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Israeli initiative – Plant a tree for every book

Posted By Tania Hershman On October 21, 2007 @ 12:30 pm In | No Comments

From the Eco-libris website, the eco-concerned reader chooses how many books to offset, from five to 500, or more, and buys the commensurate number of Eco-libris stickers for $1 each.Hundreds of thousands of new books are published every year and, despite attempts to take the book into the digital age, readers still want to turn real pages. It’s the environment that suffers, with the loss of the millions of trees that are cut down to make the paper – 20 million trees for books published every year in the United States alone. However, a group of young Israeli eco-entrepreneurs based in Israel and America has a strategy for how to give a little back.

Carbon ‘offsetting’ is the new environmental trend of taking action to balance out the damage we do to the environment by our greenhouse gas emissions – whether it be by flying, driving a car or using electricity. Websites like TerraPass and Climate Care calculate your “carbon footprint” – how much carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere by your lifestyle – and then, for a certain price, will offset that amount of carbon. Most of the offsetting is done by planting trees, but also by funding companies that are working on clean energy solutions, such as wind and solar power.

Israeli ‘green’ organization Eco-libris saw a gap in the market: what about books? None of the offsetting websites took books into account when calculating the carbon footprint.

“[Our CEO], Raz [Godelnik], came up with the idea that if something can be offset, let’s do it for books,” says Oren Entin, the company’s online marketing manager.

“It was beautiful,” enthuses Entin, who is sitting in his backyard in a small town in the north of Israel. “It was very easy to start, easy to create a website, and we took on some more people who had the right credentials so people could see that we were doing it right.”

Credentials are vital to be taken seriously in the environmental business, and while Israel is not famous in the world for its green thinking, Eco-libris’ Israeli founders, who are in their mid-30s, have always been concerned and active in environmental issues. CEO Godelnik, who holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University, now lives in Delaware, and writes on the connection between ecology and the economy for online publications.

His eco-entrepreneurial skills were initially exercised with the first company he co-founded, together with Entin, in 2004 – Hemper Jeans. Their product – jeans made from hemp – is due to unveil its first collection when they find a partner or investor.

Godelnik and Entin then brought in Gili Koniak, who is studying for a PhD in plant ecology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has a B.Sc. in Agricultural Economics, as the company’s environmental and natural resource advisor. Eylon Israely, based in California and with a decade’s experience in online business, is in charge of business development, and Gilad Ness-Berlin, who previously worked at the Israeli Ministry of Finance and runs technology consulting firm Berlin Technologies, completes the team as business management advisor.

Eco-libris is not a non-profit organization, but is instead part of a new trend of ‘green business’, which, according to the Eco-libris website “is committed to do good and do well at the same time. We believe it’s possible and it’s the best way to get results for the benefit of our customers, the environment, local communities in developing countries where the trees are planted and the operation as a whole.”

What Eco-Libris does is very simple: they plant a tree for every book. From their website’s home page, the eco-concerned reader chooses how many books to offset, from five to 500, or more, and buys the commensurate number of Eco-libris stickers (which are partially recycled and printed in the US) for $1 each.

The sticker, which declares that ‘one tree was planted for this book’ “is necessary,” says Entin. “We saw that people want proof, something tangible. This differentiates Eco-libris from others organizations who just say ‘Come and give us your money’.”

The company, which was set up a year ago under the auspices of Redwood Visions, Israely’s California-based consulting firm, only began offering its services at the end of May.

“It was a long process, seven or eight months, of checking all the different organizations that plant trees,” Entin told ISRAEL21c. “We researched 26 organizations, we wanted an organization that plants trees ecologically and also helps the community. We looked all over the world, mainly in third world countries. We told them we want to build long term relationships with them.”

Eco-libris settled on three ‘planting partners’: two in Central America – Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, and The Alliance for International Reforestation which works in Guatemala and Nicaragua – which has lost half its rainforests in the last 50 years, and RIPPLE Africa, based in Malawi, where an area of forest the size of a football pitch is cut down every 10 minutes.

“All these organizations work with local people and even help private individuals to look after the land better,” says Entin.

In terms of persuading consumers, Eco-libris’ primary target market is the US, where people already have some measure of environmental awareness. But a German-language version of the website is being planned, and anyone can purchase stickers through the website, which ships them for free. Since the launch in May, some 4,200 stickers have been sold from the company’s website and 5,400 trees planted (1.3 trees are actually planted per book, to compensate for a small percentage that won’t survive). The company’s goal is to balance out half a million books by the end of 2008, and to this end Eco-libris is looking to collaborate with publishers and authors, bookstores and book clubs. In August, Chegg.com, a student marketplace and textbook rental service, Textbookflix.com announced it would ensure that a tree is planted every time a textbook is rented.

Of course, collaboration with an online bookstore giant such as Amazon.com would be an enormous boost, but, says Entin, Eco-libris is waiting until they have built up some momentum before they look for partnerships on the larger scale. Offsetting new books before they are published and including an Eco-libris logo on the book jacket is another idea that the company is trying to push.

The ideal, though, is to cut down less trees – and make books from recycled paper. After it was heavily criticized by green groups when, according to Greenpeace, the initial 10.8 million-copy print run of the sixth installment of the Harry Potter books used up almost 220,000 mature trees, Potter publisher Scholastic went greener with the seventh and final installment, released this July: the British edition was printed on 100% “ancient-forest-friendly” pulp, while the American edition was printed on partly recycled and sustainable paper. Harry Potter’s Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books, is way ahead – it began printing the books on 100% recycled paper in 2003.

Another example is the book that accompanies the film The Inconvenient Truth by this year’s Nobel peace prize laureate, Al Gore, which is the first “carbon-neutral” book, meaning that all greenhouse gases produced in the making of it were offset.

However, these examples stand out because they are unique. There is still a long way to go before recycled and carbon-neutral books become the industry standard. Eco-libris is hoping that it can play its part and stimulate others to join in so that a good book is something both the reader and the environment can benefit from.