraps around the book that can fall off easily. Often times, many people use the front or back flap of the dust jacket cover as a "bookmark" to keep their place when they close a book. All of these pieces of your book can be green. In fact, making your book green may be simpler than you thought. Today, companies like Thomson-Shore, Inc., a book manufacturer and printer, use only 100% post-consumer recycled waste binder board for all their hardcover book projects. Other companies like Rainbow® provide endpapers, those pretty papers just inside your hardcover book, using a 100% solvent-free processes. It may come as a pleasant surprise that there is a good possibility that your book would already be pre-disposed to green processes. This is often a well-kept secret in the book publishing world. So just ask your publisher, printer, book manufacturer or consultant if the cover materials and endpapers you are using are eco-friendly.

  6. Does it cost more to make my book green?

    The bottom line numbers have been summed up best by Tom Kemper, CEO & Founder of Dolphin Blue, the first member of the Green Guide Girls'™ Collective Wisdom Team™. "If you and I were to sit down and seriously analyze that issue, I think we may come to the conclusion that recycled paper does not cost more. If we look at the environmental costs, costs to human health, costs to habitat of fellow species, and societal costs, I think we could honestly say recycled paper does not cost more. That being said, yes, the receipt from purchases made at the register reflect recycled paper costing more, but we know that is not the final price we pay. Unfortunately, we human beings don't look at the whole picture when we make our purchase decisions."

  7. The biggest decision you'll make about your book: The paper
    Paper is a major component of every book and tends to be the focus of most green discussions in the book publishing industry. In fact, when you raise environmental issues with your publisher, book manufacturer, printer, or book consultant, the first topic they will probably talk about is the paper. There are lots of terms that describe the different types of paper available. Post-consumer recycled, percent recycled, acid-free, chlorine free, and FSC certified are some of the words that will be mentioned when someone tells you about their green papers. Please refer to the glossary in The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing for thoughtful explanations of the different types of papers. As an author, when you specify post-consumer paper, besides reducing the amount of trees logged for paper production, you help grow the market for recycled products and actually ensure the viability of recycling programs. Did you know that your choice in paper had such a rippling effect?

  8. Ink hits the spot!
    Consider asking for soy-based or vegetable based inks instead of petroleum-based inks for your book. Here's why: "If you have ever been in a printing plant, you know ink is everywhere. You have waste ink and you have to think about how printers dispose of it. Much or all of it has to be carted away to a hazardous waste landfill. You can't just dump it down a drain. Print operators get ink on their hands, and if the inks are toxic in some way, they are ingesting that toxicity. As I've said before, 'green' publishing involves looking at everybody and everything that touches your product," says Deborah Bruner, Director, Book Publishing Papers from New Leaf Paper. Deborah is on our Collective Wisdom Team™ and has an extensive background in inks.

  9. Prove it!
    There are many green certifications you may come across as you journey through the green book publishing world. Certifications exist to assure that what companies claim about their environmental responsibility is indeed verified. Some common certifications include Processed Chlorine Free (PCF), Totally Chlorine Free (TCF), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Ancient Forest Friendly™ (AFF), Green-e® for renewable energy products in the U.S., BioGas to evaluate energy sources used by the manufacturer, and Eco-Logo™ in Canada which uses a life-cycle review to evaluate the environmental impacts of the product or service. To keep apprised of the most current certification information, please refer to the organizations and their respective websites.

  10. Take notes and record the ride
    We encourage you to record what happens during your green book publishing experience. Jot down your information, comments and contact information for all your publishing and printing steps in one place. You can use the pages set aside in the back of our book or use your own special journal of recycled paper. You'll always want to celebrate and remember what it was like to make your book green. Inform the ones you care about why it is important to you to make these green choices. Then you can tell other authors how you green-ed your book!

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Green Books for Authors: By the Numbers

  • 81 percent: Americans who feel they should write a book, according to a recent survey cited in the Publishers Weekly review of Zaid's book, "How Many Books" on

  • 24: Trees saved from using one ton of 100% post-consumer content recycled paper instead of non-recycled paper.

  • 116: Number of average weighted books (one pound) that can be created from an averaged sized paper-yielding tree.

  • 100 Percent: Amount of post-consumer recycled content in the most environmentally friendly papers.

  • 11.7: Trees saved in the printing of the first 1000 copies of The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing; additional savings included 4400 gallons of wastewater, 1900 kilowatt hours of electricity, 524 pounds of solid waste, and 1020 pounds of greenhouse gases (prevented from being released into the atmosphere).

  • 4.4: Gallons of water used to create one book.

