If you’ve been publishing with Lulu for a while, you know we’re not shy about talking about our B Corp status. But it’s definitely been a minute since we’ve brought it up.
To recap–In 2002, Lulu made publishing available to everyone through the use of print-on-demand technology that enables authors to publish and distribute their work to readers around the world. From the very beginning, Lulu had two goals: to free authors from publishing constraints and to do so in an eco-friendly manner. These goals are important to us because we are all passionate about sustaining the Earth and we want to help make the world better than it was yesterday. How can we do that? By using sustainable production methods that are good for authors while still being good for the world.
To ensure we’re making a positive impact on the world, we first got certified as a B Corp in 2016. But what does it mean to be a B Corp and why does it matter? What exactly makes us a B Corp? Before we get into all the B Corp stuff, let’s take a peek at how publishing impacts our planet.
How Does Publishing Impact Our Planet?
What’s the first thing you think about when you hear the word ‘publishing’? My mind goes straight to one thing: paper. And it’s a lot of paper. 32 million trees worth of paper a year in the United States alone, to be precise. While the production of paper for book printing has significant environmental implications, publishing’s environmental impact is complex and goes beyond the blank page.
Let’s look at some numbers.
According to UNESCO, there are more than 2 million books printed each year in the US alone. On top of that, producing books emit over 40 million tons of CO2 each year. Paper manufacturing is the third-largest user of fossil fuels worldwide: they require significant amounts of oil and gas at different phases of their process of turning trees into books.
Waste In The Traditional Publishing Industry
Traditional publishing produces a LOT more books than it sells. It is an industry that historically prints thousands of copies of books before any of them are bought. Large publishers have the budget to create high-volume initial print runs of their titles if they want to. Sometimes, retailers will be left with a surplus of copies of books that haven’t sold as expected. This “print and pray” approach involves an unnecessary risk because of the large capital expenditure involved in offset print runs for publishers. Not to mention, it creates massive waste potential. In fact, 40% of all books printed by traditional publishers go unsold. Retailers will pulp these unsold books. Hundreds of millions of books. All are printed, shipped, shelved, returned, and pulped each year.
So, what happens to unsold books? To save shipping costs, rather than returning unsold copies of books to the publisher, retailers will often simply tear off the covers of their unsold copies and send these back to prove those books didn’t sell. The remainders of the books may end up being sent to be recycled (which consumes even more energy on top of the energy spent to produce the book in the first place) or, even worse, simply dumped in landfills.
How can self-publishing offset the waste of the traditional publishing industry? By producing our books on demand, there’s no excess inventory going to waste.
The best part about using print-on-demand technology is no inventory! Content creators can avoid the hassles of stocking books. There is never any warehousing of books, cutting down on emissions from storage facilities.
Recycled Paper Is Not That Green
The use of recycled paper for interior quality paper is not actually that “green” as it requires the use of a lot of chemical bleaching to get it back to a usable brightness. Instead, using paper sourced under a chain of custody scheme such as FSC or PEFC is more effective as it means that the paper used can be traced back to a forest that is run sustainably.
All the papers we use are FSC or PEFC accredited:
What is a B Corp?
In short, B Corps are for-profit companies that don’t just talk the talk. They uphold the highest level of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. All certified B Corps are vetted by the non-profit B Lab and must achieve an impact assessment score of at least 80 of 200 points.
Why Does Being A B Corp Matter To Us?
Lulu’s original intent was to remove barriers to publishing so that all authors could tell their story and profit from their knowledge. Little did we know the print-on-demand knowledge. Little did we know, the print-on-demand business model we developed would eventually save millions and millions of trees from being turned into books no one wanted.Lulu founder, Bob Young
Lulu is the first online publishing company to achieve B Corp status.
We harness the power of business while observing higher standards of performance, transparency, and accountability, all done to solve social and environmental problems.
Customers are becoming more thoughtful and sometimes skeptical about their purchases. We embrace the skeptics because our business is on a solid foundation for doing good. The third-party certification verifies that we live by our words.
