A book for a tree: An interview with Eco-Libris co-founder Raz Godelnik

by Pari Noskin Taichert

I don’t know about you, but I happen to like oxygen. Breathing has been pretty good to me.

I also adore books — reading and writing ’em. But there’s a problem. For each book printed, somewhere a tree was felled.

Raz Godelnik and his crew of inspired ecopreneurs have come up with a plan that, in a way, addresses this fundamental dilemma.

Raz2 Can you give us a brief history of Eco-Libris?
   It all started when I was thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (from the use of recycled paper to e-books) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about it.
   It took me a couple of months to gather a team of talented people with a great devotion to the idea. Later on, we put a lot of work into a screening process of our planting partners and eventually we started operating last July.

Why books and trees? Are you a reader?
    Let’s start with the fact that about 20 million trees are being cut down every year to produce the books sold in the U.S. alone. Now, our decision to focus on books was made after learning that only 5 percent of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t yet have an online eco-friendly alternative (e-book), like magazines and newspapers. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version, unless you go to the library or get it from websites like BookCrossing or BookMooch, which are all excellent choices. [Readers & authors: What do you think of these kinds of sites? — Pari wants to know] You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, so it seemed to me only natural to give book lovers a new alternative to make their reading habit greener — planting trees for the books they read. I’m an avid reader. My mother is a librarian and since I was a little kid, I was always surrounded by books. I read almost everything, from thrillers to biographies. Right now, I’m reading THE SHOCK DOCTRINE by Naomi Klein.

What do you think of the Kindle and other e-book readers?
    I think that the Kindle is good news for eco-conscious readers as it will save a lot of trees. If it is, as a device, so advanced technologically, it will also become advanced environmentally. That would be good news. It still has an environmental impact and it’s definitely far from being accessible to many people, but all in all it is a first step in the right direction. My wish is that the Kindle won’t only become cheaper, but also that it will be manufactured in an eco-friendly manner (right now I only know that it’s been manufactured by an undisclosed Chinese original equipment manufacturer), hopefully adopting cradle-to-cradle concepts.
    I believe that the Kindle, and other e-books options that will be available, are one part of a greener future we’ll face in the book industry. We will also see books that are made of recycled paper and other non-tree materials, from hemp to plastic (like the book CRADLE TO CRADLE itself).

Africa_ecolibris You call yourself an eco-entrepreneur. What does that mean?
    I see myself as an entrepreneur dedicated to developing green business. My first venture was Hemper Jeans, as an eco-fashion company focusing on producing fashionable jeans made out of hemp. Eco-Libris is my second venture and I love every minute of it.

Have you tried to partner with paper producing companies, with publishers?
   We are aiming to work not only with book readers, but also with publishers, writers, bookstores, book clubs and others involved in the book publishing industry. We’re now negotiating with a few publishers from the U.S., Canada and Europe on partnerships with regards to new titles they want to balance out. I hope that in the next month or so, we’ll be able to publish details on some of these collaborations. All in all, I can say that the general response to Eco-Libris is very enthusiastic. Publishers understand the need to go green and see us as a great option to take a step in that direction.
    At this stage, we don’t work with printers. We might consider it in the future.

Pic_shi Will you branch out to magazines or catalog producers?
    Right now, we’re focused on books for the reasons I detailed above. Nevertheless, we’re aware of the environmental impact of other publishing areas and might consider involvement there in the future.

What’s next for Eco-Libris?
    We are having a busy holiday season with new offers for those who are looking for unique green gifts. Other than that, we intend to keep putting a lot of effort into establishing collaborations with publishers, bookstores and anyone in the book publishing industry who wants to go green. We also look forward to continuing to be a strong voice for all the eco-conscious readers out there and we are working now on plans on how to bring their environmental concerns to the knowledge of publishers and writers. Finally, we intend to keep spreading the word on sustainable reading, by working with libraries, participating in literary events and collaborating with other green organizations and companies.

What’s the one recent idea in environmental activism/entrepreneurism that you wish you’d thought of?
    Two innovative green companies that I’m a big admirer of are:
    1.  RecycleBank — An innovative incentives system that managed to crack the one million dollar question: How to make people recycle more? Their answer: A combination of technology, partnerships and coupons.
    2. TerraCycle — The ideal green product: Better and cheaper than its competitors, sold in recycled bottles and it’s made of worm’s poop!

Sticker_ecolibris Let’s give a big Murderati thanks to Raz and other eco-entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to make this a better world.  For more information on Eco-Libris, check out the website.

I’m curious:
What do you think of this idea of a tree for a book?
What do you think of trying to make the publishing industry more green?
Have you heard of other eco-friendly businesses that we need to know of?

I’m looking forward to this conversation.


A note about the photos: The second one is courtesy of Eco-Libris planting partner RIPPLE Africa and the third is courtesy of partner Sustainable Harvest International (SHI). Contributors to Eco-Libris receive stickers for each tree planted. The organization hopes that they’ll put these stickers on their books to spread the word.

10 thoughts on “A book for a tree: An interview with Eco-Libris co-founder Raz Godelnik

  1. Lorraine.

    As avid reader who cannot afford to buy all the books I read, I love sites like BookCrossings. Belong to one called Paperbackswap — in 2+ yrs. I’ve sent out 273 books & received 241, so far.Saving trees is good. I cancelled my Sunday paper because it’s so much wasted paper that I don’t read or need. Still get daily, and recycle that.Realistically, if I were in a bookstore buying a book, rather than give any extra dollars I had for planting a tree, I’d buy another book! Sorry.

