Doing the right thing
- Thursday 25 March 2021
Sometimes it is very easy to do the right thing. Recycle, compost, shun consumerism, pick up litter. As a young single man these things were easy. Then as a parent it became easier to not care so much, what with grandparents coming in with those comics that have a free plastic gift, a bin full of nappies, more Lego, etc. Quicker to chuck stuff in the bin at the end of the day rather than visit the rat family living in the composter at the bottom of the garden.
Business can be the same. When we started, I remember us discussing a few sectors that we wouldn’t work with – tobacco, countries with the death penalty, polluters – anything that came across as unethical. But of course, day to day it became easier to just get on with things without really considering the consequences – a bit like that gel wrapper you drop in a race …
Publishing books is sort of simple in that you chop a tree down, print words and pictures on it and, when finished with, easily recycle it into (ironically) mostly toilet paper as far as I can tell. We did sit down and work out the least harmful way of chopping the tree down and that is by using certified Forest Stewardship Council papers. The FSC scheme looks at the entire paper chain, from tree to finished product, to ensure the sustainable use of raw materials and production. It adds about 15% to our printing bills as opposed to using cheaper papers and also stops us using cheaper printers who aren’t accredited. That in turn ensures basic environmental safeguards at the mills and printers, therefore guaranteeing the lumberjacks are paid, children aren’t hand binding books and that, ultimately, everybody is happy.
That’s not very much though, is it? It took Damian Hall to get us to look at doing more. There is more we can do, but I’m not going to be one of those companies that says, ‘we will save the world by 2030’ and I can’t say I won’t ever have another bottle of coke, shop on Amazon, use the tumble dryer, etc. We’ve looked at what we can do and we’re going to do each of the things we think we can do one at a time and then tell you about each one as we’ve done it. Starting with In It for the Long Run, our first carbon negative book.
Whilst working with Damian, we employed the environmental consultancy Our Carbon to work out the carbon impact of producing his book. Allowing for any potential underestimating and to effectively make the book carbon negative, we have offset the project with ten tonnes of carbon. We’re achieving this by working with Trees Not Tees who are up and running with a range of peat restoration, tree planting and carbon capture (biochar) initiatives, including some new sites in Mull. This means that for every book we sell, we will stick a couple of kilograms of carbon back into the ground. In order to offset the carbon at the point of pumping the carbon into the atmosphere, we are investing in a range of carbon capture projects that actually take waste wood and shrub and burn it without oxygen. This produces tonnes of charcoal which is then added back into the land. We will also work with Trees Not Tees on their planting and peat restoration projects to build up credits for future books.
We’ve a few other little changes coming through as well, including auditing our plastic use. There are some packaging uses in the book trade that basically cut down on waste, so while laminates and shrink wrapping for coffee table books is undesirable, it lessens the chances of us receiving damaged returns. There are also other areas where we can make changes. For example, the document wallets we use will soon all be made out of paper; we’ve trialled a paper one already and it is perfect for the job, so now all our packaging can just be recycled or reused. Packing tape is now paper and our courier is planting a tree for every order over £10.
A little bit like picking the product with the least packaging or putting the tea bag in the compost, one book at a time, we will try to face up to the climate emergency and the effects our operation has on the natural world. We might even have to charge 50p more for some books or possibly sell fewer of some titles as a result. But if we end up with more sphagnum moss per book than when we started, then that’s a great inspiration to keep doing what we do.
If you'd like to pre-order a copy of our first carbon negative book, click here.