Author Tags: Environment, Publishing
Judith and Christopher Plant were publishers and editors of The New Catalyst newspaper, commenced in the fall of 1985, and then New Society Publishers from their home on Gabriola Island. In 2003 they received the Jim Douglas Award for outstanding publishing in British Columbia, partly due to their leadership within the publishing industry to encourage the use of recycled paper for books. Formerly based 20 miles along a gravel road from Lillooet until 1990, the couple was dedicated to 'bioregionalism' and publishing to raise ecological consciousness and community action.
As editors, their titles included Putting Power in its Place: Create Community Control! (New Society, 1992), Home: A Bioregional Reader (New Society, 1990), Green Business: Hope or Hoax (New Society, 1991) and Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future. Judith Plant also edited Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism (Between the Lines, 1989).
After her husband died [see Christopher Plant entry], Judith Plant published a brief but valuable and engaging memoir of their family's stint on a commmune called Camelfoot near Lillooet that led to their creation of the The New Catalyst in Culture Gap and Beyond: Towards a New World in the Yalakom Valley (New Star 2017).
[BCBW 2017] "Publishing" "Environment"
Press Release (2005)
SUSTAINABILITY PUBLISHER IS FIRST IN NORTH AMERICA TO GO CARBON NEUTRAL
New Society Publishers, an activist press focusing on sustainability issues, has become the first publisher in North America to become carbon neutral. The publisher operates from offices on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.
With the purchase of 213 tonnes of carbon offsets, New Society Publishers (NSP) has neutralized the effect of the 213 tonnes of emissions that were released into the atmosphere during 2003 as a result of the publisher's use of paper, fuel, electricity, and garbage.
"This is a great way to play our part, as we try to find ways to conduct our business in a more environmentally friendly manner," said Chris Plant, co-owner of NSP. "We see it as a fundamental component of being a socially responsible business and walking our talk."
Becoming "carbon neutral" is a new expression that is gathering momentum around the world. The growing list of companies and organizations that have become carbon neutral includes the HSBC Bank, with 10,000 offices in 76 countries; the City of Newcastle, UK; and Volvo's fleet sales team. If you know where to look, it is possible to buy carbon neutral flights, cars, holidays, concerts, conferences, and houses.
In 2003, Canada's Premiers' Conference on Prince Edward Island became carbon neutral through the purchase of 850 trees planted by Tree Canada to offset the emissions from the ministers' flights to PEI. The 2006 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Australia, is planning to be carbon neutral, as well as the American Football League's 2006 Superbowl XL, to be held in Detroit.
New Society's 213 tonnes of emissions came from its use of paper (140 tonnes), flights and couriers (65 tonnes), trucking and vehicle travel (7 tonnes), fuel for heat and power (0.75 tonnes); and garbage (0.14 tonnes).
Half of the publisher's emissions were offset by a contribution to Tree Canada, which will plant 182 trees to absorb 106 tonnes of NSP's emissions.
The other half (for 107 tonnes) was offset by a contribution to the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), based in Washington DC. SELF brings solar electric lighting to villagers in countries such as South Africa and Bhutan, replacing the use of kerosene, which is a dangerous and expensive carbon-producing fossil fuel.
NSP's emissions analysis was done by climate specialist Guy Dauncey, author of the award-winning book Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers, 2001). Mr. Dauncey is himself carbon neutral, offsetting his personal emissions each year, a habit he shares with Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Jake Gyllenhaal.
"It takes a bit of time and effort, and some number-crunching," said Mr. Dauncey, "but it's nothing that any other business need be shy of. We all need to play our part as we seek ways to reduce our emissions."
Mr. Dauncey has also created a template that NSP can use in future years, and a paper called Going Carbon Neutral – A Guide for Publishers which can be used by any publisher in the world to help them do the same. This is available for free downloads on NSP's website, at www.newsociety.com.
The 25-year old Gabriola Island-based publisher has a staff of eight people, and publishes over 25 titles a year. Its goal as a company is "to contribute in fundamental ways to building a more ecologically sustainable and just society."
"All commercial activity has an environmental footprint of some kind," said Chris Plant. "Becoming carbon neutral is one way to reduce that footprint a little bit."
NSP has a history of environmental firsts. In 2001, they became the first publisher in North America to print all their books on ancient forest-free paper (100% post-consumer recycled, non-chorine bleached). Since then, NSP has saved over 6,000 trees with this strategy, receiving awards from both the publishing community (Publisher of the Year) and Canadian Businesses for Social Responsibility (Ethics in Action). Mr. Dauncey's analysis shows that by switching to post-consumer recycled paper, NSP prevented 112 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere in 2003, since recycled paper has a smaller environmental footprint than virgin paper.
Along with other decisions, using forest-free paper has helped NSP's annual emissions to be 119 tonnes fewer than they would otherwise have been.
Judith Plant, NSP's other co-owner, said "Our staff have been really behind us on this one. As soon as we knew what our emissions were, we sat down and discussed how to offset them. We plan to continue doing this every year."
NSP is the second publisher in the world to become carbon neutral. The first was the small British publisher Snowbooks, which was launched in 2004.
FROM CANDLELIGHT TO LEADING LIGHTS
from Chris Plant
Essay Date: June 2009
Twenty years ago, when Judith Plant published her first book, Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism with New Society Publishers in Philadelphia, she and her partner Chris Plant wrestled with a publishing decision that changed the course of their lives, leading them out of the backwoods to the forefront of the Sustainability Movement. Here Chris Plant recalls the evolution of their remarkable imprint.
When Judith Plant published her first book, we were living in the mountains north of Lillooet, where we had published The New Catalyst magazine for four years.
Perched on a rocky bluff by the side of a mountain stream, we generated enough electricity from a micro-hydro system to power our household and our fledgling business.
