Duty now, for the future

Sustainability is the talk of the town, but the Portland State graduate students running Ooligan Press believe that the time has come for more than just lip service.

Sustainability is the talk of the town, but the Portland State graduate students running Ooligan Press believe that the time has come for more than just lip service. On April 22, 2011, Ooligan Press will release “Rethinking Paper & Ink: The Sustainable Publishing Revolution.” The Earth Day release is significant, but reducing the ecological impact of publishing is just the beginning of this ambitious project.

In the fall of 2008, two Portland State University students wondered if their program could be doing more for the environment. Melissa Brumer and Janine Eckhart, both members of the Ooligan Press graduate program in publishing, decided that more sustainable practices should be incorporated into a student-operated publishing venture. After four months of research, the students designed and edited the first edition of “Rethinking Paper & Ink,” which earned them a portion of the PSU Miller Grant. This gave the industrious students the resources required to print the first edition of the book in the spring of 2009.

“One stipulation of this grant was that the book would have to be given away for free,” said Alysson Hoffman, the project manager for the book’s latest edition.

“Once we had given away all of those copies, we had to decide whether to reprint it without another grant for support, or to assign it an ISBN and release it as a legitimate title in our catalog. In the time that has passed since giving away the first run, we’ve added a lot of additional research into sustainability practices for publishing. We decided the time was right to expand and update the text and release it as a more complete guide book for publishers,” Hoffman said.

“Rethinking Paper & Ink” is just a small part of what Ooligan Press calls its “OpenBook” series, each of which are produced with three primary mandates guiding production—ecological, economic and social sustainability. This is where Ooligan distinguishes itself, identifying accountability as the first step towards true sustainability. Each publication in the “OpenBook” series is accompanied by an audit detailing the choices made in the attempt to reduce environmental impact, as well as an unflinching look at where they have succeeded, and where they have not.

“It’s important to us to stress to other publishers that in order to produce an environmentally sustainable product, their business practices must also be economically sustainable,” said Natalie Guidry, co-author of “Rethinking Paper & Ink.”

“We can’t always make the best choices when publishing a book, because the more sustainable it is, the more expensive each copy becomes,” she adds. “We can, however, balance what we accomplish economically with the environmentally conscious choices that we make. Ooligan Press believes in triple bottom line sustainability. This means that we focus not only on the environmental choices that we make, but also the social and economic impacts,” Guidry said.

While Ooligan Press is not alone in its focus on sustainability in publishing, as a student-operated venture whose primary focus is on learning, the program offers a glimpse of the future that could lie ahead for the printed word. By opening dialogue on the prospects for a new and more sustainable business model, Ooligan Press and publishers like them are paving the way for a more pragmatic approach to decreasing the environmental toll that commerce so often takes.

“Sustainable publishing practices are one of the more important areas of knowledge for people coming into this industry,” Hoffman said. “I believe that in all areas of life we need to increase awareness of our actions. To be a part of creating this kind of awareness in a field I’ve chosen to pursue is very satisfying. Fusing my beliefs about environmental mindfulness with my love of books is both necessary in the current market, and leads to interesting problems with even more interesting solutions.”

While many of the benefits of sustainable publishing practices are long-term, it is more immediately gratifying to know that such forward-thinking individuals are the heirs to an industry that presently has an annual global revenue of $27 billion dollars.

“We realize that we will not change the industry overnight,” said co-author Natalie Guidry. “Highly unsustainable practices are the widespread norm in this industry. We want to spread our knowledge to other publishing professionals so that they can incorporate their own modifications to production practices in order to make more sustainable products,” Guidry adds. “We want to act as a guide for other publishers, to introduce them to the sustainable possibilities and resources.”

Those who are listening today could well save the publishing industry of tomorrow.

The original edition of “Rethinking Paper & Ink” is available in PDF format at www.ooligan.pdx.edu. ?