Conversation with a publisher

Feature story - 10 October, 2003
Michelle Benjamin is a publisher at Raincoast books - a book publishing and distribution company on the West coast of Canada. They publish in a range of genres, both fiction and non-fiction - but most famously the Canadian editions of the Harry Potter books.She's in Europe for the Frankfurt book fair (the largest in the world). On the way, she stopped by the Greenpeace office here in Amsterdam, and took time to answer some of our questions about publishing and the environment...

Michelle Benjamin, a publisher at Raincoast books.

First, what tangible benefits have there been from printing the Canadian edition of Harry Potter on recycled paper?

Printing the Harry Potter book in Canada, we printed it on 100% post consumer recycled paper, and there've been a number of achievements at different levels.

Internally, in our company, it's brought a lot of enthusiasm to people's jobs. People are very excited to be part of a project, a book and a campaign that makes them feel good about their work and what they're doing - and makes them feel like they're contributing to a larger global initiative.

In terms of the public and public awareness, because we printed just over a million copies of this book in Canada it means that over a million children, and adults, are reading this book and seeing the statement by J.K. Rowling inside the front cover about protecting the world's forests and ecosystems.

In terms of the environment, it means we've been able to not destroy approximately 40,000 trees - and also see a number of other environmental savings in terms of water usage and creation of waste.

It also contributed to a larger initiative in Canada, across all of the publishers, to eliminate the use of ancient forest paper from our production process.

Have there been any challenges or obstacles to using recycled paper?

Yeah, there've been many challenges. There are still challenges. The three main challenges that we've identified and had to work with are:

The availability of the paper. When we started this initiative three years ago there were no book quality recycled papers, ancient forest friendly papers, available. So we had to work with paper mills to create and develop those papers, and work with our printers.

Quality was another issue. The first papers that came out of the mills were inconsistent in their quality, and they just didn't look and feel the way quality book papers need to look and feel. A few years ago, recycled paper tended to be quite grey, and dirty and you'd have flecks. But that isn't the case any more. You can get really, really fine, high quality recycled papers.

And price was a significant obstacle. It remains an obstacle. These papers, because it's a new process, because they're producing them in smaller quantities then regular papers, their prices just aren't as competitive as the more traditional stocks.

The goal is, as the campaign continues and demand increases - not just in Canada but across the world - that prices will become more competitive. And we've already seen that happen in Canada.

Your company uses printers, who do the paper sourcing. So, going back three years to before you began this initiative, you didn't really know where the paper pulp was sourced. When you found out, did it come as something of a surprise?

Yeah, it did. And I think that's true for some of the other publishers in Canada as well. I think publishers generally are a very socially aware community and environmentally aware.

I think we just hadn't given enough thought to that part of the process. There certainly were surprises. Surprising to realize that almost all of the papers we were using were from 100 percent virgin stock from not certified, not FSC, not sustainable sources. So that was surprising.

The more we have started looking at the supply chain for materials, not just for our book production but across all our business practices, it's been quite a revelation.

What can regular consumers do to support book publishers who are using ancient forest friendly paper?

There are a number of things. One, they can be aware that these campaigns are happening, and look for the information printed on the books that says whether it's printed from a recycled stock or a FSC certified stock.

And when they do see that they can, certainly buy the books, but they can also let the publishers and the booksellers know that they are doing that.

Most publishers have a website, with email access. It makes a big difference when we hear from the general public that they have seen those notices, and that it matters.

More information

Raincoast Books

How to go ancient forest friendly