HarperCollins Makes Breakthrough Stride in Sustainability

Big Five publishing house HarperCollins is solving part of the climate crisis with this small change in its design.

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A collage of nature and Earth-themed graphics. Among them is an Earth, flowers, leaves, cutouts of forests, a hand, half painted in green holding a sprout, another hand holding four different colored autumn leaves, crystals, a plastic water bottle, a raindrop, and yellow butterflies.

Sustainability is a hot topic in all markets and businesses around the world. As humanity stands in the face of the climate crisis, finding sustainable alternatives to everyday practices is crucial for the fate of the future. Just this year, the publishing industry expects to see an uptick in interest for sustainability among readers, writers, and industry professionals, as discussed during the 2024 London Book Fair. In one undetectable, eye-opening alteration to its signature fonts and layout, HarperCollins may have cracked part of the code to reduce the carbon footprint of the publishing industry.

The Complexity of Book Design

It’s no secret that much effort is put into creating a book. Fonts and layouts enhance a story, its genre, and its meaning. The modern typography of a nonfiction title will differ from that of a historical romance, whose font may have originated centuries ago. Associate Director of Design at HarperCollins Leah Carlson-Stanisic says choosing the best book design is primarily intuitive and must be considered case-by-case. Everything from the heaviness of the font to the ink type and the amount of white space is considered for each individual book.

Open books cover a table. Some books have pages sticking straight up.

However, the current process is also resource-intensive. Take the HarperCollins imprint Zondervan Bibles, for example. It takes more than 2,500 pages to create a single Bible. So what did the designers at Zondervan Bibles do? In 2015, it made a new font called NIV Comfort Print and adjusted the layout of the pages, downsizing each bible by 350 pages. In 2017, this change resulted in 100 million pages being saved — almost 5,000 feet in paper. Further, HarperCollins’s printing costs decreased. Overall, it was a win-win situation.

Paving the Way for Sustainability

HarperCollins’s renewed mission is to apply what it learned from Zondervan Bibles to the multitude of novels and nonfiction titles it produces each year. The only issue is that, in the cutthroat publishing industry, the changes it makes cannot compromise readability and marketing. Further, it would be a tremendous upheaval for designers. But, in the name of the future, it appears to be working and worth it.

Metal stamps of letters and numbers, all in the same font. There are multiples of each letter and number.

In an experiment, 50 versions of a 600-page book were developed with various classic fonts, some of which were more compact than others yet had an imperceptible difference in style. Designers also had to consider font weight, in addition to type and layout. For example, the font Bodoni, a common choice for HarperCollins books, was compact but heavy, meaning that headings with more extensive letters bled through the paper and interfered with the legibility on the next page. After all this trial and error, designers compiled a list of 15 compact, eco-friendly fonts that HarperCollins will now default to.

A lush pine forest on a foggy day. Further on the horizon, trees are obstructed by a white fog.

These fonts, combined with reducing the white space on the page layout, allow for more words per page and less overall paper use. The outcome, while small, adds up. When assembling the 16-page signatures for just one book in its catalog, HarperCollins could preserve close to one million pages in its print run. With best-selling authors, HarperCollins is making eco-friendly fonts and designs a priority.

This breakthrough modification requires few sacrifices and sets a strong example of what all publishers should strive for. It leaves businesses, companies, and consumers wondering about what changes can be made on an individual and systemic level that will do right by the planet and, ultimately, us.

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