Edelweiss Everlasting: Building a Greener Book World

Book people believe in the potential of books to make the world a better place and, at Edelweiss, we are definitely book people. 

As part of this, we are committed to developing products that further ongoing efforts to build a more sustainable book world. The book industry plays a transformative role in our society, and the adoption of environmentally responsible practices will expand this impact and help it endure into the future.

Here are some ways we are working to build a greener book world.

Electronic proofs that reduce waste

The total carbon footprint of the publishing industry is an estimated 12.4 million metric tons CO2, or around 2.7-3.0 kg CO2 per book. According to the UK's BIC organization (Book Industry Communication), who has invested in developing and promoting green standards for the industry, publishers can make the greatest change by examining the sustainability of their book supply chain.

One area of waste and inefficiency? The production and delivery of advance reader copies, or proofs.

These advance copies are generated using smaller, less efficient print runs and are typically sent out in a series of individual packages from a publisher’s office, compounding the emissions generated as they are shared. And, for a variety of reasons, many of these books never reach people who will actually read them. To this end, the Booksellers Association (BA) in the UK called on publishers in their Green Bookselling Manifesto to cease sending unsolicited proofs.

Going digital is a way for publishers to reduce their reliance on printed proofs, inspection copies, or advance copies. Edelweiss hosts publishers’ digital proofs (DRCs) connected to their titles and catalogues already active on the platform. Publishers can either respond to requests for access or proactively share DRCs with book professionals, such as booksellers or librarians. In the process, they gain a far greater and more relevant readership than printed proofs could ever—for a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, DRCs can be read directly within Edelweiss via our web-based Reader. This not only eliminates the need for resource-heavy physical readers but also encourages the most influential reviewers and buyers to open them with a single click.

Analytics that cut down on returns

In their Green Bookselling Manifesto, the BA also invited publishers to review with them “the inherently wasteful returns process.” While some returns are inevitable, smarter ordering can make a real difference. If publishers can better connect booksellers with titles they can and will sell, this will cut down on the number of books being sent back.

One way that publishers can work towards these smarter connections is by adopting a more data-driven sales process, which is why Edelweiss developed its Publisher Analytics.

Over 700 independent booksellers from across the US and 300 indies from across the UK and ROI submit their ePOS data to us daily, and our Analytics module gives publishers access to this real-time on-hand, on-order, and sales data for their titles. Sales reps can dig into each of their accounts to see which of their books are successful at a particular shop, whether the stock levels look right, and how types of titles perform at that location. With this deeper understanding of shop profiles, reps can better collaborate with buyers to make informed decisions, selecting the new titles most likely to fit a shop’s collection and sell, resulting in a lower rate of costly and wasteful returns.

Publishers can take advantage of Analytics internally too, using it to support decision-making about publishing effectively or re-printing to meet the needs of this key sector. They can also closely track title activity. For example, when a key title has just been released, the whole publishing team can immediately (and daily) check the sales and stock levels, both in total and at individual shops.

Analytics is also available to shops, helping with the balance of stock by category and suggesting relevant proven sellers at other indies. It also fuels the historical data for comparable titles in Edelweiss, meaning both reps and buyers can make better decisions about new titles based on actual sales, further helping to cut returns created by over-selling.

Digital pollution management

While building tools to aid publishers with their sustainability efforts, we also are turning an eye to the environmental impact of our own operations so publishers can feel confident that our services fully align with their environmental goals.

The manufacturing and running of digital technologies generates an estimated 1.6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. For our part, in the month of March, the equivalent CO2 usage of the services used to power Edelweiss amounted to 1.7747 metric tons. This figure includes storage plus the development and testing we perform to iterate on the site.

In terms of books, our carbon footprint is equivalent to about 623 print copies per month. We are committed to exploring solutions for our storage and operations that reduce this figure. In the past year, we have made adjustments to our data retention policies that saw a reduction in our carbon emissions. We are currently at work developing more efficiency in our technical infrastructure, and the mitigation of this digital pollution remains a top priority in this undertaking.

Final thoughts

At Edelweiss, we are named after a mountain-loving white flower. Most people know it from The Sound of Music, but edelweiss also inspired one of the first environmental protection laws in Europe. During the mid-nineteenth century, souvenir-seeking tourists in the Alps threatened the plant with extinction via over-picking. In 1878, the canton of Obwalden placed edelweiss under protection and banned people from digging up its roots.

Our namesake’s place in the history of environmentalism affirms our commitment to sustainability. This extends not just to the products we offer but to the impact of our operations. We are excited to contribute to the movement building a greener future for all book lovers.

This post was originally published on the Bookmachine blog and is reproduced with edits here.