9 sustainably printed books, reviewed by Park
Independent publishers are well-known for taking a stance on sustainability, but today, mainstream publishers are also investing in sustainably printed books.
The creators of these books have taken into consideration many different aspects of the production – from paper choice, to binding, to shipping distance, as well as their educational subject matter – in order to meet their company’s environmental standards. In many cases, these publishers are directly communicating the sustainability of these books to their readers.
Park investigated 9 books which reflect this trend.
Whereas recycled paper may have been expected, we noticed that FSC-certified virgin fibre materials are commonplace – which is still a sustainable option, as the FSC accreditation ensures that the papers come from sustainably managed forests.
A possible area for improvement in many productions was the use of finishes for aesthetic value – which are no obstacle to recycling, but which are often plastic based, and could arguably be swapped out for paper-only creative options.
With plenty of examples and ideas from various different publishers, we hope this article is useful for anyone embarking on a sustainable book production.
Phaidon x IKEA: Us and our Planet
IKEA is an ambitious brand when it comes to sustainability, aiming to become climate positive by 2030, and being committed to regenerating resources and protecting ecosystems. Their ‘Buy Back’ scheme also gives customers a change to sell back unwanted furniture to be resold or recycled.
A 2022 collaboration between IKEA and publishing company Phaidon, Us and our Planet takes a close look at sustainable ways of living through a series of photo essays. Covering the broad topics of Time, Space, Food, Rest, Play and Togetherness, the book describes itself as a ‘research document’ – highlighting the eco-friendly practices of people around the world.
The most striking design feature of this book is the naked binding – where there is no cover over the spine, leaving the threads exposed, in this case in IKEA’s signature yellow.
The brand’s identity is woven into the physical makings of the book, and the threads (which can also be seen when flicking through the pages), add a colourful flourish.
Naked binding alleviates the need for additional glue to affix a full cover, yet a small amount of glue must still be added to the spine for strength. As with other binding glues, the glue in naked binding poses no obstacle to recycling.
Naked binding also makes for a clever design choice. The exposed binding channels the raw and unpolished aesthetic more often found in indie publishing, and it feels an appropriate aesthetic for a book covering sustainability.
Casterman: vert planète
Casterman’s sustainability books for children are a triumph in eco-education – demonstrating environmentally friendly practices through both their content and production.
The four books in the series cover the topics of cycling, forests, vegetable planting and recycling.
The front spread of each book explains how it was created, detailing the sustainability at each stage of production, in an easily digestible illustration style in keeping with the rest of the book.
The QR code adds an interactive element, leading the reader to even more information about Casterman’s sustainable practices.
vert planète uses FSC-certified paper and naturally sourced glue, and the paper sizing and print run lengths were calculated to reduce waste and avoid overproduction.
Their printer, Graphius (which acquired Park in June 2022), was selected by Casterman for their impressive environmental certifications and commitment to sustainability, as well as their ability to print locally in Belgium, reducing unnecessary transport emissions.
Aptly using the french verb ‘germer’ (“to germinate or sprout”), when describing the purpose of these books, vert planète is planting the seeds of ecological consciousness in the next generation of readers.
Bonnier Books UK: The Future we Choose
Bonnier Books UK is another publisher which highlights its sustainability agenda through both the content and production of its books.
In the form of a simple paperback book, making it affordable and accessible to all, The Future We Choose describes itself as a ‘manifesto’ for positive climate action – a politically-inspired term which shows Bonnier’s refusal to shy away from this weighty topic.
The book is made entirely from environmentally certified materials, and its cover is embossed: a sustainable finishing option which uses no plastic and adds a tactile finishing touch.
Continuing their commitment to sustainability beyond the finished product, the publisher has stated that their UK marketing campaign has also been designed to be ‘as eco-friendly as possible,’ with all print campaign materials being sent using zero-waste postage and packing materials, and bookshop posters being printed on recycled paper. This clever marketing choice further solidifies the brand’s positioning, appealing to anyone looking to buy from businesses which share their sustainable values.
Tate Publishing: Walter Sickert Exhibition Book
This case-bound exhibition book for Tate’s recent Walter Sickert exhibition is just one of many books by Tate Publishing, produced sustainably in their quest to become ‘one of the world’s most sustainable art institutions.’
This impressive case bound book, as with all of Tate’s productions, uses only FSC-certified paper and card, and vegetable inks.
The images inside are printed on a high gloss, virgin fibre paper. This choice is common for art publishers thanks to virgin fibre materials’ greater smoothness, which allows them to reproduce artwork in finer detail. Recycled stocks will often be more textured – making fine detail and colours less striking.
