Macmillan Sustainability


As you might guess, paper consumption is the biggest environmental issue for a book publisher. From our initial evaluation, we learned that over two thirds of Macmillan’s carbon footprint came from paper and fiber products used in our ongoing business. Since our business of publishing not only impacts the global good but also the global environment, we have taken time to understand how our decisions affect everyone, not just us. If you sat in on one of our sustainability meetings, you would hear discussions about emissions in China, the trade imbalance, access to high efficiency paper mills, and recycling into regions where it makes the most sense.

The first step in addressing this issue is to use less paper. Along with doing that on a wide scale in our offices, we are becoming more efficient with the size of our print runs, the overages we tolerate, and the type of packaging we use. In addition, Macmillan’s commitment to the digital revolution in publishing such as offering electronic publications for a full range of devices and platforms, is already contributing to a sizeable reduction in the aggregate amount of materials needed to make a reduced number of conventional books.

But there are still books to be printed. It would seem on the surface to be an intuitive choice to simply use more recycled paper in printing our books. But if we made that decision, we would cut into the limited supply of recycled paper. What’s more, there must always be fresh infusions of virgin fiber because of fiber degradation.  Our approach was to disassemble the processes of an integrated paper mill and then rank the most volatile drivers of harvest, production, and transport in terms of a mill’s Scope 1 and 2 emissions together with other factors such as sustainable forestry practices. Not surprisingly, given the intense energy demands of paper production, those mills generating the highest percentage of their energy requirements through renewable sources had a distinct advantage.

The biggest revelation of the initiative was the extent to which the use of recycled fiber could not come close to neutralizing the impact of fossil fuel generated energy inputs in spite of the significant efficiency in using less energy to reconstitute such fiber.  In one case, a 100 percent recycled sheet delivered to our printer had scope 1 and 2 emissions that were 14 times that of a 100 percent virgin fiber sheet of the same specifications.

It is against that global economic and environmental context that we have become meticulous about understanding the choices we make and vetting our direct paper purchases. To make better choices, we look at the CO2 emissions around paper production from a fully integrated view—harvesting, production and transport. With this perspective, we’ve determined that it is often better for one of the prime advantages of recycled fibers—the reduced energy required to reconstitute it into ‘new’ paper—to be realized in countries not as environmentally advanced. These countries have considerable fiber demands but link to power grids that use a far higher percentage of fossil fuels to generate electricity than in North America. These countries may also lack a dedicated commitment to sustainable forestry practices.

To the extent that paper manufacturers in, say, China needed to replace recycled fiber with virgin fiber because of limited supply brought on by demand elsewhere, it puts additional stress on their environmental resources. When looking at paper from a fully integrated view, we came to understand that geographically proximate ancient growth forests, and the harvesting of mixed tropical hardwoods and plantation acacia, present a greater risk. By using more recycled paper, we might get to our goals sooner, but it may do more harm to the global environment than good.