Sources:, The Green Guide Girls, Plant a Tree USA,
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Green Books for Authors: Getting Techie

Real recycled paper: post-consumer recycled
"What we consider to be recycled paper is paper that is generally and honestly taken from the waste stream--meaning somebody, a consumer, used it for its initial intended purpose. They then put it in a recycling bin where it got collected with other paper to be bundled and baled so it could be sent to a paper mill where it got made into paper once again. Old fibers that were used in the process of making paper went through their intended purpose and then got made into paper again. That, in the true sense, is recycling." (Source: Tom Kemper, CEO & Founder, Dolphin Blue and beloved Green Guide Girls'™ Collective Wisdom Team™ member, from The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing)

Post-consumer recycled paper (PCR), like those referred to, above, comes from the post-consumer waste (PCW) stream such as the office paper you recycle. The PCW or PCR letters are clues to help you recognize that these papers use fewer trees than non-recycled papers. When you see "100% PCW" or "100% PCR" describing the paper you are proposing to use for your book, you will know that no new trees were cut down to make the paper. No virgin fibers were used to produce the paper.

Regarding pre-consumer recycled papers, be on the "look out". "There has always been a misunderstanding because there are many providers of recycled products in the paper industry. There is a lot of loosely thrown about terminology that says paper is recycled or it contains recycled material." However, in the paper mills, rolls of paper break during the manufacturing process, and "the paper is again deposited into the pulping vat under the mill floor where it is re-pulped to become paper again. It is really not recycled. It is using the resource being used initially to create the paper. It is not recovered from the waste stream. It is really not recycled even though it gets labeled 'recycled'. This mis-labeling is misleading and the recycled paper is of no environmental value." (Source: Tom Kemper, CEO & Founder, Dolphin Blue and beloved Green Guide Girls'™ Collective Wisdom Team™ member, from The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing)

Covers for "The Paperback Writer"
Most of the publishing industry uses the standard of a maximum of 10% post-consumer recycled content for the covers of soft-bound books. The Green Guide Girls™ along with some of the leaders in the "green" book publishing world, Tom Rohlfing at Pinnacle Press, Inc. and Deborah Bruner at New Leaf Paper, discovered and figured out a way to make covers for paperback books 100% post-consumer recycled. Take a look at the cover of The Green Guide Girls: Guide to Book Publishing to see an example of this.

Carbon sequestration
Sequestering carbon is the process by which trees capture carbon dioxide from the air. Trees actually uptake carbon from the air (like "inhaling through their leaves") in order to photosynthesize and create oxygen for us to breathe. Plant a Tree USA™ affectionately refers to trees as "mean green carbon-reducing machines"™ due to their sequestering uptake of carbon pollution from the air. The sequestration of carbon is why the green book publishing industry makes every effort to protect our forests. Forests have a huge role in not just beauty and habitat; forests cleanse our air and trees are great "carbon storage centers."

The FSC, Forest Stewardship Council, is an environmentally credible forest products certification and labeling program, "developed and defined by the conservation community," says Tyson Miller, Director of The Green Press Initiative.

The Forest Stewardship Council certification logo identifies paper whose virgin fiber comes from responsibly managed forests. FSC sets the highest standards for defining "responsible forest management," namely, forestry that is environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable. While the FSC focused on sustainable virgin fiber sources for most of its history, it recently began certifying papers with high post-consumer recycled content. The FSC requires certification from everyone in the supply chain--from logger to printer. One environmentally weak link in the chain and it's not FSC certified. (Source: New Leaf Paper)

Ancient Forest Friendly (AFF)™ is a designation to get excited about, as it represents the most comprehensive standards for environmental responsibility in the paper industry. To earn the AFF designation, a paper must be manufactured with a high percentage of post-consumer waste and not contain any virgin fiber from old-growth, ancient or endangered forests. Any virgin fiber in the paper must be both FSC certified and assessed to not originate from endangered forests. Bleaching methods must be "chlorine free," meaning without the use of chlorine or chlorine compounds. To find out how you can use Ancient Forest Friendly™ paper and the logo, visit (Source: New Leaf Paper)

Paper can be made using wind, solar power, water power or other renewable energy sources
Renewable energy is power that is made available using resources which can be replenished, such as wind, sun (solar-powered), water (hydro-powered) and even from the decomposition of waste. These resources are "greener" than fossil fuels, as their use creates less pollution.

There are certifications for paper that will tell you if it was made using renewable energy. These include Green-e® Certified Renewable Energy which is the nation's leading independent certification and verification program for renewable energy products in the U.S., and Biogas certification verifies that energy is sourced from the decomposition of waste, converting a waste stream and potent greenhouse gas into an energy source. (Source: New Leaf Paper)

Think de-ink
De-inking is the process of removing "applied inks, finishes, glues, and other contaminants from wastepaper in order to extract the cellulose fiber" (New Leaf Paper website). This is a necessary and extensive process that occurs during the production of recycled paper.

