Trees to Books and Back Again

Recycled Paper Saving Forests

The first ever “tree clause” in a book contract allows environmentally minded authors to symbolically replace the trees used in the printing of their works.

Harper & Row in San Francisco developed the clause at the request of Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead music group, for his book, Drumming at the Edge of Magic. To research the book — a history of ancient musical and rhythmic customs — Hart traveled extensively and became concerned about the environment — rain forests in particular.

sustainable palm oil fraud

Hart approached Harper’s, asking if the publisher would be willing to plant as many trees as were felled to produce the paper for his book. Harper’s not only agreed, but also offered to double the number of trees.

The first printing of 50,000 copies of the book represented 45 tons of paper. Quick calculations revealed that 765 trees would meet their demise. With additional printings of the book, the number of trees planted is now well over 2,000.

Harper’s does not actually plant the trees, but donates the funds to the Rainforest Action Network, which has tree-planting programs in place in the rain forests of Central and South America.

“Although the paper used for book production obviously does not come from rain forest trees, we see this action as a powerful symbol of the responsibility we all share for replenishing resources for the sake of future generations,” said Clayton Carlson, senior vice president and publisher at Harper’s in San Francisco.

Since the publishing of Hart’s book last year, Harper’s has made an optional “tree clause” available to all authors entering into book contracts. The provision states the company will plant one tree in the rain forest for every tree the author agrees to fund, based on the number of trees used in the production of the book.

More than a dozen authors already have taken the publisher up on the offer. Hart’s next book, Planet Drum, due out this fall, also will take advantage of the new clause.

Carlson, calling the effort more of an earnest attempt to make a statement than an economic investment, said he hopes this author/publisher concept will catch on in the industry.

Earth Tip: Approximately one acre of healthy, fast-growing forest can absorb 1.4 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

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