Eco-Libris Offers "Novel" Approach
Help Save the Environment
By Randy Peyser
Eco-Libris, an online company, gives book lovers the unique opportunity to save the environment. Every time you read, write, publish, or buy a book, you can go online to www.EcoLibris.net and donate a dollar. For this incredibly small donation a tree will be planted in a deforested area to help rebalance and restore the ecosystem of that region.
If you are anything like me, perhaps you have books squirreled away all over your house. In my living room I have four giant bookshelves that are sagging under the weight of my favorite spiritual classics. And since I help authors find publishers, I have a ton of my clients' books on my shelves, too. In fact, I have wedged so many books onto my bookshelves in some places they are stacked three deep. If you are also an author, like me, chances are your garage is full of boxes with your books you haven't yet sold.
Now, I think I'm a conscious person. After all, I write for the Awareness Magazine, don't I? But how can any of us who are Mind, Body, Spirit writers, or readers, justify the cutting down of trees and entire forests and still believe we are truly advocates of a green-friendly world? There's a contradiction going on and most of us have allowed ourselves to skate over this issue without taking it to heart and doing something about it.
For those of us who enjoy books, Eco-Libris provides a critical, sustainable alternative to help balance our love for the written word with our desire to create a healthier planet. In this interview, I am speaking with Raz Godelnik, who is the CEO and one of the five founding members of Eco-Libris.
Randy Peyser: How did Eco-Libris begin?
Raz Godelnik: Eco-Libris originated in July 2007 when five friends and colleagues came together to create a green business. We are all native Israelis, but now we are located all over the world ‹ from the United States to Panama to Costa Rica to Israel. Each of us had previously worked for other sustainable ventures, which is how we knew one another.
Though we come from many different backgrounds, the one thing we have in common is that we all care about the environment, we all love books, and we all wanted to do something to help people and the publishing industry move forward and be more sustainable.
Randy: What is the goal of Eco-Libris?
Raz: We want to balance out the paper being used in books by planting trees for every book that is read, written, published or sold. One of our biggest intentions is to increase awareness of the need for change within the publishing industry. We want to provide individuals and businesses with an opportunity to do something positive that is affordable, and at the same time can have a significant impact on the environment.
Randy: How much paper is made from a tree?
Raz: On average, one tree can make 100 books. Text books use up more trees. As of 2006, the number of books printed annually in the United States was around 4 billion. That's a huge number.
Randy: Isn't recycled paper used in the making of books?
Raz: There's only 10% of recycled paper usage in the publishing industry. Other industries, such as the newspaper and magazine industry, use more recycled paper, but the publishing industry is lagging behind in terms of going green.
Randy: With so many different ways to promote sustainability, why have you chosen books?
Raz: My mother was a librarian. I grew up in a house full of books. I always thought that books were one of the most precious cultural treasures we have. The same goes for trees; they are also a precious resource. There shouldn't be any contradiction between these two.
Randy: How does your system work?
Raz: As a book reader, you can go to www.EcoLibris.net and choose how many books you've either bought, or own, that you would like to balance out by planting trees. For every book you want to balance out, a tree will be planted. The cost is $1 per book. That means if you want to balance out 10 books, 10 trees will be planted for only $10.
Randy: Where are the trees being planted?
Raz: These trees are planted in places where they are most needed. Some of the places include Guatemala in Central America and Africa.
Randy: Do you do the planting yourself?
Raz: No. We work with three non-profit organizations ‹ Sustainable Harvest International, Ripple Africa, and the Alliance for International Reforestation. They are our planting partners. Their work is mainly to enable people in developing nations to get out of the poverty cycle, and at the same time, to educate them to live more sustainably.
They employ the locals to plant trees in those places where we have maximized the value out of each tree, and where the areas have suffered heavily from deforestation. Not only is there the added environmental value, but also the social added value because there are many poor communities, and they are benefiting a lot by taking part in these projects.
Randy: Are you non-profit?
Raz: No. We had a lot of discussions before we started Eco-Libris as to what model would best help us achieve our goals. We decided it would be easier to achieve our goals under a for-profit platform.
Randy: When a visitor to your site pays a dollar for a tree, you send them a special sticker. Can you talk about that?
Raz: We send stickers made out of recycled paper, which say, "One tree planted for this book." We invite readers, publishers, bookstore owners, and authors to put these stickers on their books to demonstrate their support of the environment. We hope that when people balance out their books with us and get the stickers, it will inspire them to not only think about their books and their paper usage, but also about their lifestyle in general. We further believe if you are a publisher or an author, you will sell more books and get greater attention from the media by using these stickers to demonstrate your green positioning.
Randy: Who are some of the publishers that have partnered with you?
Raz: There are a number of them, including Simon & Schuster in the United States who is publishing a new series of green books for children and Raincoast Books, who published Harry Potter in Canada. We collaborated on an educational contest with them. We also work with Barefoot Books, and with Process, which a Los Angeles-based publisher.
Randy: Do you work with publishers all over the world?
Raz: Yes. Wherever people are reading, we are spreading the word. Right now, we are working with publishers in Europe, Norway, Sweden and Canada, in addition to the United States. Our stickers have been printed in Hebrew, Swedish, Norwegian and English. We also work with authors who are self-publishing their books.
Randy: Are there any bookstores collaborating with you?
Raz: Yes. There are a number of those across the country. For example, at the Strand Bookstore in New York, when you approach the counter to purchase a book, you will be asked if you would like to purchase a sticker to plant a tree.
Randy: Are there participating bookstores in California?