Even one drop of ink makes you think about the VOCs
Vegetable and soy based inks emit lower VOCs which decrease air pollution. Also known as VOCs, volatile organic compounds are chemicals which are harmful to humans and the earth. They contribute to air and water pollution when they escape into the air through evaporation. Vegetable and soy based inks are environmentally friendlier alternatives to petroleum-based inks. It is also easier for the de-inking part of the paper recycling process when vegetable and soy based inks are used.

The eco-audit: avoid eco-analysis paralysis
What is an eco-audit, you ask? Think about it like this: according to Wikipedia, an audit is an evaluation of an organization, system, process, project or product, performed by competent, independent and objective persons. An Eco-Audit is an environmental evaluation of how you produce your book.

You can see how many trees you saved, how much water and electricity you didn't have to use, how much solid waste you kept out of the landfills, and how many dangerous greenhouse gases you didn't produce ~ all because you made your book green!

Deborah Bruner, Director of Book Publishing Papers at New Leaf Paper says: "The environmental benefits stated in the Eco Audit," provided by New Leaf Paper, "are calculated based on research by Environmental Defense and members of the Paper Task Force, who studied the environmental impacts of the paper industry. They performed life-cycle analyses of post-consumer waste vs. virgin fiber, which revealed the tangible environmental benefits of using post-consumer recycled content instead of virgin content."

E=mc2: Eco = Manufacturing X Collaborative Consciousness™
Everyone can be an eco-Einstein with these formulas and calculators. You can estimate environmental impacts, using the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.

Another calculator can be found at, which was created by Plant a Tree USA™ using scientific research provided by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Transportation) Here you can calculate how many trees to plant to offset your carbon pollution by the travel and energy you use when creating and marketing your book.

Chlorine is a chemical used in the bleaching, or whitening, of papers, and to say chlorine is a "dangerous" chemical is the understatement of the century. Dioxins are the byproducts released during the manufacturing of chlorine-bleached papers. According to Deborah Bruner of New Leaf Paper, "for a long time paper mills were the number one source of dioxin pollution in waterways in the U.S." and as a note, "Dioxin is considered the most dangerous carcinogen to mankind." The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found dioxin to be 300,000 times more potent as a carcinogen than DDT. Dr. Peter M. Zeischegg MS, DC, DACNB, Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist, reports that dioxins "have even been linked to endometriosis, immune system impairment, diabetes, neurotoxicity, birth defects, decreased fertility, and reproductive dysfunction in both women and men." The certification process of chlorine-free papers requires that companies use ways to whiten paper without using chlorine. Look for the following certifications on the paper for your book. Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) -- reserved for recycled content paper. PCF papers have not been re-bleached with chlorine containing compounds. Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) -- reserved for virgin fiber papers. TCF papers do not use pulp produced with chlorine or compounds containing chlorine as bleaching agents. (Sources: Chlorine-Free Products Association, and Dr. Peter M. Zeischegg)

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Where to Get Green Book Materials and Resources


Cover Materials and Endpapers

Book Consultants

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Green Books for Authors: From the Archives

Dig deeper into these articles on books for authors from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Mega Q&A: Can my printing be greener?

Book publishing and: What is offsetting?

Great information about recycling and how it save water and trees - Recycle: the Essential Guide (A Closer Look)

Harry Potter recycled, eh?
Recycled paper to write home about.

Vanity Fair Drops Plan to Use Recycled Content.

Fedex Kinko's to Offer Recycled Paper
Harry Potter and The Green Press Initiative

Proposals to make paper from poop is all the rage. Check out examples of Panda, Kangaroo, Elephant, and Sheep varieties.

If being an author doesn't pay the way you'd like, might want to think about getting into paper recycling like the world's richest self-made woman.

Xerox has been experimenting with reusable printer paper with disappearing ink.

Fujitsu is placing bets on bendable electronic paper.

The next frontier of book publishing might be the small screen: the cell phone.

McGraw-Hill offers textbooks in digital form for about half the regular price.

Publisher Ecotone has tackled the green building genre in carbon-neutral style.

World Changing's outstanding volume is a must read/hold for any aspiring green author.

Does the e-book spell the end of the dead-tree book era?
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Further Reading on Green Books for Authors

The following links are resources developed to promote sustainability and help you get started greening your books, if you're an author (or want to become one).
Environmental Defense Paper Calculator
Plant a Tree USA™ Calculator
Forest Stewardship Council
Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) and Totally Chlorine Free (TCF)

Ancient Forest Friendly™ (AFF): To find out how you can use Ancient Forest Friendly™ paper and the logo, visit
Green-e® Certified Renewable Energy

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