Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Of motes and beams

'Why beholdest thou the mote in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?' St Matthew ch.7, v.3

Okay, so why am I coming over all Scriptural?

The truth is, I am a hypocrite. Jesus, if he returned amongst us (and had a degree in environmental science), would doubtless berate me for double standards.

You see, I am an environmentalist but I'm also a novelist. I write and publish books and those books are made out of wood pulp. What is the origin of this wood pulp? It's a question I've been slow in asking. Today I finally bit the bullet and spoke to Beverley Fletcher from Greenpeace's Forests campaign.

Greenpeace has been working flat out to persuade the publishing industry in Britain to print books on recycled and Forest Stewardship Council certified paper. So far, some big names have signed up, including Random House, Bloomsbury, Penguin and (yes) even Rupert Murdoch's Harper Collins. My publishers, however, have not signed. Hodder Headline is, in Ms Fletcher's dispiriting opinion, 'the renegade of the industry'.

Hodder is owned by Hachette, which in turn (oh that beam, that bloody beam) belongs to Lagardere, a major French media and armaments company. (My one defence for this is that my sales are so bad that I'm doing my bit to bankrupt the multinational from within.) Hachette has shown itself to have all the environmental conscience of Dick Cheney. So Hodder Headline, in turn, is skipping its moral responsibilities and won't collaborate on the Greenpeace project for a more sustainable publishing industry.

But - I hear nobody object - the little writing at the front of the Hodder books seems to reassure us. It says: 'Hodder Headline's policy is to use papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from woods grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.'

Now you don't have to be Terry Eagleton to do an effective bit of practical criticism on these statements. All paper is 'renewable' but that's not the same as renewed. All paper is 'recyclable' but that's not the same as recycled. As for the assurances about logging and processing, countries have wildly differing environmental regulations. Quite a lot, actually, have no regulations worthy of the name.

The whole point of using recycled paper is that it reuses existing wood pulp. As for FSC certification, it is regarded by all environmental groups as the only truly reliable, international standard. All forests that grow are sustainable (that insidious postfix again) but most forests, at present, are not sustainably managed.

Does it matter? 40% of UK publishing is working towards greener paper sourcing; but Hachette UK represents a staggering 17% of the industry.

So what can I, one of the least commercially valuable authors in the Hodder empire, hope to do to change things? Well, I'll be badgering my editor. I shall also write to the big guys in Hodder and Hachette, pointing out how unreasonable they are being.

Can an appeal from me change their attitudes? Almost certainly not. But there are plenty of Hodder authors who have more clout - from John Le Carre to Stephen King and David Mitchell. If I get a crap response from the powers at the top, I may have to appeal to my fellow authors to bring about the much needed change of policy.

I will post on this issue in January, when I am due to hand in my new novel. How wonderful it would be if Serious Things (scheduled for publication early in 2008) came out on recycled or FSC-certified paper.

To find out more, click here: http://www.fsc.org/en/ and here: http://www.greenpeaceactive.org.uk/detail.php?id=206&cat=300


Blogger hm said...

I too am a Hodder Hachette writer slowly bankrupting them in the way you mentioned. Or it may be the other way round, and they are slowly bankrupting me. I would be happy to support your efforts to get HH to use recycled paper. Don't you need to contact other authors?

1:33 AM  
Blogger Gregory Norminton said...

HM - good to hear from you. As you will see from my most recent posting ('Paper Tigers'), I have written to Hachette authors on the paper issue. It hasn't been possible to write to everyone but send me an email (gdrn@totalise.co.uk) and I will send you more information.

2:26 AM  

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