Buying new books is always a joy for me, I love them. In recent years I’ve been better and been buying more and more from charity shops, off eBay and Green Metropolis. However they’re still printed on new paper – very few are printed on recycled material.
Raz Godelnik has recognised this and wants to do something about it. His new company Eco-Libris lets you balance out buying a new book by paying online and getting a tree planted for each book – and a sticker to prove it.
Life Goggles wanted to find out more so contacted Raz and arranged an interview, and he turned out to be very knowledgeable, passionate and eloquent. He even gave us a special offer for Life Goggles readers – balance out 10 or more books and receive a 15% discount until the end of 2007. Click here for more details. Anyway, on with the interview.
Life Goggles: Tell us a little about yourself and where the idea came from?
Raz: I’m the co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris. I spent a few years in financial management and business development positions and also served as an advisor to the Israeli Minister of the Interior. Afterwards, I co-founded Hemper Jeans (www.hemperjeans.com), an eco-fashion jeans company focusing on producing fashionable jeans made of hemp, and now I’m with Eco-Libris. I also write on green business for the second-largest newspaper in Israel (Maariv).
I live in Newark, DE with my wife Peleg and in my scarce leisure time, I like playing soccer, watch old episodes of Seinfeld and read books.
The idea to establish Eco-Libris started when I was thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (from the use of recycled paper to e-books) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about it.
The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only about 5% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet an online eco-friendly alternative (e-book), like newspapers and magazines. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t really avoid purchasing a paper-made version of it, unless you go to the library or get it from websites like BookCrossing or BookMooch, which are all excellent choices. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, so it seemed to me only natural to give book lovers a new alternative to green up their reading – planting trees for the books they read.
Are there other sites doing what you do? How do you differ?
As far as I know we’re the only ones who provide this unique offer. Of course, there are many organizations and websites that offer to plant trees, but we’re more than just about planting trees – we see ourselves as an agent of change that aims to raise awareness, make reading more sustainable and become a voice of all the eco-conscious readers out there, pushing the industry further to be greener and print books in an eco-friendly manner.
How did you choose your planting partners?
Our three planting partners are US-and-UK-based, non-profit organisations working in developing countries for the benefit of both the environment and local communities in these countries. They are working in regions where deforestation is a crucial problem (Latin America and Africa, which are the two regions that are losing their forests at the highest rate, according to the State of the World’s Forests 2007), and where the trees planted provide many local people with opportunities for a better future. All of our partners are committed to sustainable practices as well to working closely with local communities to ensure the success of planting operations.
Our planting partners were chosen after an extensive and in-depth selection process led by Gili Koniak, Eco-Libris’ environmental and natural resources expert. We made sure that the planting partners we work with are not only respectable organizations, but also organizations with proven know-how in planting the right trees in the right areas. The process included review of many criteria to ensure the quality of the plantings such as the specific species that are planted, locations of planting, mixed forest, usage of native species, monitoring and management plans of the plantings etc.
How do you ensure the treees planted continue to thrive and grow? There’s been some criticism of these schemes.
To verify that all aspects of the planting are been handled properly, we are working closely with the organisations we selected as planting partners. To demonstrate this to our customers, a full annual assessment of the planting projects will be conducted and published on our website every year. In any case, we tried to avoid such issues in the first place by choosing only highly respected organizations we know our customers can trust.
We also added some other measures to make sure our customers receive the best value for their money. For example, since not all trees survive during their growth, we plant 1.3 trees for every tree our customers pay for– that means, 13 trees will be planted when you pay for 10 trees. This measure was calculated in accordance with the organisations’ statistics, and this way we significantly increase the chance that at least 10 trees will actually mature and live happily ever after.
Much of the criticism was because of two issues – firstly, the way some of the programs effect the local communities. As I mentioned earlier, we chose only partners that work in full collaboration with local communities to ensure these communities will benefit from the planting operations. The communities’ involvement is very important to the success of these programs and especially to the stages that follow the planting – the management and the monitoring of the planting sites.
The second issue is the ability of trees to absorb carbon dioxide. We think new trees have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide and store it, but all in all our approach is similar to the approach of UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme), which sees the overall benefits and significance of planting trees, on both environmental and social levels, and do not concentrate only on the issue of carbon absorption. That’s the concept behind the Billion Tree Campaign initiated by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wangari Maathai (the campaign, by the way, also featured us on their website.
Offsetting in general is criticised. How do you respond to that?
I think that offsetting is just one of many ways available to people and organizations to help the environment. I believe that first and foremost we all need to look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. After we did whatever we could to decrease our impact on the environment, I think offsetting is a legitimate tool to take care of the rest and in any case it’s much better than doing nothing. Still, customers should always check what they’re offered by these programs and to make sure they receive the best value for money.