Eco-Conscious Efforts in Effect at Independent Bookstores From Coast to Coast

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In celebration of this year’s Earth Day on Monday, April 22, Chris Morrow of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, and Saratoga Springs, New York; Tom Beans of Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe, in Bend, Oregon; and Kristen Eaton of Phoenix Books in Vermont offered advice on how indie bookstores nationwide can incorporate eco-conscious practices into their stores year-round.

Northshire Bookstore

Green initiatives are important to Northshire on multiple levels, said Morrow. “Everyone needs to get on board with living as if the future matters. We have major challenges to face and we all need to be a part of the solution,” he said, noting that going green can also help bookstores save money.

Currently, Northshire incorporates recycling, energy-efficient lighting, rooftop solar panels, and efficient insulation, as well as a section of books devoted to sustainability as an in-store effort to promote eco-conscious practices.

As part of this year’s Earth Day celebration, Northshire will host environmentalist Bill McKibben to discuss his book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (Henry Holt and Co.) as well as a seed giveaway, among other activities. Morrow noted that every year, Northshire makes a point to get “green” authors for Earth Day.

Morrow suggested that booksellers looking to incorporate eco-conscious practices into their stores start with the things that will help to save money — primarily lighting: “Most utilities have or can direct you to a program that subsidizes or even pays for retrofits that will increase the efficiency of your lights (going to LED) and save a lot in electricity.”

Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe

“The book industry hasn’t exactly been known as green-friendly, and I think it’s time we start to change that,” said Beans. “Wilderness and outdoor activities are the prime drivers of a huge tourism business, and so many of our customers are already aware of these issues. I feel like it’s our responsibility to reflect those values and try to take the lead here in our retail community to address them as best as we can.”

Dudley’s, which became the first bookstore to partner with 1% for the Planet last month, incorporates a number of green practices into both its bookstore and cafe. In the cafe, Beans said that they are currently switching over to both high post-consumer recycled content and compostable cups and lids, as well as paper straws. Dudley’s also saves as many shipping boxes as possible to give away to customers in need for free, in addition to reusing publisher packing materials whenever possible.

Like Morrow, Beans also noted that booksellers should consider starting their transition to greener practices with the lighting in their store.

“From a utilities perspective,” Beans said, “we switched out every halogen bulb to LEDs. It was tough to absorb that cost up front, but they paid for themselves in the first year with over $1,000 in savings on our electric bill. In the next few months, we plan on switching to a ‘smart’ thermostat system to further reduce our heating and cooling costs and impacts.”

Additionally, Beans said, the city of Bend has a plastic bag ban going into effect this summer, but he still urges his booksellers to rethink their verbiage at the cash register. “We make it a point to ask ‘Do you need a bag?’ instead of ‘Can I get you a bag?’” he said. “Even that small tweak has cut down on the number of bags we use.”

“Start looking at every bit of waste you produce,” Beans advised booksellers. “How can you cut down or reuse/repurpose that waste? How can you increase reuse and recycling versus just sending things to a landfill? Look at your vendors and ask them questions — how and where do they source their product? Do they practice sustainability or are they taking steps to address their own issues? It does take some time to figure out and sometimes costs a bit more, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Beans also recommended a few titles on sustainability for booksellers to check out: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin Books), edited by Paul Hawken, will, “show you both the environmental costs and opportunities associated with every facet of our businesses and our lives,” Beans said, and Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman (Penguin Books) by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, will, “give you a roadmap for how an ethical and sustainable company can thrive in our increasingly polarized and fragile world.”

Phoenix Books

Eaton, the events and publicity manager for Phoenix Books’ four locations, said that when it comes to green initiatives, Phoenix references a saying by food justice and sustainability advocate Anna Lappe: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

“We figure that if we want to live in a vibrant, resilient, sustainable world, we’d better take what actions we can to make that happen,” said Eaton. “A healthy environment is good for the global community, and also good for our local communities here in Vermont. We see doing our best to be part of the solution as a way to give back to our customers and community members.”

On January 1, 2018, Phoenix stopped using single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter, Eaton said, and instead began offering customers the options of recycled/reusable paper bags as well as reusable totes sold at or below cost. Phoenix has also chosen energy-efficient lighting during build-outs for recent expansions.

The store also partners with a number of eco-friendly organizations in its community. “In addition to our ongoing partnership with Vermont Foodbank,” Eaton said, “just this month we’ve partnered with SunCommon, a local B corporation and Vermont-based installer of residential solar power systems, to host discussions of Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.”

For Independent Bookstore Day, Eaton added, Phoenix will work with Vermont Wild author Megan Price to raise money to benefit orphaned bear cubs at the Kilham Bear Center.

Eaton suggested that booksellers looking to go green should start small: “Sometimes the challenge of sustainability can seem overwhelming, but even asking customers if a bag would be helpful [rather than automatically providing them with one] can decrease the number of disposable bags used,” she said. “We’ve also loved working with ChicoBags. These durable, reusable bags fold up into a package that easily fits in a purse or pocket, so it’s easier to remember to bring them with you when you go shopping.”