Raz: Yes. Some of them include East West Bookstore in Mountain View, Borderland Books in San Francisco, and the San Francisco State University Bookstore. We also work with libraries and schools.
Randy: How many trees have you planted to date?
Raz: So far we have planted around 85,000 trees with the support of the authors, publishers, readers and bookstores with whom we work. We actually plant more than one tree when you choose to balance out your books. For example, if you pay for 10 books to plant ten trees, we will go ahead and plant 13 trees to make sure the trees reach maturity.
Randy: What kind of trees do you plant?
Raz: Our partners plant a variety of species with their reforestation and agro-forestation operations. Some of the species planted this past year were mahogany, acacia, oak, teak, laurel, cedar, mandarins, guava, avocado, peach palm, breadfruit, soursop, coconut, cacao, coffee, mango, lemon, orange and pawpaw. There are many others.
What is most important to us is that the right trees are planted in the right places. To plant trees is rather easy; but to plant the right trees in the right places demands expertise. We always need to make sure the right species are being planted.
Randy: How do trees actually help us?
Raz: Trees are helpful in many ways. They reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Deforestation is considered to be contributing 20-25% to global warming. When you cut down trees and eliminate forests, you remove an important resource that was actually taking carbon off the atmosphere. What happens is that carbon goes back into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. When you plant trees, you take carbon out of the atmosphere. Trees help increase the biomass and productivity of regions. Trees are a part of the ecosystem, along with plants and animals, and trees provide shelter for other plants and animals.
Trees provide homes for endangered species. They protect important water resources. They help to decrease the chances of natural disasters, such as floods. When inter-planted with crops, they help to improve the crops. They provide fruit. They reduce soil erosion.
Trees are one of the most magnificent natural resources we have. The loggers are cutting in endangered forests. They are cutting trees that have grown for a hundred years. We are cutting down trees just to use them for paper. We can't accept the fact that this is the way things should be. Since we are much more aware of things, it's obvious that things should be done differently.
Randy: What is your long-term vision?
Raz: We want to be a significant agent of change in the publishing industry. We are seeing a green revolution. We want people to be aware of the amount of paper that goes into books and other paper products and to change their lifestyles to become more sustainable. When you open a book, we want you to think about the tree that was cut to produce that book.
In addition to the end consumer, we want businesses and manufacturers to take greater responsibility when it comes to their paper usage. Therefore, we are asking individuals to "green up" their lifestyles and manufacturers to "green up" their production practices.
Randy: What about reading ebooks on the Kindle or the Sony Reader? Aren't these paperless alternatives better for the environment?
Raz: We do not recommend these alternatives because not enough is known about them yet. It's true that ebooks read with ebook readers, such as Amazon's Kindle or the Sony Reader are saving trees. But we cannot say for sure if they are better for the environment because there are other environmental impacts associated with the way the electronic book readers are manufactured and disposed of. We are looking for a full life-cycle assessment to compare books made of paper to books read by the Kindle or Sony Reader.
Randy: Do you work with any ebook publishers?
Raz: Yes. One of the publishers we work with is Wildwood Publications. They only publish ebooks and they plant a tree for each ebook they sell. They published a children's book called, Ninja Cowboy Bear (www.ninja-cowboy-bear.com/book/index.php). It's printed with vegetable ink on 30% recycled paper and the printer is certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). The author wanted to make a greater impact on the environment. They put our logo on the book so when a reader purchases one, they know one tree was planted for the book they just purchased.
Randy: Do you work with any online communities?
Raz: Yes. We work with different communities, like Book Mooch, www.BookMooch.com. Book Mooch is an online community of 70,000 book lovers who exchange books between themselves. It's like a library, but based on a simple point system. If you give a book, you get one point. For a certain amount of points you can get a book from another member. The books are free. You just pay for shipping. Members can balance out their books. For every ten books they balance out, they get one point they can use to purchase books through Book Mooch.
At the last Earth Day, we presented the Book Mooch community with nine green authors we work with. The purpose was to bring awareness about green issues to the Book Mooch readers, and to expose the publishers and authors with whom we work to such a big community. We want to generate the value they are seeking, and these days, of course, we want the value to be as high as possible.
Randy: Are there any publishers involved with Eco-Libris who are not green-related?
Raz: Publishers who publish green books are usually more aware of the issues of sustainability and it's easier to get them involved with a program such as ours. We partner with publishers who print on recycled paper or publishers who only sell ebooks because the idea is that even if no trees are cut for the books, they still want to have a positive impact on the environment.
Another thing we do is to promote green books, ones that feature green themes produced by using green practices. This past year, we created a shopping guide for green books, which was prepared by people who work in green jobs. It was called, "The Green Collar Holiday Gift Guide for Book Lovers," (EcoLibris.blogspot.com/2008/12/green-collar-holiday-gift-guide-for_15.html)
Randy: Last thoughts?
Raz: Every day, we read about destruction made by the paper industry. There are so many easy steps that can be taken to decrease this damage and the environmental impact. Books can be more eco-friendly and reading can be more sustainable. The bottom line is that we do this because we love books and we love trees.
We believe that we should be able to live altogether peacefully and not contradict one through the existence of the other. We hope people will balance out their books, and tell their friends who read or write books, as well as their local bookstores about our mission. Books should become more sustainable in the way they are produced, and we want to make this day happen sooner, not later.
Randy Peyser is the author of "The Power of Miracle Thinking." www.MiracleThinking.com. She also edits books and helps people find publishers. Please visit: www.AuthorOneStop.com
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