Our B Corp status is important to us because it creates a bar we must maintain. And more than that, it allows us to measure our commitment and impact against nationally recognized metrics.
How Are We A B Corp?
You might be scratching your head right about now, how can a publishing company be a B Corp? Publishing and sustainability… the irony, I know. We discussed earlier how publishing impacts our planet. But publishing can be sustainable. And becoming a B Corp is no easy task. Our impact assessment is measured on a variety of scales, from our community impact to the energy we consume.
To achieve B Corp Certification, businesses must prove they are good for:
- The community
- The environment
- The long-term
- To the core (establishing an innovative business model)
Let’s look at a variety of different factors that helped us achieve our B Corp status.
Making our product in the most efficient and conscientious method possible has always been a priority for Lulu. Luckily when it comes to printing books, the products that make the best books also tend to be the most environmentally friendly. We start with acid-free paper. To ensure neutral or basic PH levels, the paper is made from cellulose fiber and infused with water. This process creates a paper impervious to the rigors of time. Since the 1980s, acid-free has been the standard for printing paper and Lulu is proud to use only acid-free paper at all of our printers. Using this standard in the archivable paper isn’t a big leap for Lulu (in fact, most book printers will use this kind of paper) but it is one more way we strive for the best and most efficient products possible. Every small step is done consciously with our goals in mind to make the world a better place.
Lulu’s business model prevents the horrendous waste of natural resources thanks to print-on-demand technology, ensuring our books have the smallest carbon footprint possible. Books ordered from the Lulu bookstore are printed when they are purchased and we use certified sustainable paper products that are shipped directly from the printer to the buyer. Being a print-on-demand company eliminates the need to maintain a huge inventory of books.
Digital printing and print-on-demand are inherently green because we are only producing what is required. Lulu never prints books before they are bought and paid for, this differs from the traditional method of offset printing. Printing on-demand enables Lulu’s network of printers to conserve paper and ink while still ensuring your book is always available to potential readers.
Our print partners are also the best of the best with a 0.5% defect rate, meaning there are very few books printed by Lulu that don’t end up in the hands of readers.
Supply chain is another factor that helps us stay sustainable. This is what a life cycle of a traditionally published book looks like:
- Printed at a print facility
- Trucked to a shortage location/hub
- Products shipped in smaller quantities to individual stores
- Customers drive to the store to purchase
- Unsold books are trucked to a storage location/hub
Even for a mass-produced book sold online, there is a similar cycle of transportation and storage at hub facilities prior to the book being packed and shipped to the reader.
Now look at that versus the life cycle of a print on demand book:
- Printed at a print facility
- Shipped directly to the reader
We’ll never completely eliminate the supply chain, but we can do our best day to keep that chain short and clean.
Lulu 2018 Transparency Report
To learn more about our impact and what makes us a B Corp, check out our 2018 Transparency Report.
Why It’s Important To Support B Corp Companies?
Lulu is a business run by humans to help other humans create and share their content. Lulu may not directly cure diseases or end world hunger, but we can amplify the voices of authors who take on these difficult issues. Whether it’s talking about issues of social justice or raising awareness, businesses should take a stance.
Choosing Lulu means you are an advocate for environmental and social change, you believe in the power of for-profit businesses that do good. So spread the word that you are part of this great B Corp family, you hang out with the likes of Lulu, Etsy, Dr. Bronner’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and many more. Support awesome B Corps in your area. There are all sorts of ways to change the world. Your relationship with Lulu, whether you’re an author, reader, or admirer from afar, is a declaration to the world that you support purpose-driven business. You are some of our most important stakeholders. The books you create and read with Lulu and our sustainable print-on-demand technology are better for the environment and help us all.
Naveen is a Social Media Specialist at Lulu which basically translates to being paid to spend time on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tik Tok, and Twitter. When she’s not focused on brainstorming content ideas for Lulu, you’ll find her cooking up a snazzy skincare recipe in her room.