I hadn’t thought much about what it would mean for a publisher also to be an author. But when I was in London last week I was definitely caught on the fence. I was talking to an influential British publisher who was distinctly pissed off with the Greenpeace campaign to get publishing companies to phase out â€œancient forest fibreâ€ from their books. Iâ€™d blithely mentioned that my new book The Armchair Environmentalist was printed on recycled paper.
What sounds more grand, more worthy, than saving ancient forests? And it is worthy. So, I asked myself, why wouldnâ€™t publishers jump onto this campaign? I remembered my very first interview about my very first book, Home Ecology. This was London, early in 1989. I had never done a radio interview, I had a stinking case of â€˜flu, and a three-month-old baby to boot. I left the baby, took a pile of handkerchiefs, and trundled off. Things went pretty well till the interviewer asked me why my book wasnâ€™t printed on recycled paper. I took a deep breath, and with sudden inspiration pointed out that books last a long time, a hundred years and often more, so if thereâ€™s anything we should be using virgin paper for it definitely should be books. It was more important, I said, to focus on all the paper that was used for disposable products.
Thatâ€™s not to say I didnâ€™t want my books to be on recycled paper, and I feel the same way now. But I am also much more sympathetic to publishers now. Publishing is a tough business, with slim margins. We are generally well-intentioned and we feel that what we do is, much of the time, a good thing for society. So when environmentalists start pitching into us, instead of into oil companies or banks or weapons manufacturers, it does seem unfair.
If you are a publisher, please do look at the Greenpeace Save or Delete campaign (in the United States, Green Press Initiative). If you are an activist, please give some thought to all the good publishing does: promoting global understanding, sharing knowledge, providing low-impact entertainment, supporting education and lifelong learning.