November 13, 2015

Books are Evil. {Editor’s Letter}


The other day, in a meeting with a local printer, I cried.

I love books. I’m an environmentalist. I will never buy another new book again, unless it’s “eco.”

I printed a magazine for 6 years. I know a fair amount about printing. I know about inks, and glues, and paper, and sourcing, and shipping, and the carbon footprint of it all and the toxic materials involved. It’s why I got out of the magazine business, though elephant was a successful national magazine, and started elephantjournal.com.

But I still love books. We all do, right? A bookstore is my church: golden, lit up, full of community and learning and fun.

But I will never buy another new book, if not explicitly “eco.”


Books are evil, from a physical point of view. The layers of compromise and bad decisions men have made in the book industry over the past 50 years is downright evil. It’s honestly shocking, what we’re willing to do to one another and our planet.

The glues are toxic. The inks are toxic. The paper is horrible, and most books are printed overseas, and covers are coated in plastic. I didn’t realize all of this. I didn’t really get that books are an environmental crime against health and humanity and our planet.

We all think, oh, paper, yeah, not good. But that’s the least of it. We’re literally creating vats of toxic soup, enough to create 1,000,000 Spidermans a day.

Two years ago I wrote a book. Getting it to press has been amazing—our Kickstarter raised nearly twice the amount we asked for—and my promise was to make an eco book. Made in the USA, eco paper, eco cover. I’ve done far better than that: it’ll be printed locally, not just in the US, on 100% recycled paper, chlorine-free, Rainforest Alliance Certified and FSC-approved. The cover is cloth, not plastic-coated, unlike all book covers. The inks are vegetable-based, still not great, but better. The glue is awful, but permanent, so sustainable in that sense. There was no choice on that one, other than to offer an e-book, which we’re also doing.

But I wanted you all to know that this is the closest to an old-fashioned eco book that exists in America—by far. And it’s still not eco-responsible, though it’s close (we’re also offsetting every copy with a tree planted in the reader’s honor). I wanted you all to know to avoid buying new books if not “eco” in a major way. Even books that are FSC or whatever will still be plastic-coated, with toxic glues and inks and shipped from China etc.

If you’d like to read Things, you can get it here: elephantjournal.com/books.


Yours in the Vision of an Enlightened Society,

waylon signature

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Janneykhs Jan 8, 2016 1:49pm


SPM Nov 16, 2015 8:09am

I have to agree with Genevieve. There are many beliefs, events, and consumer items that are much more “evil” in our world than publishing books that provide information or tell a story. Any alternative to publishing a book that you might suggest also has costs involved. Might be worth a follow-up letter examining the comparative costs of alternative means for providing information and stories to the public. Peace.

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.