Books--are they green? and how can I be a greener reader? Plus this year's Green Book Awards winners

It is a fact that books account for a relatively small amount of the trash I have picked up in all my life's trash walks.  Books do not kill sea turtles (much, I guess.  Although they could, if they fall into the wrong hands...).  But are they Green?  Or should I plant trees for every book I buy, as Eco-libris suggests?

I have always felt that owning books was a Green thing to do, for various reasons--

1.  having lots of books in the house means there is less air to heat/cool, saving energy

2.  books use less electricity than some other forms of entertainment

3.  bookshelves, strategically placed on north walls of the house (as in my house, below), act as insulation.  (covering all windows with books would work even better).

4.  books are carbon sinks--each little block of paper that's not actively decomposing (which hopefully the books in one's home are not) is a little block of carbon not contributing to global warming.

5.  buying used books or checking them out of the library is easy and cheap

and finally (with Sincerity, even though Sincerity is hard for me),

6.  What we care about, we will work to save, and books help us care about things in nature we don't wee in our daily lives (like sea turtles).

But here's what I don't know much about--what are the environmental costs of making books?  Where do the chemicals come from that are used to make them?  Under what working conditions are they bound?  Do gallons of bleach pour into rivers somewhere in the world for every book I read? 

I found some answers in a report based on data collected in 2007-"Findings from the US Book Industry Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts." (the link goes to a summary of the findings).  The Green Press Initiative, where I found this report, has more information, mostly focused on paper issues.   Many publishers are paying attention, and working toward sustainable paper.   I wasn't able to find anything that addressed the actual environmental impacts of other aspects of book making....anyone who knows anything about this, I'd love to learn more!

So I guess that as a reader, what I will try to do is to buy locally when possible (to cut down on plastic packaging), and recycle when done if I'm not keeping it. (In my town, paperbacks can go out with the rest of the paper recycling, but hardcover books can't. This means that some of us, ie me, spend lots of time ripping the pages out of hardcover books that no one will ever love leftover from the library books sales so as to at least recycle the paper part.  I have not found anything I want to do with the covers....I don't want to make decorative planters, handbags, or picture frames from them. Others might).

Also I will spend more time reading and less time pulling up maple seedlings this summer.  This counts as "planting trees."  And along similar lines, if I don't cut the grass, that will likewise offset the carbon emissions of book production.....I will also almost certainly fill up more of the dead air space in the house with books....

And I can make sure my local library has the Green Book Award winners using my powerful position as President of the Friends (which gives me control of the cash box)-- the 2015 winners were just announced, and here they are (taken from the Green Book Award website)

2015 Winner – Picture Book

The Promise, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin (published by Candlewick Press)

Book Synopsis:  On a mean street in a mean, broken city, a young girl tries to snatch an old woman’s bag. But the frail old woman, holding with the strength of heroes, says the thief can’t have it without giving something in return:  the promise. It is the beginning of a journey that will change the thieving girl’s life – and a chance to change the world for good. A picture book that at first seems dystopic but is ultimately about the healing power of nature. Recommended Age:  Age 5 to 8

2015 Winner – Children’s Fiction

Deep Blue, written by Jennifer Donnelly(published by Disney-Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group)

Book Synopsis:  Best-selling Donnelly (Revolution, 2010) builds an alluring mermaid civilization and history, filled with painterly descriptions of Sera’s underwater palace and its unearthly architecture, her sumptuous wardrobe, and the menagerie of half-human, half-marine animal denizens. A richly imagined novel. Themes of conquering fear and believing in oneself are woven throughout, along with an acknowledgment of humans’ environmental impact on the sea and its inhabitants. Recommended Age:  Age 10 to 14

2015 Winner – Young Adult Fiction

Threatened, written by Eliot Schrefer (published by Scholastic/Scholastic Press)

Book Synopsis:  After the death of his mother and sister, Luc is left in the hands of a moneylender, Monsieur Tatagani. One of many orphans forced to do Tatagani’s bidding, Luc has found a way to be useful and earn a few coins wiping glasses in a bar in Gabon. One night a man shows up with a monkey and a silver attaché case, claiming to be a researcher sent by the National Geographic Society to study the chimpanzees in the interior. The mysterious man, called “the Prof,” offers Luc a job as his helper. From this modest beginning comes a tale of survival and discovery for both humans and chimps. There are no easy answers here, but deep themes are explored. The plight of the endangered chimps is brought to the attention of readers, as are the challenges of socioeconomic status and geographic realities of Gabon. Recommended Age:  Ages 12 and up

2014 [sic] Winner – Children’s Nonfiction

Plastic, Ahoy!:  Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, written by Patricia Newman and illustrated by Annie Crawley (published by Millbrook Press)

Book Synopsis:  This photojournalistic book follows three young female scientists living and working aboard a small research ship and details the researchers’ process of developing a hypothesis, collecting evidence, and designing experiments to learn more about the impact of the Garbage Patch on marine life. The book is replete with Crawley’s dynamic photos of both the scientists at work and the challenges of life aboard a tiny research boat. Newman successfully summarizes all of their complex research findings into straightforward and doable tips for minimizing environmental impact. An engaging and worthwhile read, this will surely make young readers think twice about their trash. Recommended Age:  Age 8 to 12

2015 Winner – Young Adult Nonfiction

Eyes Wide Open:  Going Behind the Environmental Headlines, written by Paul Fleischman (published by Candlewick Press)

Book Synopsis:  This volume is a call to action that informs students about how they can evaluate environmental issues by using politics, psychology, history, and an understanding of economics and the media. This remarkable book offers young people the tools they need to become informed, responsible global citizens. Thoughtful readers will appreciate this insightful, refreshing title’s broad scope, use of specific examples, and the many references to related books, documentaries, and online articles, lectures, and interviews. The appended “How to Weigh Information” section is particularly excellent. Recommended Age:  Ages 14 and up

2015 Honor Winners

A Bird On Water Street, written by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (published by Little Pickle Press)
A Boy and a Jaguar, written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Catia Chien (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade, written by Beth Handman, Kenny Bruno, and Antonia Bruno (published by Green Writers Press)
Pills and Starships, written by Lydia Millet (published by Akashic Books)
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, written by Margarita Engle (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees:  A Scientific Mystery, written by Sandra Markle (published by Millbrook Press)
The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature, written by the Education Staff of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, edited by Sarah Schmidt, and illustrated by Laszlo Veres (published by Brooklyn Botanic Garden)
The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans, written by Elizabeth Rusch (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)


  1. Have to admit that while I do a lot of "green" things (riding bike to work, buying everything secondhand), I haven't really thought about books. We do have a place in my town that recyles books, though: http://book-destruction.com/

  2. "Also I will spend more time reading and less time pulling up maple seedlings this summer. This counts as "planting trees.""

    This made me cackle aloud. Ah, those maple seedlings! If only they'd take root where there's ROOM for them!

    I did my Earth Week programs on water conservation this year. In my research, I was stunned how much water is used in manufacturing. Papermaking by its very nature requires a lot of water, but you'd think manufacturers would work to better reuse and recycle it all.

    And when the alternative to reading paper books is reading on electronic devices, eh, I hardly think that's much of an environmental improvement.


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