30. 10. 2013

Is this the most sustainable book (of its kind) ever published?

Jonathon Porritt Blog

On 17 October, we launched The World We Made at Arup’s HQ in central London. There was a big emphasis on innovation and the creative genius of the human species for finding solutions in the face of adversity – which is what the book is basically all about.

The electronic version of the book isn’t out yet – it should be in a couple of weeks. For some, that will automatically be the most sustainable way of reading The World We Made – but they may not necessarily be right.

Making the printed version of the book ‘as sustainable as possible’ was a top priority for me from the moment I signed the contract with the publisher, Phaidon. That challenge got real when we selected Arjowiggins as our paper provider, and Pureprint as our printer – two companies with an outstanding record on sustainability issues. 

So here’s how we ended up: Arjowiggins provided four different kinds of recycled paper from their mills in France. That was delivered to Pureprint in East Sussex, where all production took place, before despatch to warehouses in the UK, USA and Australia. By printing the book on 100% recycled papers, the environmental impact was reduced by 17,110kg of landfill, 371,887 litres of water, 35,013kWh of electricity, 3,105kg of CO2 and greenhouse gases, and 27,817kg of wood.

Having got that far, we then decided to ensure that The World We Made would also be completely carbon neutral by offsetting the residual emissions through Forum for the Future’s offset partners, Climate Care (read the press release).

Hence the question above: Is this the most sustainable book (of its kind) ever published?
I honestly don’t know! Please do take us up on this, and suggest ways in which we could have done better – or recommend books that have done better, in this particular category of publishing – ie full colour and so on.

As to the e-book, when it comes out, the question of whether it’s more or less sustainable than the printed version rather depends on you. In the digital age, there’s a widely held assumption that because something is online, it’s more sustainable than the physical product. It is true that the CO2 emissions associated with downloading and reading on an electronic device are relatively minor (approximately 0.001 kg CO2e in idle mode on an iPad). What is commonly forgotten, however, is that the devices that we use to develop, share, read and watch media have become almost completely disposable.

As Alex McKay reminds us from 2050, today’s world is one that is ‘obsessed with our IT kit’. Every few months we are fed ‘updated’ versions of software for our existing electronic devices. As the ‘old’ software and operating systems become redundant over just a matter of months, we quickly feel the need to purchase new devices; rather than buying products with as long a lifetime as possible, or finding ways to reuse the ones we have, we seem to be stuck in the habit of throwing away things we no longer require. 

The environmental issues caused by the high turnover in electronic products are not only associated with excessive e-waste, but also in the manufacturing and distribution of the products themselves. Apple has stated that the total life cycle of an iPad2 will produce 130kg of CO2 emissions. This breaks down to almost 60 per cent for production, 30 per cent for consumer use, 11 per cent for transport and 1 per cent for recycling. 

So where does that leave us? The average emissions from a printed book are around 4 kg per book. With ‘The World We Made’, we got that down to 1.8 kg per book.

To put this into perspective, the total life cycle CO2 emissions for the iPad 2 equates to the CO2 emissions from about 32 ‘average’ books, or 72 The World We Made books! In other words, the environmental benefits of using an iPad over a physical book will only be realised once you’ve read your 32nd book – or 72nd The World We Made equivalent!  

Jonathon Porritt

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04. 01. 2014
Andrew Harmsworth

Jonathan - finally finished the book (review on its way to Amazon)! Lots of food for thought, well done. Book on its way to the school library on Monday.

Any chance of putting the links to the Connections & Inspirations section on the book's website, or this blog? Would save a lot of typing in and - probably - would lead to rather more connecting and inspiring.

Many thanks.

25. 11. 2013
Jane Wallis

... if you only read books on it. If you also read you papers on it, used it as a map every day, and used it as a "today's stuff" compendium of all the docs and etc for your day that you'd otherwise have printed out, the surely the CO2 of your book on my ipad 2 is significantly smaller?

08. 11. 2013
Phil Davis

Just started to read this book and my hopes for the future, seriously depleted after 18 months of failed campaigning, are revived! Some of the stuff I had worked out for myself such as the spin surrounding so called economic revival and the attempts to prop up the old world view are all there in the opening few sections. Everybody needs to read this but of course it won't happen. Might I suggest a film of the book be made? Some spooky happenings lately, stuff I read about starts to hit the mainstream media channels such as Camila Cavendish talking about the Arctic oil protests and Hans Rosling on global population last night. Jonathon, you and your peers are filling the leadership gap!

05. 11. 2013

But what about the wood source - FSC claim that each tree cut is replaced by upto three new ones.

If that's correct then you'd need to read 96 average, or 216 The World We Made books.

Of course, then if you got the book in a library, or donated it to charity, or lent it to a friend...

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