Encounters in Publishing #15: Sustaining by Liz Mathews

You may have heard that the publishing industry uses a lot of paper. This is a truth. Some people in the industry feel bad about it, and about other things that we do that increase our carbon footprint, like providing individual water bottles for meetings, and leaving the lights on after-hours. When these people who feel bad happen to be in charge of the company, things like sustainability initiatives are created.

The company where I work happens to have one such initiative, and in a weird twist of being relatively un-busy in my day-to-day working life, I wound up on the sustainability committee. It’s great for my passive-aggressive approach to things that make me uncomfortable, like people who turn the air conditioners on in the completely empty conference room all day in the hope that the cold air will filter out into the general area for those who have never really complained about being hot despite their lack of air conditioners in the first place.* I also cheerfully posted a sign about all the things New York City is now accepting for recyclables in the kitchen area…though no one seems to have noticed it yet.

I get to attend meetings.

At the meetings we talk about our goals. Starting in 2009, the goal for my company overall is to reduce our carbon emissions by 65% by 2020. And we’re pretty well on our way (for concrete evidence of that statement, feel free to contact me and I will send information along). The thing is, though, that publishing has not always been known as an industry that readily embraces change/technology/the new.

Take, for instance, an exchange at the sustainability meeting I recently attended. Several people representing an art department were there. When asked one thing we’d like to see change for the more sustainable, these ladies suggesting using FTP sites, and cutting out the use of burning discs to transfer files. Heck yeah, I thought, and piped up about how much more streamlined one aspect of my job had become by merely uploading files instead of burning them and printing them and walking them three blocks away to an outside company we employ. Everyone nodded, but then the elephant in the room trounced into view. “Except that people who are a little…older…are not comfortable unless they have a disc,” one of the art ladies stated. “They feel the disc is more trustworthy.”

As a solution, the other art lady suggested that discs are perhaps too readily available, and that if access were more limited, people would learn to use FTP sites instead, since it would involve less effort than planning ahead and placing orders and waiting for shipments of discs to arrive. The inconvenience of not being able to send one’s intern to Office Services on the six floor for disc-gratification within five minutes might force people to seek out other—more sustainable—options. A similar thing was suggested for the paper plates and cups and plastic tableware that are also always at hand in Office Services. Deprivation, it seems, might just be the key to habit change.

Anyway, we’re trying to reduce our paper use. Did you know that including just five more letters per page could save bazillions of book pages per year? (Again, contact me for actual numbers if you like.) Also, the bathroom lights are motion-censored, so no need to worry about forgetting to shut them off. Some of us are even working hard on our frown faces and under-the-breath comments when people take the elevator up or down only one or two floors. And I have my air conditioner battles.

We’re getting there. We know that publishing involves a lot of paper. And we know sustainability isn’t only about that.

*The person who deemed this a good idea is equally passive-aggressive and for every time I turn off the air conditioners, this person promptly turns them back on and sends an email about the “experiment.” I, in turn, dutifully go into the conference room and turn the temp up 15° because we don’t really need a 60° empty room, now, do we? They’ll be back at 60° within two hours. Welcome to life in my office.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.