Tate says that it chooses only suppliers which share its ethical values, and couriers which have made a definitive commitment to reducing their environmental impact.
Gary Bunt: Rooms with a View
Park recently printed Rooms with a View, an art portfolio book showcasing the works of popular British painter Gary Bunt.
This case-bound book is eye-catching and elegantly designed whilst also being sustainably produced.
As with almost all printing substrates used by Park, the papers that comprise this book are FSC-certified. The text pages are printed on Novatech Matt, which provides a luxurious feel and allows for superb image reproduction – bringing to life the distinct countryside scenes Bunt is known for.
This stock is also used for the quarter case liner, and the endpapers are Arena Smooth Extra White, printed grey.
The red foiling on the spine and in the title emboss adds an extra pop of colour to the design. Although foiling is plastic-based, and requires heat energy on press, it poses no obstacle to recycling.
Brand Nu Books: Book of Ideas and Book of Branding
Both the artwork and design choices of these books indicate that they’re intended to be kept. The volumes are PUR bound, a robust binding method which will survive repeated use as the books are referred to time and time again.
PUR binding is also considered more sustainable than perfect binding, using 70% less glue – and with the glue that is needed being easily filtered out during recycling.
These books are a pleasure to flick through, with their stimulating colours and soft-touch laminated cover, which adds a premium feel to the books. The cover is made from Galerie Satin, a high-quality, FSC-certified paper which allows for superb colour reproduction.
By supporting carbon offset projects – in this case a forest protection programme in Uganda – the production is certified climate neutral. The back covers proudly display the ClimatePartner logo, and when scanned, the QR code on the inside cover provides readers with more information about the publisher’s chosen project.
Tony’s Chocolonely: annual report
Tony’s Chocolonely has committed to making positive change in the world, as set out through the colourful graphics in their highly-designed annual reports.
They offer full transparency to their consumers about their values, goals, and achievements in working to eliminate human rights abuses and slavery in the chocolate industry. For a brand with such strong brand values, it is no surprise that their printed materials are also highly sustainable.
The report is climate neutral, and the main text is printed on the environmentally friendly Paperwise 90gsm. Paperwise materials are ecologically sourced; this paper was made of waste from sugarcane leaves and corn cobs, making its environmental impact ‘47% lower than paper made from trees and 29% lower than recycled paper.’
For this brand, sustainability is essential in everything they do. It is not only their annual reports which use sustainable papers, but their chocolate bars too. Their 180g bars are wrapped with Cocoon Offset, a 100% recycled, uncoated offset paper.
Plume de Carrotte: Le livre du climat / Le livre de la foret
Climate change can seem like an impossibly complicated subject at times, but this collection of 50 infographics makes the issue slightly less daunting for the average reader.
The books are printed on the versatile and FSC-certified Magno paper, and are case bound.
The manufacturing of the papers used is managed according to the ISO14001 standard for environmental management, and ISO50001 for energy consumption and emissions.
HarperCollins – The Hidden Life of Trees
The hidden life of trees presents a unique take on the internal life of a forest. Author Peter Wohlleben anthropomorphizes the ecosystem as functioning much like a family, with trees communicating, sharing nutrients, and supporting one another.
HarperCollins is a certified carbon neutral business, which says it’s continually striving to reduce its environmental impact. They use only responsibly sourced materials, with their paper being 99% FSC-certified and 1% PEFC-certified.
They also use their platform, including the books and authors they choose to publish, to advocate for climate action. This book is just one of those published by HarperCollins which encourages education about the natural world, and environmental issues.
With many sustainably printed books, content and design works in harmony to demonstrate their publishers’ commitment to working in eco-friendly ways.
In all industries, consumers increasingly expect to be informed about the products they are buying. With dedicated pages within their books and websites, and QR codes leading to more information, these publishers are striving to educate their audiences, and win customers who share their values.
A common feature in all areas of print production is the use of plastic-based bindings and finishings. Plastic-based binding glues are practically unavoidable in productions over 64 pages long. Plastic finishes, such as foiling, on front covers can arguably be swapped out for paper-only creative options. The clear popularity of foiling in this collection may reflect the publishers’ acknowledgement that most print is safely recycled when no longer used.
As brands increasingly prioritise transparency around sustainability, perhaps the next step for publishers is to provide fuller information about different aspects of their production, with more education on how to recycle their books properly when no longer needed.
Read more about our sustainable book printing services here. See more thought leadership, resources, and advice on the Park blog.