Read a Book, Plant a Tree

by Rebecca Smith Hurd on May 5, 2011
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Comedian Tina Fey’s best-selling memoir, Bossypants, features many humorous endorsements on its back cover, but one of them doubles as a reminder of the environmental costs associated with consuming printed materials such as books: “Totally worth it.” —Trees

The Green Press Initiative estimates that each year some 30 million trees, many sourced from endangered forests, are turned into the books sold in the United States. Less than a third of the paper used contains any recycled content, although many publishers have pledged to increase that amount in the future.

Modern-day bookworms might argue that downloading the digital version avoids this predicament, but whether electronic texts are less damaging to the environment than those printed on paper remains a topic of debate. “Digital media doesn’t grow on trees, but increased use of digital media is having a profoundly negative impact on our forests and the health of our rivers. Computers, cellular networks, and data centers are connected to the destruction of over 600 square miles of forest in the U.S.,” reports Don Carli for PBS. A report published by the Green Press Initiative suggests that the benefits of e-readers (Kindle, iPad, etc.) increase with the number of books offset, with a break-even point existing somewhere between 30 and 70 books over the lifetime of a device. E-books could account for up to 15 percent of the titles sold in 2011.

Delaware-based small business Eco-Libris believes it has a solution: plant a tree for every book you print or read. The privately held company, founded in 2007 by Raz Godelnik, aims to make the publishing industry more sustainable by promoting best practices, planting trees to offset printed materials, and helping to make e-reading greener. To date, Eco-Libris has worked with publishers, bookstores, libraries, authors, book clubs, and partners to plant nearly 200,000 trees worldwide.

Through Eco-Libris, anyone can purchase as few or as many trees as they’d like, for $1 each (or less, with volume discounts) through a Paypal account. The company then works with one of its three nonprofit partners in Central America and Africa to plant the trees within a year of purchase. On its website, Eco-Libris says it waits for optimal seasons and plants 1.3 trees for every one purchased to make sure a 1:1 ratio survives.

“Eco-Libris’ efforts go hand in hand with worldwide efforts to fight deforestation,” writes a spokesperson for the United Nations Environmental Programme’s Billion Tree campaign. “The process itself is fairly simple — upon entering the website, customers decide how many books they would like to balance out. They then pay online and a tree is planted for each of these books. Customers also receive a sticker from Eco-Libris, made of recycled paper, for every book they balance out, saying ‘One tree planted for this book,’ which they can later display on their books’ sleeves.”

In addition to advertising their efforts to offset printing’s impact on the environment, publishers can benefit from other Eco-Libris programs, such as its annual Green Books Campaign, where the company publishes reviews of books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. The 2010 event, held in mid-November, featured 200 titles and was sponsored by Indigo Books & Music, Canada’s largest book retailer. Major publishing houses — including DK, Penguin, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Texas A&M University Press — participated.

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