Comic Books and the Environment
Maxeem Konrady loved comic books. He loved them so much, in fact, he decided to become an artist, and began pursuing Fine Arts in Comics degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. During his junior year, he took a class on sustainability called Graphic Design for the 21st Century: As If Life Matters. He found what he learned about comics, and the publishing industry generally, to be “devastating.”
The problem is paper. Comic books, like all periodicals, are printed on it, and the paper-making process is an ecologically ugly one. An enormous consumer of energy and resources, the paper industry is the number one industrial process water user in the country , and according to the EPA’s 2004 Toxic Release Inventory, the third-worst contributor of air emissions among all industries, and the fourth worst in discharges to streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Its production of greenhouse gases, though, is perhaps the most disturbing. The paper industry is the fourth-largest producer of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming as it depletes the very trees that stave it off.“The paper industry is one of the single most serious threats to our clean air, our habitat and our water because it’s so stubbornly ingrained,” Konrady said.
Although disheartened by the paper use of the publishing industry, Konrady remained committed to his dream of becoming a comic book artist.
“I knew I could make a book that eliminat[ed] the waste and the dangerous chemical production that goes into a typical book. I decided that I wanted to see how hard it was.”
The answer: Not that hard. He located a printer who offered more ecologically friendly alternatives, and produced a comic with vegetable-based inks on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, bleached with oxygen instead of chlorine. The impact of using alternative materials is significant: using recycled paper not only saves trees, it also conserves energy and natural resources, using only 60 percent as much energy , reducing water pollution by 35 percent, and air pollution by 74 percent . Not to mention keeping paper products out of landfills, where they account for almost 40 percent of all municipal solid waste .
It’s difficult to convince publishers to make any change that increases costs, particularly if the benefits are not obvious.
Still, Konrady believes comic book publishers can make the switch in a practical way, particularly if they find a way to market the change to consumers.
He is betting on the consciences of the other powerful people in the comic book industry: fans. The comic book community was one of the major reasons that Weissman and his organization originally turned their attention to the medium.
“Comic book fans are people that talk to each other, that have strong feelings about their comics books [and] intense interest in all aspects of the product.”
So, are fans concerned?
“A very impressive percentage” of the 1000+ people he interviewed expressed concern over the ecological impact of their hobby. “No one is happy to have to pay more money, but the majority of comic book buyers would be willing to pay more.”
Nobody expects the comic book companies to be heroes, to sacrifice or even to especially inconvenience themselves. Businesses have to weigh bottom lines against ideals, costs against benefits, and so do the consumers who may end up paying for it. In the end, we all need to decide what is important to us, and what we are willing to sacrifice for it.
Companies are always going to prioritize the bottom line over idealism, while idealists do the opposite, but if faced with the choice between minimal sacrifices versus clear-cut forests, polluted water, and global warming, perhaps we can expect them to at least consider doing what they can, especially when the cost of indifference seems so much higher than the cost of responsibility.
More information, including resources and guides for high-volume purchasers, is available at http://greenpressinitiative.org, environmentalpaper.org, conservatree.org, and fscus.org.
Read the entire article here.