Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Socially Green Publishing Wise with Tree Neutral®

My career as an entrepreneur started out as a dare from my friends. I told them writing a book was easy. They said prove it. So I wrote Attention to Detail: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Appearance. I then posted a single free ad for it in Bottom Line/Personal magazine and in a few months was collecting one hundred $5 checks in the mail daily, far more money than my accountant’s salary. The following year, 1997, I quit my job at Deloitte and launched my company out of my parents’ garage.

At first I focused only on distribution, helping other bootstrapped authors like myself get in front of the people who could really benefit from reading their books. Over time I added other services, including editorial, book design, and marketing. Even now we continue to grow our service list with things such as digital book conversion, project development, and content chunking, making us a one-stop shop for independent authors and small presses. Our vast line of services, along with our growing reputation in the industry, helped us land several big names for our author roster, including Kanye West, John Gray, and Daymond John.

Thanks to our author-centric philosophy and revolutionary publishing model, we’ve been able to grow while many of the giants in the industry have fallen into disarray. I’m proud to say that today Greenleaf Book Group is one of Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest-growing companies, and we just had our ninth bestseller. What I’m most proud of is the culture we’ve been able to sustain; a culture based on mutual respect, high-quality work, community giving, and green practices.

Now, with a name like Greenleaf, you’d expect me to be up on the “green” trend. From day one I’ve operated my publishing firm, Greenleaf Book Group, under the eco-wise principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Take a walk through our offices and you‘ll see paper-recycling bins scattered throughout our headquarters in Austin, Texas. Each break room holds additional bins to recycle paperboard, plastic, and aluminum. Our authors also have the ability to print on eco-friendly and recycled papers if they so choose. We do a great deal in-house to reduce our impact on the environment and, although a significant effort on our part, it still just wasn’t enough when we considered the number of trees lost every year to paper harvesting.

In the United States, over 100 million tons of paper products are consumed annually. According to the Forest Stewardship Council, more than a quarter of that consumption is for printing. Publishing books, office printing, home printing, magazines, junk mail—they all contribute to the problem. What’s worse, over 70 percent of the trees harvested come from forests and not from tree farms, according to the Environmental Paper Organization. As the information age grows, the rate of paper production is also expected to grow, representing a growing threat to our national forests.

That’s why I decided to start Tree Neutral®

Tree Neutral® is a commitment to preserving our national forests. It’s a way to extend my publishing firm’s environmental policy beyond our own walls to include other firms who are also interested in reducing their impact on our forests. Trees are a renewable resource, but only so long as we actively match our consumption with replanting efforts—which is exactly how the Tree Neutral® program works.

The program allows participating companies to offset their paper consumption by donating one tree for every tree they use for printing. But Tree Neutral® isn’t just for replacing trees used to print books; participating companies, including Greenleaf Book Group, also offset their office printing. This allows companies outside of publishing to participate, which in turn lets us facilitate the replanting of even more trees. So far we’ve attracted a variety of businesses, including financial advisory firms, personnel firms, and other publishing houses.

I took the author-centric approach we use in my publishing firm and applied it to Tree Neutral®. Instead of setting firm donation amounts or having cookie-cutter memberships, we work with each company to help it set replacement guidelines that are in line with its consumption patterns and goals. We use consumption statistics from organizations such as Conservatree to determine how much paper the company is using and, from there, set donation levels for it to meet. As the company’s consumption changes, so does its donation level.

For example, one hundred reams of copy paper are equal to about six trees. So, for every hundred reams of paper consumed by a company, it would need to donate at least six trees in order to remain Tree Neutral®. If it manages to cut its consumption by half, the company would be responsible for replacing only three trees (but of course they can always donate more if they want to). By making the donation level adjustable and based on the actual consumption of the company, both small and large businesses can participate and make a difference in the environment.

Signing up for the program is easy. Companies interested in participating just need to go to and fill out a submission form. From there we will work with the company to assess its consumption and set cost and replenishment guidelines. Each company can choose which organization to donate the money to, though most of our participants choose to work with the Arbor Day Foundation to meet their replanting goals.

Growth is a good thing, but only if that growth is sustainable. My publishing company has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a bootstrapped venture in my parent’s garage. Now we can grow knowing that our success is not harming the environment. Greenleaf Book Group has been able to help replant over 20,000 trees since we founded the organization in 2007. In 2010 alone, Greenleaf helped plant close to 7,000 trees in Florida state forests through the Arbor Day Foundation. As more companies participate, Tree Neutral’s overall impact will continue to grow.

Tree Neutral® is still pretty young, but it’s catching on. As social entrepreneurship picks up steam in the media and more and more companies look for ways to do business in a socially responsible manner, we hope that more companies will join Tree Neutral®. Recycling is great. Reducing consumption is even better, but nothing beats being Tree Neutral®.

By Clint Greenleaf

Tree Neutral® website:
Clint’s personal website:
Greenleaf Book Group:
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