The latest report about the publishing industry doesn't compile sales figures, track the market for fiction or lament the future of reading. It does tell a great deal about books — not what they say, but what they're made of.
"Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts" is an 86-page summary, printed on 50 percent post-consumer recycled paper and full of charts about fiber, endangered forests and carbon footprints. The news: The book world, which uses up more than 1.5 million metric tons of paper each year, is steadily, if not entirely, finding ways to make production greener.
"I was very pleasantly surprised," said Tyson Miller, founder and director of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit program which has worked extensively with publishers on environmental issues. "We're seeing a groundswell of momentum and real measurable progress."
Commercially, publishers have certainly discovered the benefits of green, with best-sellers including Deirdre Imus' "Green This!" and Al Gore's companion guide to the Academy Award-winning movie "An Inconvenient Truth." Environmental themes can be found in novels, children's stories and business books.
But reading books is healthier than making them. The climate impact survey, released Monday and co-commissioned by Green Press and the nonprofit Book Industry Study Group, offers a mixed picture about industry practices.
There is great support in theory for going greener, but results are uneven. Just over half of publishers, for instance, have set specific goals for increasing use of recycled paper. About 60 percent have a formal environmental policy or are in the process of completing one.
Declining to name any specific companies, Miller said "the other 40 percent just aren't taking the issue seriously or they aren't willing to pay a penny more to move in the right direction.
"But," he added, "critical mass has no doubt been reached and my sense is that the majority of those publishers that aren't acting will step up and join their peers in this effort."
Seventy-six publishers, representing just under half of the market, participated in the study, along with 13 printers (about 25 percent) and six paper mills (about 17 percent).
One publisher that hasn't set targets is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A spokesman says Houghton "has been actively working to increase usage of recycled papers in its print products and has in fact substantially increased its use of recycled papers in recent years.
"While we haven't formally adopted corporate-wide percentage goals for use of recycled papers, we are currently reviewing procurement policies from the standpoint of environmental impact," spokesman Rick Blake told The Associated Press.
Regnery Publishing, a conservative press based in Washington, D.C., also has not set any targets and has no plans to do so. Jim Zerr, Regnery's director of production and distribution, said the reason isn't ideology, but economics; recycled paper is more expensive than regular paper.
"We basically follow what our competitors and the leaders of the industry are doing," he said, adding that he didn't expect any changes until "the Random Houses of the world, and the HarperCollins and Simon & Schusters start ordering enough tonnage of that product" to make using it more practical.
Compared to late 2001, when Miller began working with publishers, cooperation is easy. "University presses and a few smaller presses were making progress," he says, but no major company had announced any public environmental goals. Now, around 150 publishers, along with 10 printers and four paper manufacturers, have backed a treatise supporting recycled paper and fiber from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international environmental organization.
A turning point came in 2006 when Random House, Inc., said that it would dramatically increase its use of recycled paper, saving more than 500,000 trees a year.
"We were already working on our own environmental initiatives, but to have Random House step up like that encourages everyone in the industry to come forward," said publisher Liz Perl of Rodale, which published Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and has another environmental book by the former vice president scheduled for 2009.
Virtually all of the major publishers have taken some steps, from Hyperion switching to soy-based ink, to Penguin Group (USA) using wind power, to Scholastic, Inc. printing the deluxe edition of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" on 100 percent post-consumer waste fiber. Simon & Schuster and the Hachette Book Group USA are among those using e-book readers instead of paper manuscripts. The Random House Publishing Group is experimenting with sending books online to media outlets.
"It just makes so much sense," says Random House publicity head Carol Schneider. "It saves the expense of printing galleys and mailing them. It saves paper."
Miller says he would like to see the industry's carbon footprint (a measure of greenhouse gases produced) cut in half by making 50 percent of all book paper recycled fiber, more than triple the current level, and continued efforts to reduce paper use and energy consumption. He questions one possible solution _ releasing all books electronically.
"There are environmental impacts connected to electronic publishing like what materials are the e-readers made with, what happens after disposal," Miller said.
"I personally like handling books and reading them and I know that many others do too. ... At this point in the game, my focus is on how the industry can continue to make progress in areas connected to paper and reducing energy consumption. Going digital isn't listed in the `recommendations' section as a solution because more needs to be understood when it comes to the lifecycle of an electronic book reader."