Friday, November 16, 2007


Sustainable reading?

In principle I agree with the friendly folks at Eco-Libris. In their email to me a while back (to ask if I'd kindly mention them on my blog, which it appears I am indeed doing) they say this:

"Eventually and hopefully sooner then later, books will be made from recycled paper and in eco-friendly manner (e-books for example) and logging for paper will stop. On that day we'll happily move on to a new cause, but until then we think every book reader should take action. We also don’t forget the responsibility of the book publishing industry to the current situation and we intend to become a strong voice in a call for change towards printing books in an eco-friendly manner."

Incorrect grammar, sentence structure, and word choices aside (not to nit-pick, but we all know I'm sadly compulsive about these things), I have to wonder if e-books, which require e-book readers, or at least computers, which are made up of plastic and metal and little bitty parts shipped from all over the world, are actually more eco-friendly than the traditional format, i.e. a book, made of paper and davey board and cloth. All the e-book readers I've seen, since the introduction of the first ones in the early 1990s when I worked in the new-book trade, were not user-friendly. Not if you happened to like actual books, that is. Book-love has so much to do with the format and feel and any other tactile sense you care to name, really. I know people that do like e-books, mostly for convenience when traveling, but I am not one of those people. I'm just not gadget-y. I'm papery.

I have a good friend whose company teaches loggers to be environmentalists (by using biodiesel, practicing sustainable forestry, etc). Requiring publishers to use recycled paper is another fine conservation idea. But hey, why not offset your biblioconsumption by buying used whenver possible? Just a thought. Buy local organic books! Could be the next big thing!

Humor aside, just to be clear - I do applaud the idea implicit behind Eco-Libris, which is that many humans are taking a good look at all aspects of their consumption of resources, and making a lot of necessary changes. Even regarding book-buying. Gulp.

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for mentioning us in your blog and sharing your perspective.

As an avid reader myself I identify completely with the dilemma we have when faced with the issues at hand. The physical books that we so love to read, hold and flip through, are no longer sustainable in this day and age of mass markets, production and waste. So what can be done?

No silver bullets here, I'm afraid, and I believe many approaches should be embraced in parallel:

- Using recycled paper when printing books and supporting those few publishers who do so.
- Using paper which was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and supporting the few publishers who do so.
- Encouraging Print on Demand publishing instead of the current wasteful practices.
- Going to the local library.
- Swapping with friends.
- E-books (one day they'll build one that you'll like, and hopefully using a sustainable design)
- And of course... planting trees with Eco-Libris ;)
- And so on.

Eylon @ Eco-Libris
Did I forget mentioning buying used? That too!
Hey Eylon - I agree with all of your bullet points, and thanks for returning to include that last one in particular! I know that books are a consumer product, but of course they are so much more than merely that, in both content and form. At their best, they carry and preserve the history and thought and soul of humanity, after all. And could continue to do so just fine on recycled paper...

Organizations such as yours are vital as we investigate our rampant consumerism and start to prune back the deadwood, so to speak, while creating change on the positive side of the equation at the same time. Of course I love books, they are one of my strongest personal biases, but it's absolutely necessary to call attention to consumer biases, otherwise where would we be? In a mess. Oh, wait, that's where we are... You know, "But I *love* my SUV! I can't give up my SUV!"

Well, I feel similarly about my books (and I carpool in a Saturn, by the way), even though I buy mostly secondhand. It's tough - but so is watching the polar ice caps melt. If I may oversimplify.

I applaud your mission, on all fronts.
I once went out with a guy
who had no library, but quickly
went back to sleeping with my books
Nice, Marci - sounds like something Dorothy Parker should have said. Thanks -
you mean like,

'You can lead a horticulture,
But you can't make me read online'
Heh. Keep it clean, folks, keep it clean. This is a family show.
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