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A Practical No-Returns Program Designed to Help Save the Earth

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content=”Last August Margo Baldwin, publisher and founder of Chelsea Green, wrote an article for Publisher’s Weekly titled “Zero Waste P”>Last August Margo Baldwin, publisher and founder of Chelsea Green, wrote
an article for Publisher’s Weekly titled “Zero Waste P



A Practical No-Returns Program
Designed to Help Save the Earth


by Mike Dyer


For the last nine months, a
management working group at Chelsea Green has been actively researching,
evaluating, and discussing ways to address the book-publishing industry’s impact
on the environment. Of course, the first and most obvious impact of books and
bookselling involves the use of paper, and many publishers are already
switching to recycled materials and making use of technology like
print-on-demand to curb waste and excess.


But conscientious printing
practices are not the only part of the publishing process where we can
significantly curb waste. Given the total number of books shipped last year and
the average rate of returns, we found that an extra 1,305 million pounds of
books traveled an extra 59 million miles, consumed 8.4 million gallons of
diesel fuel, and released 188 million pounds of CO2 into the
atmosphere. And these figures don’t include returned books being reshipped to
vendors, or damaged returns being sent to a recycler or, worse, to a landfill.


Obviously, the environmental
impact of returns needs to be addressed, and it’s up to both publishers and
booksellers to find a creative solution that respects economic realities.


As we pored through our financial
data and discussed creative alternatives to our standard business practices, we
also brainstormed with leading booksellers and took into account their concerns
and suggestions. In the end, we came to three conclusions:


·      The environmental impacts of
bookselling are grave, and all parties agreed that something should be done.

·      A nonreturnable program is
feasible for the publisher.

·      A nonreturnable program can be
implemented swiftly, and with the support of some of the best booksellers in
the country, if their concerns are addressed.


Announcing the Chelsea
Green Partner Program


By the time we launched our Green
Partner Program at BEA, eight booksellers had signed on—Tattered Cover,
Boulder Bookstore, Malaprops, UConn Co-op, Northshire Bookstore, Changing
Hands, Busboys and Poets, and Powells. Soon after that, Village Books, Bookshop
Santa Cruz, and Shakespeare and Co. followed suit, and we’ve been delighted to
hear from more than a dozen other stores that they’re interested in


The second part of this effort
kicked off in late June and involves in-store, in-book, online, and media
marketing focused directly on book-buying consumers, with the goal of educating
them about the environmental impacts of the books they read.


Our program—a collaboration
between publishers and booksellers—is available to booksellers that meet
a few minimal eligibility requirements (like good credit standing). It uses a
business model based on carbon-neutral shipping and incentives designed to
break the cycle of returns and reduce waste. Specifically, it features a
nonreturnable buying structure, direct shipments to individual store locations
in the interests of limiting multiple shipping legs between warehouse and
reader, and purchases of certified carbon offsets for all Green Partner


We have partnered with a
nationally recognized carbon offset provider, Carbonfund.org, which developed a
system, based on variables like method, weight, and distance, of accurately
calculating the carbon footprint generated when a package is shipped. In most
cases, the cost of an individual offset is minimal—at most, a few dollars
even for a heavy box of books crossing the country—but there are
additional cost factors, such as program administration, that must be considered
as well. We’re currently expanding our infrastructure to offer retailers and
consumers the option of making their individual orders carbon-neutral for the
cost of the calculated offset as well—another step toward educating
booksellers and readers about the environmental impact of their purchases.


We also provide partner retailers
with a suite of economic and marketing incentives ranging from extra discounts
to first dibs on touring authors, and a quarterly Green Box that contains new
releases, galleys, and special merchandising materials exclusive for
partners—shipped carbon-neutral, of course.


Starting Points for a
Similar Program


If you’re interested in pursuing a
program that can improve the environment and address returns, you’ll find that
the first steps are fairly simple, but they do require effort and careful


It’s important to begin by
conducting a thorough internal audit of your business model. Take the time to
evaluate areas of environmental savings throughout all departments. Publishing
companies have many easy, practical, and low-risk ways to reduce their
environmental impact (see “Other Ways of Going for the Green”), and you should
practice as you preach—consider and act on them before asking your
business partners to do the same.


Next, do a thorough financial and
operational evaluation of your current sales and returns, paying close
attention to how switching to a nonreturnable model might change the frequency
and size of orders from the booksellers that are your trading partners. If your
operation is set up to sustain itself on infrequent but large individual
orders, making the shift to more frequent, smaller orders could have serious
consequences for your distribution and cash flow.


Finally and most important, take
the time to discuss the environment and your goals with your bookselling
partners. Including their feedback and ideas in your program will ensure that
it has its chance to succeed long-term.


Obviously any radical shift in a
trusted business model comes with some risk, but we hope our pioneering steps
will help foster a dialogue for everyone who loves publishing, loves reading,
and hopes for a better, more sustainable future. As a mission-based company, we
are eager to share our results and discuss ways of partnering with others in
and outside the industry to promote our common cause.


Mike Dyer is director of
business development at Chelsea Green Publishing. To reach him, email
MDyer@chelseagreen.com or call 802/299-2409.






Other Ways of Going for
the Green


Booksellers can add to the
positive results of the Green Partner Program by making small adjustments to
the way they do business. For example, they can use systems like Above the
Treeline to carefully manage inventory needs; work with vendors to avoid
overstock situations; discount slow-moving books instead of returning them; use
recycled materials in store newsletters and marketing pieces; and institute
simple recycling programs to ensure that their stores are as sustainable as


Similarly, publishers can
realize positive results by taking some simple steps. For instance:


·      print all your books in North

·      use only recycled papers and
soy-based inks in book production

·      drop-ship direct from your printer
to your major distribution points

·      print all your marketing and
support materials on recycled stock or, ideally, switch to electronic versions
of them

·      change your sales model to limit

·      use technology to accurately
determine print runs and support your customers


We know from firsthand
experience that all these practices will save your business time and money and
decrease your environment footprint.




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