COMMENTARY: How Harry Potter’s Saving Trees

The last installment in the Harry Potter series takes a green leap and major publishers follow suit

The much ballyhooed Harry Potter book is shaking up more than the literary world since it"s printed on 30 percent post-consumer waste fiber, 65 percent of which is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Muggles around the world have already rejoiced at the final release of J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which hit the shelves July 21. But this book will leave another legacy besides its literary one—16 countries across the globe, including the U.S., will be printing it on recycled paper.

Scholastic, lucky publisher of one of the most successful book series in history, announced that all 12 million copies of the first printing will be on 30 percent post-consumer waste fiber, 65 percent of which is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as procured through responsible forest management. The 100,000 copies of the deluxe edition will be printed on 100 percent recycled paper. Every reprint of the series will from this point on be printed on a minimum of 30 percent recycled paper.

This is the largest order of Ancient Forest Friendly recycled paper for a single book title in history, according to Markets Initiative, a Canadian organization that works with all walks of the printed media industries to advocate friendlier paper use.

"Harry Potter really has been a trendsetter," says Markets Initiative’s Executive Director Nicole Rycroft. "This series is so iconic in so many ways, and it really is a big part of the fundamental shift happening internationally. It’s more than saving the Whomping Willow [a large, magical tree that’s prone to violent outbursts in the series], it’s about shifting it to an industry that helps to safeguard forests."

This monstrous paper order of 16,700 tons will do a lot more than may initially meet the eye. By switching to 30 percent recycled paper, just the English-language editions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows alone will save: 197,685 trees, an area 2.5 times the size of New York’s Central Park, or a whole lot of Whomping Willows in Hogwarts terms; 72,074,421 gallons of water, enough to fill 218 Olympic sized pools or make 6.3 trillion batches of Polyjuice Potion; 17,364,063 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, equal to taking 1,577 cars off the road for a year or stopping 8,420 dragon burps; 9,255,366 pounds of solid waste, which is the weight of 4,999 full-grown elephants or 2,364 fully-grown dragons like Norbert; 137,609 million BTUs of electricity, enough energy to power 1,512 homes for a year and equivalent to the energy in 154 million lightning bolts. (Source: Markets Initiative, using the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.)

The effort of getting Harry Potter on eco-friendly paper was a collaborative one; 32 new papers had to be developed, six of which were exclusively for Harry Potter books. All this hard work looks like it’s paying off, though.

The bold decisions of those responsible for bringing Harry Potter to consumers internationally are spurring change across the global publishing industry. Since the shift onto recycled paper started in Canada, 300 publishers around the world were influenced to rethink their environmental impact and print a growing number of their products on "green" paper. Harry Potter’s shift also inspired 84 printers in North America to stock Ancient Forest Friendly or other eco-papers.

"Harry Potter has the potential to capture people’s imagination in a way that so few things in society do these days, so Harry Potter being the greenest book in history shows the potential of what’s possible when you act with commitment and vision," says Rycroft. "It’s inspiring a whole new generation to the magic of protecting forests."

Rycroft and other staffers at Markets Initiative have been working that magic since 1999, and in 2002 they started working with Harry Potter’s Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books, to start implementing green changes. Raincoast agreed to shift the then four existing books" reprints onto recycled paper. Only a year later, Markets Initiative worked with Raincoast Books again to print Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on 100 percent post-consumer waste fiber. At the time, Canada was the first and only country whose Harry Potter edition was on recycled paper.

The U.S. may be falling behind its northern neighbor, but it’s not from lack of effort by activists. Organizations such as Green Press Initiative (GPI) have been working with American companies for years.

Both GPI and the Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit conservation organization, worked with Scholastic to get the new Harry Potter book on eco-paper. Tyson Miller, director of GPI, says that Scholastic is in the process of forming an industry-leading, company-wide policy to reduce its environmental footprint.

The English-language editions alone will save: 197,685 trees, or a whole lot of Whomping Willows (shown).

"Harry Potter is great, it’s symbolic and sizeable, but [Scholastic] will also have a whole company-wide policy that will go way beyond Potter," Miller adds. "They use an enormous amount of paper, but they’re addressing that use."

Over the past several years, more than 140 U.S. publishers, 10 printers, and five paper companies have made environmental commitments to try to reduce their impact, including giants like Random House and soon, Scholastic. Random House and other publishers have committed to increasing recycled fiber use to more than 30,000 tons per year by 2010.

The American book industry has even developed an agreement, called the Book Industry Treatise on Responsible Paper, for reducing its social and environmental impacts. According to GPI, when this treatise is realized and practiced it will conserve the equivalent of more than five million trees and 500 million pounds of greenhouse gases annually.

"In the beginning, folks wouldn’t meet with us at all," says Miller. "And now, we’ve got multinational corporations participating. Some are dragging their feet, saying it will cost too much, but the industry at large is making progress and I think we"ll see industry-wide change continue."

While the print industries are coming along, there is still a long way to go. Markets Initiative’s Nicole Rycroft noted that though many publishers, magazines, and printers have made shifts for the better, only one newspaper in Canada has made a similar commitment.

"Newspaper uses a lot of paper, more than the book industry, so we’re excited to start working with them," Rycroft comments. "The response has generally been very receptive; we live in an age where everybody is aware that we face some serious environmental challenges and they’re global in scope, so we need to envision solutions that are global in scope. They want to do what they can to lighten that footprint."

JESSICA GOLDBERG, a Harry Potter fan, is an intern at E.