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Green for growth
01.01.70 | Katie Allen
While the book trade is far from populated entirely with eco-warriors, it is perhaps fair to say that the industry has been concerned with green issues for some time. Indeed, the environmental impact of book production has been a concern for publishers long before Al Gore even started thinking about inconvenient truths. And books, of course, have been the main medium for disseminating ideas about green and ecological issues from Henry David Thoreau to Rachel Carson to Roger Deakin to James Lovelock.
It should therefore please those in the trade concerned about green issues that the category is once again on the rise. Nielsen BookScan's environment and ecology sub-category, which has a good portion of, but certainly not all, green-related titles, has risen since we last took a look at the green market a year ago.
The BookScan E&E category had been in decline since 2006 when it had its high-water mark of £1.6m in sales through the tills, falling 28% to £1.14m for 2008. E&E rallied in 2009, jumping 25% to £1.53m, and through three quarters in 2010 the category is holding even with 2009 levels.
What is driving the category this year is what looks like a good old-fashioned debate from both sides of the climate change fence, along with a raft of more balanced titles. On one side there is the pro-environment camp, typified by James Lovelock, who sits atop the 2010 E&E chart with his latest, ominously titled The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (Penguin). The nonagenarian Lovelock is one of the pioneers of the ecological and climate change movement and is one of the bestselling authors in the category. His books have shifted just over £1.1m through the TCM since records began. He has two books in the top 10 and four in the top 35 this year.
Also on the pro-environment side are How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything (Green Profile) by Mike Berners-Lee, an ecological consultant who is the brother of World Wide Web creator Sir Tim; and Anne Leonard's The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet (Constable & Robinson).
On the other side are the sceptics and the climate change refuseniks. Mrs Thatcher's chancellor and Nigella's dad, Nigel Lawson's An Appeal to Reason (Duckworth) has been in the E&E charts since it was released in 2008, shifting more than 23,000 copies in all editions. One of Private Eye's founders, Sunday Telegraph columnist and professional contrarian Christopher Booker has had a hit for Continuum with The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession with ‘Climate Change' Turning out to be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History? One gathers from the subtitle and the quotes around climate change that the author's answer just may be "yes".
Yet jumping into this debate is a growing trend for pragmatism. As a whole the pragmatists are like the climate change version of the pre-coalition Liberal Democrats—arguing a third, perhaps more reasonable view. David MacKay's objective, invective-free Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air (UIT) has had sales of close to 18,000 since it was released in 2008. Stewart Brand was an eco-pioneer in the 1960s and creator of the hippy commune bible, Whole Earth Catalogue (and a member of Ken Kesey's acid-dropping Merry Pranksters), yet his Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist's Manifesto (Atlantic) breaks with some of the more orthodox green thought by arguing, among other things, that nuclear power is essential to environmentalism.
This other Eden
The biggest-selling author of the category since records began is Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project. The hardcover and paperback versions of Eden (Transworld), which tells the tale of the formation of the Cornwall ecological project, has shifted more than £1.8m through the TCM, and his total book sales are over £2.2m. Lovelock has three titles in the E&E all-time top 15, while Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (Bloomsbury), the companion book to his influential documentary, remains one of the most seminal general interest ecological titles of the Noughties.
One cannot help but notice that even taking into account all-time sales, this is a relatively small category. Since the TCM was formed in 2001, environment and ecology titles have taken £9.5m, which means that Lovelock and Smit combined account for a third of the category's sales. By comparison, Stieg Larsson alone has sold £15.2m through the TCM in the 43 weeks of 2010.
Academia to Crichton
Yet green's true impact is much greater. First, there is another primarily "green" BookScan category, the academic geography, environment and agriculture, which is booming. For much of the early part of the Noughties, GE&A—which contains most of the environment and ecology academic disciplines—was fairly static, rising incrementally from just over £2.7m in value sales in 2001 to nearly £2.8m in 2006. Since then there has been an overall 35% rise in the category, to £3.84m in 2009, with the greatest year-on-year increase—15%—from 2008 to 2009. The rise reflects a recession-fuelled overall bump in university and further education student numbers.
Additionally, there has been an increase in students who are interested in studying green and environment-related subjects who have pushed out into other disciplines—such as green economics, renewable energy and sustainable urban planning—which in turn has led to more-green related academic publishing.
Green chemistry, for example, is a movement that has mushroomed in popularity in the last decade. The Royal Society of Chemistry's Green Chemistry series was launched because of the increased academic interest in the field.
"The series was set up to reflect what has been going on in the laboratory for the past 10 years or more, and is now coming into the public domain," says Dr Merlin Fox, the RSC's commissioning editor. "Chemistry, like a lot of other academic disciplines, is driven by the marketplace, and green chemistry is where a lot of the money is at the moment."
