Publishing and the Environment: The Story Behind the Words
Acona Ltd. is a small consultancy providing corporate responsibility advice and support to numerous organizations. The company also works with several sector-based fora to help them improve their understanding and performance in specific areas with corporate responsibility implications. Reed Elsevier is a member of two of these fora, the Media CSR Forum and PREPS.
As with all office-based businesses, publishers do not have major direct impacts on the environment. This doesnít mean there arenít environmental and financial benefits of reducing waste produced, energy used or miles traveled. However, for publishers the most significant environmental impacts come from the raw materials and processes that go into producing publications.
Forest Sources: The Starting Point for Paper
In recent years nongovernmental organizations, including Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature, have drawn attention to illegal and unsustainable forestry operations around the world. They've uncovered evidence of trees, destined for paper production, being harvested and transported without permits or regard for local communities or wildlife.
In response, certification schemes have been established to provide buyers with assurance that paper and wood products come from well-managed forests or recycled sources. The Forest Stewardship Council is widely recognized as the most robust of these schemes. Others include the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
Pulping for Fiction (or Nonfiction)
To be made into paper, trees must be pulped, separating useful fibers from the rest of the wood. Depending on whether the pulping process is chemical, mechanical or both, varying amounts of electricity, water and raw material are used. Chemical mills generate their own energy from process waste, making them largely self-sufficient. They use more hazardous chemicals such as caustic soda, ammonia and acids, but a high percentage of these are recycled. Mechanical mills use about 50% less wood and 30-40% less water per ton of paper produced, but the pulp is of lower quality.
Natural pulp is brown and often bleached to achieve brightness. Traditionally, chlorine gas was used but this leads to production of persistent pollutants including dioxins. Today most bleaching is elemental chlorine free, reducing dioxin emissions to below detectable levels. Totally chlorine free processes have been developed, though TCF pulps only account for 5% of the market and most are destined for northern Europe.
From Pulp to Paper
Pulp finally becomes paper through the use of large amounts of energy and water. Only 2% of the mixture at the start of the process is pulp fiber; the rest is nearly all water. To give a paper particular properties, mills also use additives including brightening agents and fillers such as clay and chalk.
Due to demand for water, mills are commonly located next to watercourses, often in environmentally sensitive areas. Any impact on the environment is thrown into sharp relief and this has led to legislation and significant reductions in pollution since the 1970s. Today many mills have environmental management systems and clean up the water returned to local rivers. Some are seeking to achieve zero discharge from their operations by moving towards a closed loop system.
Putting Words on Paper
Whether large or small, print firms affect the environment through chemicals and energy they use and wastes they discard. Of particular concern are volatile organic compounds, atmospheric pollutants that are also hazardous to health. In the UK, the print industry is responsible for 10% of all VOC emissions. One example is isopropyl alcohol (IPA), used to provide sharp definition in some printing processes. VOCs are also major components of inks, glues and laminates and are present in solvents used to clean printing presses and plates. As well as escaping into the air, these chemicals may end up in solid and liquid wastes.
Waterless printing, one way of addressing these issues, removes the need for water, IPA and hazardous effluents. Some printers have moved to inks based on water or plant extracts which can be virtually emission free. Some are also recycling waste materials including chemicals.
This gives some idea of the environmental impacts of printing publications. So, the next time you take a book from the shelf, bear in mind thereís a greater environmental story behind the words than may first appear. There's quite a different story to tell when it comes to online publications. If youíd like to have me back to talk about the environmental impacts of e-publishing, please just ask.
In the UK, leading publishers including Reed Elsevier have joined forces to find out more about the papers they use. Using a consistent approach, these publishers are contacting printers and mill companies to find out what forest sources go into papers used or produced. This information is entered into a database with each paper rated from 1 (unknown or unwanted) to 5 (recycled or FSC certified), based on a grading system developed by the publisher Egmont Books.