Rethinking Paper and Ink

My Role
  • concept
  • grant proposal writing (collaborative)
  • research
  • copywriting (collaborative)
  • book interior design
  • layout and typesetting
  • printer liaison

A sustainably-published book about sustainable publishing. (Ooh, so meta.)

Rethinking Paper & Ink: The Sustainable Publishing Revolution was a unique project for me, as I was involved in every aspect of its creation, from the initial crazy-idea phase, through funding, research and development, writing and editing, design and production, and, finally, distribution. It was a fast, ambitious project, impossible to do without the incredible energy and talents put in by my colleagues and mentors at Ooligan Press.

Conception, Research, and Writing

Melissa Brumer and I conceived of this project and wrote a grant proposal for it in about five days.

After learning that Portland State had some money to distribute to students for sustainability-related projects, Melissa and I decided that the only natural thing for publishing students to do was to make a book about sustainable publishing, and publish it as sustainably as we could with as much transparency as possible (without boring our readers into a coma).

After winning Miller Grant funding through Portland State University, we researched, wrote, and produced the book in five months, then delivered one thousand copies to colleagues, publishers, printers, designers, and students throughout the country.

Because of the extremely tight timeline for this project, we were researching production options and best practices for sustainable publishing concurrently, and were able to include our production process in the text of the book.

We learned as we went and wrote as we learned. The book that we and Ooligan created demonstrated its own message:

  1. The issue of sustainability is complicated, so much more than using recycled paper and non-petroleum-based inks.
  2. Producing a book "sustainable" book is possible! And pretty!

While Melissa took charge of the technical parts of our text, explaining the life cycle of a book, and addressing triple-bottom-line sustainability for each phase, I focused on researching and writing about the design and production of this book specifically, researching paper companies in the Pacific Northwest, calling local printers to badger them about the washes the use to clean their presses, and discovering which ink companies source their soy beans from the US, and which bring in soy grown in the Amazon. It was all very glamorous.

Design and Production

Design is problem-solving, and the basic "problems" that need solving in most book design are at the intersection of aesthetics and accessibility. Since a book is meant to be read and comprehended, the designer's goal is to make the book appealing aesthetically while presenting the material in a sensible way.

The first edition of Rethinking Paper & Ink was printed and bound locally in Portland, Oregon on 100%-PCW recycled stock by Pinball Publishing, its sturdy chipboard cover sporting this pitch-perfect design by Kelley Dodd.

I made careful decisions in all aspects of the production of Rethinking Paper & Ink, considering everything from the US-grown soy-based inks and the solvents used to clean the offset printing press, to the size of the margins, size of the type, and the environmental policies of the paper manufacturer in Washington state.

Wanting to minimize paper waste during printing and binding, we teamed up with our printer early on to get the lowdown on optimal dimensions for their machines. Knowing our budget and paper stock selection, we determined that 5"x7" was the perfect trim size for this book. The printers started with a 17"x22" press sheet, which yielded 16 pages per sheet, eight on each side. Our 64-page book, then, was comprised of four 16-page signatures, each sheet passing through the offset press twice. Using whole signatures means less waste, which mission-critical.

I used Rethinking Paper & Ink to showcase EcoFont, a sans serif typeface by the Dutch firm SPRANQ that has "holes" in its letterforms. Designed to extend the life of toner cartridges, EcoFont uses 20% less ink than comparable faces, such as Verdana, on which it was based. At small sizes you'll never miss the ink.
I used Rethinking Paper & Ink to showcase EcoFont, a sans serif typeface by the Dutch firm SPRANQ that has "holes" in its letterforms. Designed to extend the life of toner cartridges, EcoFont uses 20% less ink than comparable faces, such as Verdana, on which it was based. At small sizes you'll never miss the ink.

OpenBook Environmental Audit

Avoiding "greenwashing" and remaining transparent was very important to us in this project, and a big tool in keeping us honest with ourselves and our audience was the OpenBook Environmental Audit that we put in the frontmatter of Rethinking Paper & Ink, and later in all of the titles in Ooligan's OpenBook series. The audit shares the best information we had about the environmental impact of the book's production, covering text and cover paper, inks, and coatings, binding glues, and shipping.

First Audit: Created for Rethinking Paper & Ink, the first OpenBook Audit was a simple prose document in the frontmatter, disclosing the environmental impacts of our run of 1,000 books.
This is the audit I designed for Ooligan's Cataclysms on the Columbia. I worked hard to include even more information and make it much easier to read and understand.

Audits such as these can be effective marketing material for the right audience. It takes guts, though; you may have to admit that your bindery glues are made of nasties, but you get to brag about the water savings you achieved using post-consumer recycled papers.


Rethinking Paper & Ink was the first and most comprehensive printed publication to tackle sustainability for publishers.

We were honored to win Sustainable Design awards from both Pubwest and BookBuilders West (now Publishing Professionals Network).

There is no formula for printing and publishing sustainably; each project has unique needs and constraints. Our book is a guide for publishers small and large, who want to explore best practices in sustainability in the industry.

Second Edition

Our first version of was so fun to make—and so well-received—that Melissa and I began making plans for its expansion as soon as the first edition was out the door.

Our successors in managing Sustainability Team at Ooligan Press, Natalie Guidry and Jessicah Carver, expanded our text. In 2011 Ooligan released the expanded version as a trade paperback in their OpenBook Series, which was adopted as an sustainability guide at Macmillan Publishers.

Rethinking Paper & Ink [2011] is the first truly comprehensive assessment of the book industry's environmental impact. As publishers grapple with how to make publishing a more sustainable enterprise, this is a superb, must-read resource. 

Margo Baldwin, President and Publisher, Chelsea Green

If you're interested in sustainable publishing generally, I recommend looking into the Green Press Initiative, The Book Industry Environmental Council, and, of course, getting your hands on Rethinking Paper & Ink, perhaps through Indiebound or Amazon.

I also highly recommend Green Graphic Design by Brian Dougherty (Indiebound // Amazon) and SustainAble: a handbook of materials and applications for graphic designers and their clients by Aaris Sherin (Indiebound // Amazon).