Dedicating our work as printers to the spirit of Planet Earth involves a fundamental contradiction which, if we are to find truth in this craft, we must face squarely and work to resolve.
The contradiction is this: Trees apparently are our Planet's lungs, as well as the moderators of many intricate processes such as the control of water and the management of carbon and topsoil. But as printers, because paper is literally the foundation of everything we make, in our very attempt to articulate our understanding of the Earth as holy, we help to damage one of the most magnificent and essential aspects of that holiness.
Now it is true that most paper is made from the pulp of fast-growing evergreens husbanded like crops, but even the world's rainforests, where the Earth's breathing is mostly done--by the tropical hardwoods and the venerable cedars, firs and spruces of the northern zones--are systematically and rapaciously chipped and pulped to feed the world's insatiable demand for paper products.
For the craft printer there is some consolation in knowing that, even given the impressive number of books published every year, they still consume only a tiny percentage of the millions of tons of paper used briefly and then trucked off to landfills. And books are meant to last, anyway. They are not throwaways like newspapers, magazines, catalogs and junk mail.
So it is possible to duck the contradiction, to a certain extent: we are not as destructive as some. But the problem really is one of consciousness. Unless we all can learn to honor this precious material for what it is, and honor its rare and dignified sources, then we will continue to destroy forests, degrade water and spew toxics, merely to create waste out of a truly magical stuff.
An important first step is the recognition that paper does not have to be made from trees. In fact, trees don't make very good paper anyway. Other fibers make better paper, can be grown as annual field crops (often on marginal land) and could very effectively relieve the pressure on major rain forests.
Printers of fine editions have traditionally used the specially made papers incorporating cotton and linen fibers. Sisal, hemp and wheat straw are all durable fibers that could be used more extensively in papermaking, and other plant wastes such as tobacco and banana are also currently being used as a paper fiber. Much of the paper we use at the press is made from kenaf, a tall reed-like annual native to Africa, grown for commercial paper production here in New Mexico. Good tree-free paper really does exist!
Recycling, demanding recycled paper products, and supporting the use of alternative fibers wherever possible are more than just solid environmentalism. Honoring the majesty that stands behind this most mundane of objects is to stand among the guardians of our lovely Home.