HarperCollins saved over 5,000 trees with tiny but impactful decision and it’s blowing people’s minds

The publishers have introduced a tiny change to their book design, hence saving thousands of trees.

A lot more goes into creating a book than just writing. Book designers work relentlessly perusing a variety of typography palettes and experimenting with different typesetting formats to make the book appeal just right. All of this is done not only to set the perfect mood for the reading experience but also to balance the toll that the aesthetics of the book might take on the enviornment.

Image Source: First typescript with notes and manuscript of 'Claraboya', early novel of the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, exposed at Casa de America during the presentation of the novel on March 1, 2012 in Madrid, Spain (Photo by Quim Llenas/Getty Images)
Image Source: First typescript with notes and manuscript of ‘Claraboya’, an early novel of the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, exposed during the presentation of the novel on March 1, 2012, in Madrid, Spain (Photo by Quim Llenas/Getty Images)

HarperCollins Publishers, one of the leading publishing houses in the industry has ventured on a mission to save trees. Their design team conducted extensive research to curate a collection of eco-friendly fonts that use less ink, improving opacity and readability. With thoughtful layouts and design tweaks to conserve paper usage, their eco-friendly font project has saved more than 200 million pages so far, which is equivalent to preserving 5,618 trees.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | anete lusina
Representative Image Source: Pexels | anete lusina

This project started when HarperCollins’ Christian Publishing developed NIV Comfort Print® typeface in 2017. Changing to a compact typeface helped the company save over 100 million pages. If stacked up, these pages would be four times the height of the Empire State Building. This Christian publishing division is called “Zondervan Bibles,” according to FastCompany.

 

Tracey Menzies, the VP of creative operations and production at HarperCollins wanted to see if they could extend these fonts to other kinds of books apart from Bibles, including novels and nonfiction. “When we first started thinking about this, it was a bit of an upheaval,” she says. “You’re taking something that people have done for their entire careers and telling them to think about it in an entirely new way.”

Image Source: Title page of a manuscript of The Book of One Hundred Chapters (Stoglav), 1551. Found in the collection of State Open-air Museum of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, Sergyev Possad (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Image Source: Title page of a manuscript of The Book of One Hundred Chapters (Stoglav), 1551. Found in the collection of State Open-air Museum of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, Sergyev Possad (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The team started testing different fonts on the books with more than 600 pages in their catalog. They created fifty different versions by using different fonts. In the end, they curated a list of 15 fonts they found the most compact and, therefore, eco-friendly. The usage of these fonts, with slight tweaks in the layouts could save a lot of white space. For instance, the same text set to Garamond Pro resulted in many more words on the page compared to Bembo. “The goal is to make these changes without the reader even seeing the difference,” says Menzies.

 

But the goal of saving trees didn’t have to be on the cost of compromising on the reading appeal. The readability still had to be neat and clear. Whether it is plain-old serif font “Centaur” for a novel, or the lunchbox-nostalgia style “Schoolbell” required for a comic storybook. “It was simply a different approach that didn’t sacrifice aesthetics. Now, our designers are constantly questioning how we do things and thinking about ways to make things more sustainable,” says Menzies.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | element digital
Representative Image Source: Pexels | element digital

“Ultimately, this ended up with finding fonts that used less ink, in addition to less paper, which is also better for the planet,” said Leah Carlson-Stanisic, associate director of design at HarperCollins. This is not the first time HarperCollins has shown its utmost awareness and responsibility toward sustainability. In June 2023, according to PRNewswire, HarperCollins Publishers India partnered with Vedanta Ltd. to launch a nationwide plantation drive, “Plant a Tree; Grow a Future” on the occasion of World Environment Day.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | akil mazumder
Representative Image Source: Pexels | akil mazumder

Through this initiative, they planted 10,000 saplings in school premises, taking a pledge for a greener Earth. Ananth Padmanabhan, Chief Executive Officer at HarperCollins Publishers India, said, “Trees are an investment for future generations, providing cleaner air and natural shade. At HarperCollins, we promote sustainability through various practices and initiatives, be it the paper we use or the drives we organize.”

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