Yet we also see titles that are heavily ecology and environment-influenced popping up in other BookScan categories from non-fiction to fiction—see a rough and by no means scientific top 10 below. For non-fiction categories, this is often due simply to the vagaries of BookScan's subject classifications. Take Short Books' How To Change the World for a Fiver. It, like its companion volume, Change the World 9 to 5, is a both children and adult-friendly handbook of small steps to better the planet, the bulk of them dealing with the environment. Yet Change the World for a Fiver (or £4.78 if one goes by its a.s.p.) is coded for BookScan's social issues, services and welfare category—where it is the second bestselling title of all-time, trailing only Dawn Annadale's Call Me Elizabeth (Little, Brown).
Green's influence has seeped into a welter of other categories. As one of the defining issues of our time it is very much the theme of many a novel—Michael Crichton's State of Fear (Harper) and Ian McEwan's Solar (Cape) are just two examples. Meanwhile, "end of society"-type titles typified by Jared Diamond's Collapse (Penguin) and Martin Rees' Our Final Century (Arrow) have heavy environmental focuses. With eco issues increasingly part of the classroom, there are thousands of children's titles with green elements, from Dr Seuss' classic, The Lorax (HarperCollins), to Carl Hiassen's Hoot (Macmillan Children's Books).
Green travel is a growing trend, with bespoke environmental houses like Alistair Sawdays making it part and parcel of what they do, while big boys like Rough Guides and Lonely Planet have significant eco-travel titles. Here we see Tim Smit's baby triumphing again: all editions of Eden Project: The Guide (Transworld) are by far the bestselling book in BookScan's travel and holiday guides: general, besting the next biggest seller, Imperial War Museum North (IWM), by some 750,000 copies.
TOP 10 ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY 2010
THE PAPER TRAIL
What is a green book? Well, you could argue that current bestsellers as varied as Rosamund Lupton's Sister (Piatkus), Josephine Cox's Blood Brothers (Harper-Collins) and Clive Cussler's The Wrecker (Penguin) all have impeccable green credentials. Why? Because they are printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper.
FSC, of course, is green book production's gold standard. The FSC itself is an international non-governmental organisation headquartered in Bonn, Germany, that was formed in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world's forests, which in turn would lead to a reduction in illegal logging and protect the world's old-growth forests. Supported by other NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust, the FSC uses independent accreditors to certify that wood products come from responsibly managed forests. An FSC logo, then, should tell a reader that their book has been produced with paper from socially and environmentally sound sources.
A problem for the ethically minded publisher is that a small amount of the world's paper production is FSC-certified—about 8%. As one head of a publisher production department says: "In recent years there have been a couple of sweeping announcements by some of the big publishers about going to all-FSC paper. Cynically, you might say there was an element of greenwashing here. But I suspect these plans were concocted by a few editors and managing directors without the consultation of their production teams. There simply is not enough FSC paper at the moment to be able to do this."
Leading the way
There are, too, cost pressures here given the finite amount of FSC paper and the sometimes widely fluctuating prices of the paper market—of no small concern in these straitened times. Yet even with the small amount of FSC paper available, publishing is being remarkably proactive about sourcing environmentally and ethically sound paper. According to the Publishers Association's last production survey, 46% of book production by respondents was with FSC paper, and a further 50% from "legal and known -forestry sources".
The "legal and known sources" is an important point—there is a sliding scale of paper's green credentials. Publishers may not use FSC, either because supply issues or the margins on a particular book make it cost-prohibitive. But they can use the Publishers Database for Responsible Environmental Paper Sourcing (PREPS) to help them choose the next best thing.
PREPS has been doing what it says on the tin since it was formed four years ago. Using the Egmont Grading System, created by the children's publisher over five years ago, members provide information on paper sourcing and paper companies, taking into account whether material has been legally harvested (or recycled) and how the forest sources have been managed. The organisation pools the data to be shared among its members. PREPS now includes 19 publishers and packagers, including three of the big four publishers (Hachette, Penguin and Harper-Collins), representing about 65% of UK book production.
The devil is in the detail. Many paper manufacturers are environmentally aware and practically make it their raison d'être. The Poland-headquartered Arctic Paper, for one, in addition to being FSC and Programme for the Endorsement for Forest Certification (PEFC—a scheme similar to FSC)-accredited, has introduced a variety of measures to reduce its overall environmental impact. Its mill in Munkedal, Sweden, for example, has a new state-of-the-art system which greatly reduces the amount of water used in the process to about 3-4 litres of water per kilo produced (compared to the industry standard of about 10-15 litres of water).
Yet sourcing of paper overall is a complicated process. The pulp often comes from a variety of suppliers from far-flung locales, often the Far East, where environmental concerns are often not top of the agenda. Some suppliers can be, let us say, less than transparent on pulp sourcing. Even some of the accreditation schemes are not without controversy. In 2008, for example, Friends of the Earth UK said it could no longer recommend the FSC standard because it had "deep concerns" about its certification processes.
This is precisely why, according to Cherry Jacquet, production director at book production services company Imago, that an organisation like PREPS is vital. She says: "[Paper sourcing] is often not a straightforward process. The strength of PREPS is having pooled information about trusted suppliers and with it, publishing is moving in the right direction. And even though these are challenging times, the trade is sticking to its [green] guns."