  2. billie

    Pari, great info. My question – why can’t printers use recycled paper for books?

    I’d love to see books (including mine) come with stickers saying “this book was printed using recycled paper.’

    My family has been laughing at me all weekend – I use both sides of the printer paper for my book mss pages when printing them out for editing, etc. Once I’m done with them I sometimes shred them to use as packing material. Our Christmas tree ornaments are safely nested in my first novel, neatly shredded into strips, some of which are floating around on the floor right now after we put the tree up Friday.

    My daughter keeps finding intact sentences from that long-ago draft and reading them out loud, and I keep telling her to stop. A writer’s worst nightmare – the ghosts of early drafts coming back, sentence by sentence.

  3. pari

    Lorraine,I love your comment for so many reasons.

    First of all, I feel really ambivalent about sites like PBS and BookCrossing (though I wrote an article extolling the latter for our local paper when I wrote my literary column).

    I know for a fact that you support writers by buying their books, too. Maybe I can reframe my own perspective about them a bit . . .

    “Realistically, if I were in a bookstore buying a book, rather than give any extra dollars I had for planting a tree, I’d buy another book! Sorry.”

    Don’t be sorry. That’s honest. I hope Raz stops by today to comment on some of the discussion. I’d be interested in hearing his response.

    Last week, I bought the equivalent of 100 trees and will use 5/per teacher for my kids’ instructors (things get complicated with music teachers and once children are out of elementary school). To me, for those environmentally-sensitive folks, Eco-Libris provided a great way to give a gift for the holidays.

  4. pari

    Billie,I can’t answer your question about recycled paper, though I agree that it would be wonderful if there were more emphasis on using it.

    I shred my drafts, too. Though I recycle the product, I like your idea of using it for packing material.

    Re: those ghosts of early draftsI know I’ve written here about James Thurber and humor. His contention was that captions should come from the middle of conversations. That way the reader uses her imagination to fill in the blanks.

    Just think of how inspirational you could be !

  5. Tammy Cravit

    I must confess to a certain amount of ambivalence toward sites like BookCrossing. On the one hand, one can make the same argument about them that’s often given about used bookstores: It exposes your work to a broader audience, people who might not buy your book might try it, and so forth.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure those arguments are 100% even for used bookstores, so I don’t know that they’re valid for sites like BookCrossing where the only cost is shipping. The unanswered question for me in both cases is whether or not the people getting books in this way will in fact go on to buy your books and/or backlist, or whether they’ll simply acquire a complete collection of your works from a used bookstore/BookCrossing/etc. and never actually buy a new copy.

    On the other side of the coin, I am emphatically opposed to applying to books the strategy of the software industry (claiming that what’s sold is merely a “license” and the original publisher retains the right to restrict your use/resale of the material), too.

    So what’s the answer? I don’t know. Maybe more use of recycled paper and eco-friendly inks in book production. Maybe a fee added on by paper manufacturers to support conservation efforts. Perhaps something else.

    Sadly, identifying the problems is always easier than solving them.

  6. Louise Ure

    Pari, I didn’t know about Eco-Libris, but I’m delighted to meet Raz here at Murderati today. What a terrific idea.

    And I’m a fan of Book Crossings the same way I’m a fan of libraries. Anything that keeps people reading. And if it can do less damage to the environment at the same time? Dandy.

  7. pari

    Tammy,I don’t have any answers either. I used to be soooooooo sure. The longer I live, the more questions there are.

    Louise,Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s simply about keeping people reading. With all the news about the decrease of reading in this country, perhaps these sites are indicative that things aren’t so bleak after all.

  8. Lorraine.

    I’ve read on lists, blogs, etc. that some writers have a problem with used books, in stores & esp. on exchange lists.Books on PBS are very rarely new releases or by newer writers. I don’t put out there the new books I buy either. It’s the massive printings of the mega sellers that make up their inventory. Right now I’m watching the mail for 2 Robert B. Parker’s and one Martha Grimes I somehow missed. Whatever the royalty on a pb, I doubt either of those writers will suffer from not receiving it because I’m enjoying their work.

  9. pari

    Lorraine,Thanks for clarifying this.

    If anyone is interested in a position paper on the USED BOOKSTORE issue — which is different than PBS or BookCrossing — here’s a link to Novelists, Inc. I think it articulates some of the issues facing midlist writers. I’m a member of NINC and have seen some of my friends lose their publishing contracts, or whole lines discontinued, becuase of these kinds of numbers.

    It’s rather long, but interesting.


  10. raz godelnik

    Pari, thank you for the interview. I also enjoyed very much reading all the comments and the interesting discussion that followed the article.

    This kind of discussion is one of the things we’re looking for – to increase the awareness to the environmental impacts of books. This growing awareness of readers, as well as publishers, writers, bookstores and others will eventually lead to further development and implemenation of greener solutions that will make reading more sustainable.

    I would like to say to Lorraine, who said “Realistically, if I were in a bookstore buying a book, rather than give any extra dollars I had for planting a tree, I’d buy another book! Sorry”, that I understand her and there’s no need to be sorry :-). If you wouldn’t like to choose our option and you would like to buy more books, you can choose other routes to go green – for example, support of publishers/writers that print on recycled paper or others who work with us. Any way you choose to support the environment would be great!

    Thanks again, and if anyone wants to write me, my email is raz [at]ecolibris[dot]net

    Raz GodelnikEco-Libris


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