When it comes to helping the environment, publishers and printers at the Frankfurt Book Fair seem more interested in improving traditional book production methods, rather than relying on any vision of a paperless future.
In Hall 3 at the Frankfurt book fair, the air is buzzing. Spotty teenagers are dashing around, journalists slurp on coffee and businessmen bark into mobile phones, making deals. They are all here for one purpose: books.
Novels, autobiographies, coffee table books, calenders - anything that can be printed and given a glossy cover is here at one of the 7,000 exhibitor stalls. Which begs the question: what about the environmental impact of all this paper usage? It's hard finding people who want to talk about the issue.
Wolfgang Michael Hanke, Random House group's environment expert, says that at the moment his company is focusing on being as green as possible in the production of traditional, printed books. "Until they do some long-term studies on the environmental impact of e-readers, it's hard to say that they give us a real environmental benefit at the moment," Hanke said.
Random House was one of the first companies to use FSC paper - certified environmentally-friendly paper that is either partially recycled, or that comes from replanted forests. During these times of economic difficulty, not every big publisher makes an effort on using the right paper - but the trend is promising, Hanke says.
Greener paper, greener production
With the current production level in Europe, printing companies are already being forced to match the environmental demands of publishers or face missing out on contracts. Reinhard Herok from the Austrian media company Gugler said that their print technicians have worked out a way to print on 100 percent compostable paper.
For some other smaller companies at the Frankfurt book fair, environmentally-friendly paper alone isn't enough.
Oekom publishers, based in Munich, for instance, print 50 to 60 books a year on topics involving the environment and sustainability. It's important they make a special effort in this area, according to Katrin Schießl from Oekom.
"We don't print on FSC paper, we now use 100 percent recyclable paper. We have also looked at the CO2 footprint of our whole business and we are trying to bring that down too," Schießl boasted.
E-readers: an unknown quantity
But as consumers become more technically savvy, the issue is already shifting to whether e-books can match traditional books on environmental credibility. There are concerns about the energy required to manufacture such a device, not to mention pollutants produced during the production process and electricity usage once it starts being used.
Andreas Manhart from Öko-Institut, a Freiburg-based environmental research facility, says that whether using an e-book reader is better for the environment or not boils down to just how much a person reads per year and the quality of the product.
"You only need to read about 10 decent novels a year for three years with a good e-reader in order to break even with normal books when it comes to CO2 output. That's about in line with a typical German reader's yearly consumption," said the environment expert.
Meanwhile, Shimon Szmigiel, from electronics manufacturer Trekstor, was kept busy with a line of customers at his stall in Hall 4. He says that the demand for his company's e-readers is rising rapidly.
"Most of our clients don't really think of environmental issues when buying our products, to be honest. They just see the practical benefits," Szmigiel admitted.
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