intro: since his first appearance in 1997, Harry Potter has became the biggest phenomenon in the history of modern publishing [Harry Potter phenomenon]. As usual, criticism often comes with success...
environmental concerns: beside the controversy over the intrinsic worth of the Potter books (Is it good for kids? Is it enticing young people to read? etc.), Harry Potter’s success has also raised serious environmental concerns.
In 2003, The Guardian estimated that about 110,000 trees had been used to bring the latest Harry Potter book to fans around the world. To address these critics, Penny Edwards, the production director at UK publisher Bloomsbury, was keen to stress that paper used to print the Potter books came from sustainable forests. Similarly, Raincoast Books printed the Canadian edition (935,000 copies) on 100% recycled, chlorine free, ‘endangered forest free’ paper.
sustainable publishing: Bloomsbury takes part in Greenpeace’s publishing initiative to ensure that all timber and timber products such as paper come from well-managed forests. Across the Atlantic, 35 Canadian and 20 US publishers have made formal commitments to use recycled or environmentally friendly paper. However, less than 5% of the paper used by the printing and writing paper sector contains recycled fibres. So whilst publishers have drastically improved their production of sustainability related content since 1988, they still have a long way to go in improving their internal sustainability performance.
e-commerce: in February 2001, the OECD Observer published an article on e-commerce and its environmental impact, choosing Harry Potters’ sales at amazon.com as an example: “At first glance, Internet-based shopping seems to have benefits for both the consumer and the environment. Consumers believe they are getting better prices and greater convenience. Environmentalists believe that transportation and collateral costs are reduced because there are fewer trips to shopping malls. But are they right?”
make your choice: the OECD article concluded by stating that: “While Harry Potter cannot be branded as a major contributor to global climate change, the actual effects of current e-commerce systems remain at best unclear, and consumers seem unaware of the trade-offs. […] Yet, personal consumption choices and some emerging new services may be made greener, without significantly sacrificing customer service and convenience. One new option for delivering parcels, for instance, is a service that lets customers choose the day and time for receiving their shipment...reducing the number of trips made and leading to improved environmental performance.”
- Take energy for instance: estimates in 1998 for the electricity cost of operating internet routers, switches and computers range from 1% of total US energy use to an impressive 8%!
- In July 2000, Amazon.com, the leading online retailer, partnered with FedEx, a top global courier service, to deliver more than a quarter of a million copies of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to readers across the United States. As a showcase of their combined shipping prowess, Amazon.com announced that all pre-orders of the Harry Potter book would receive free Saturday delivery by FedEx, thus arriving only a few hours after the midnight Friday embargo imposed by the publisher.
- Most orders were shipped in single boxes, not as part of larger orders, and used a combination of air and ground transport, requiring a dedicated fleet of 100 airplanes and 9,000 trucks. Per tonne-mile, air transit costs three times as much and uses about five times as much fuel as trucking. Rail and water shipping are even cheaper and less polluting, but are clearly unsuitable for the fast delivery trumpeted by Amazon.com and FedEx.
So: buy your books but try to use eco-friendly publishers. And remember you can also help reduce the environmental impact by sharing your favourite book with a friend!