Every so often here on the blog, we'll be chatting with like-minded folk who are doing interesting things at the intersection of books, publishing and technology.
Our first guest is Elyon Israely, the Business Ambassador of Eco-Libris.
Tell us about Eco-Libris and its vision?
Eco-Libris is a mission driven green business that helps facilitate the greening of the book business. Our vision is that reading books will not have an adverse impact on the environment. Right now, even with all the progress that is being made, millions of trees are still being cut down to make the paper used to print books. More than twenty million only for the books sold in the US annually. That's a lot of trees. Add to that the fact that only about 5% of paper used for books is recycled paper, and you can see there is a lot of work to be done.
We do this in two ways. First of all by raising awareness to these issues. And second, by working with bookstores, book lovers, authors and book publishers to plant trees for the paper used in their books.
How did the company begin and what is your role in it?
The original idea was Raz Godelnik's, our CEO. Being a green business journalist he is quite immersed in all the developments in the field, and he is also the son of a librarian. So with these two big influences the idea just presented itself and wouldn't let go. Then started a process of turning an idea into a real business, but one that is green. This meant a workable model, and planting partners that will be reliable, sustainable in their practices, suitable to balance out the paper usage in books, and also work in collaboration with local communities to plant the trees.
As to my roles, first and foremost I am working as a business ambassador, communicating with various parts of the book industry to find synergies that will help plant more trees for books that are out there or upcoming. Being a former journalist myself, and a voracious reader, I also write frequently for the Eco-Libris blog, and review new books that have an ecological or environmental aspect.
How did you select books and the publishing industry as the focus of a green business?
Simply put, because it was in such bad shape from a sustainable point of view. Unlike newspapers for example, which use a higher percentage of recycled material. This doesn't mean that newspapers are sustainable. Far from it. But it just highlights how bad is the situation in the world of books.
I'd like to point something out. There is a myth out there about the paper industry, saying more or less that the paper used to make books in the U.S. is made from trees that were planted in special tree farms in the U.S., and that since new trees are planted to replace those cut down then all is fine. This is simply not true. First, the paper used to make books sold in the states is coming from all over the world, including a significant percentage of paper sourced from ancient forests such as the Indonesian tropical forests and the Canadian Boreal Forest. Second, even when using trees from farms, this is far from sustainable. Many of these farms were originally planted on ancient forest lands, creating severe damage to biodiversity, fundamental changes and losses in natural systems, severe impact on species, etc.. How sustainable is that?
How can authors and publishers participate?
One way is for them to plant a tree with us for books they write or publish. They can incorporate our “One tree planted for this book” logo into their cover or sleeve design, and we will plant a tree for every copy printed using the logo.
Another option which is more suitable for books already in print is for the authors and publishers to use the Eco-Libris stickers. For every sticker they put on a book's cover or sleeve we will plant a tree. Publishers and authors who partner with us for this use the stickers when selling books directly from their website, having special promotions or when selling books in events, tours and launch parties.
How does Eco-Libris plan on getting to word out about itself? Especially considering most people's books, even those with stickers on the cover, will remain on the shelf where no one else can see then?
First of all our blog (http://ecolibris.blogspot.com). It is slowly but surely becoming an entity of its own. So right now authors, publishers and book publicists are actually coming to us with their new green books, and naturally they also become curious and want to learn more about how they can then work with us. So it turned out that by having fun and writing about the topics that are important to us, we actually positioned Eco-Libris at an important junction where the right people get to hear about us.
In addition to that we are working on collaborations with local and national booksellers' associations, and independent publishers' associations to spread the word to the book industry. We had a booth at the recent Bay Area Independent Publisher's Association conference, and plan to be more and more active in similar industry events.
Your business is based on the purchase of offsets. A customer buys a sticker to place on the cover of a book from ecolibris which means a tree will be planted to "offset" the environmental cost of the book's production. Since the actual value of carbon offsets, is still under examination, do you feel this is enough? If not, what will the evolution of Eco-Libris's business model be?
The analogy between our product and carbon offsets is apt, but it only goes so far. We actually stand outside the debate. What we offer is to plant trees to balance out the paper used to make books. One tree per book. Trees are being cut down for paper every day and contribute a significant portion of worldwide deforestation. Besides being a carbon sink, forests are a first and foremost a complete complex ecosystems, a habitat to living and endangered species, a source of living to local communities, and a living entity with an inherent value not limited to its value for human exploitation.
There is so much more to environmentalism and conservation than only the current important yet fashionable focus on carbon. Let's assume for a second the very unlikely scenario that the relation between trees, carbon and global warming will be completely and scientifically proven to be untrue. What then? Suddenly tearing down trees, destroying rain forests, and paving the world with concrete will be ok and acceptable? Obviously not.
But this is not to say that Eco-Libris will not evolve with time, and we are already exploring ideas for new related products in our field. But right now we our focus is solely on one thing: helping the book industry and book lovers worldwide go green.