Having to sometimes type by the light of two candles placed on either side of our portable Osborne computer, we called this our Paleotechnic era.
That summer we received a visit from the chief New Society editor and his partner, who was the finance manager for their book publishing operation. They had recently left the East Coast to open a West Coast office in Santa Cruz, California.
David Albert suggested that instead of publishing our quarterly magazine on tabloid newsprint, we should consider packaging the material in book form. That way it would last longer and have more shelf appeal.
It was an opportunity we couldn't refuse. We decided to open up a Canadian office for New Society Publishers, acquiring editorial projects ourselves and marketing the whole of NSP’s list to the Canadian market.
That’s how New Society Publishers Canada officially opened for business in 1990.
The first project we undertook was to edit, with our good friends Van Andruss and Eleanor Wright, the first anthology on bioregionalism, Home! A Bioregional Reader.
As promoters of the bioregional idea (we had organized the third continent-wide North American Bioregional Congress in 1986), this was a project close to our hearts. We then got to work on the new series. The first volume involved the transformation of some past New Catalyst material into book form. Turtle Talk: Voices for a Sustainable Future comprised a collection of interviews we had conducted with key characters in the sustainability movement that had appeared in the centerfold of The New Catalyst magazine. The book came off the press at the very time that we moved from the Lillooet area to our new home on Gabriola Island, and we spent many hours around the dining room table packaging up copies to send out to our 2000-odd subscriber list, conscripting my visiting aunt into the mailing process.
Other volumes followed in close succession—including Our Ecological Footprint, by Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel. We released two titles per year, sold by subscription and direct mail, as well as through the conventional book trade. We originated other B.C. titles, too, including Colonialism On Trial, something of a pre-Manga cartoon record of the Gitksan Wet’suwet’en land claims court case, and Clayoquot Mass Trials which documented a watershed phase in the environmental movement.
For the next couple of years or so, we learned the basics of book publishing, alongside advanced study in business cooperation. New Society was organized as a collective and our task was to insert ourselves into their management structure from a distance. There was no e-mail at the time and communication was a challenge, to say the least. Nevertheless we managed our tiny transnational corporation from three locations with remarkable ease.
The fax machine was a revolutionary tool that simplified our lives tremendously. We gathered once a year at an annual face-to-face meeting, and governed ourselves by means of a very unusual mutual aid agreement. We were publishing books to build a new society and running our lives according to the same values we espoused in our publications. These were heady times indeed.
At a face-to-face meeting in Philadelphia in 1995, we learned very suddenly that the Philadelphia office was basically bankrupt. Unless someone stepped up to the plate, the publishing operation overall would be forced to close. Unlike the key players in the Philadelphia collective who seemed tired, we were not ready to stop publishing—on the contrary, we were just getting going.
The only thing to do was to take over the whole operation. We were organized as non-profits at the time, and at first we tried raising the necessary capital through charitable means. But good fortune stepped in at the right time in the form of an angel investor, Joel Solomon (this angel had been on our mailing list from the beginning of The New Catalyst days), and so in 1996 Gabriola Island became the international headquarters of New Society Publishers.
We bought just over 50 percent of the NSP list along with the U.S. distribution infrastructure and a whole lot of goodwill. Not everyone was entirely pleased that New Society had become a Canadian enterprise, however, and our task became that of convincing authors and others that we could continue to be an effective social change publisher from north of the border.
New Society had started as a social movement, opposing the war in Vietnam, nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and publishing pamphlets on peace and nonviolence, civil disobedience, conflict resolution and social change. Their early books focused on nonviolence, feminism and alternative economics.
When we entered the picture, we added an environmental focus. Now we needed to reinvent the company and did so around the emerging idea of sustainability which, in our eyes, combined all of these interest areas and more. The question was whether we could sustain a values-based publishing operation while making sustainability successful in the business world.
It didn’t help that, not too long after we purchased the company, InBook, our U.S. trade distributor, went bankrupt. It also didn’t help that postal rates climbed dramatically as mail subsidies were gradually eroded—a kiss of death for the direct mail sales on which the company had been built.
Switching to Consortium for our U.S. trade presence was a major relief: they were well-organized and effective. But our attempts to support trade sales by religiously attending BEA, ALA and the like drove us to despair.
Slowly, we realized that, as an activist publisher, we had to be where the activists were, not try to compete in the glitzy corporate world of trade bookselling. We switched strategies, making it our business to be at renewable energy fairs, Green festivals, natural building colloquia and a myriad other events where we could network with the people who needed the material we were publishing for their organizing work—and who were writing the material we wanted to publish.
In the early years of this period, we continued publishing The New Catalyst as an occasional free broadsheet, distributed in tens of thousands of copies. Inside was our catalog of New Society books. Direct mail continued to be a major source of revenue, and early employees—and the occasional family member—took phone orders and packed books in the crowded little office next to our home.
We nervously borrowed money against the property to build the company, and slowly added staff. I was doing the editorial and production work; Judith masterminded finance and market-
ing; and we both made acquisition decisions.
Sustainability was a hard sell but we relentlessly released books on sustainable communities, simple living and eco-cities alongside critiques of economic growth, manuals on progressive leadership skills (facilitation, mediation, group process and the like), and parenting and education resources.
Thinking of ourselves as a progressive business, we even ventured into business publishing with a series called Conscientious Commerce that highlighted the ways in which the corporate world could contribute to environmental and social sustainability. Importantly, we walked the talk ourselves, committing, in 2001 with the release of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change by Guy Dauncey, to printing all of our books on 100 percent Post Consumer-Waste paper and, a few years later, going carbon-neutral. We estimate, as of 2008, our pulp nonfiction business has saved over 13,000 trees.
For many years we existed on a very uncomfortable financial edge. But we were slowly building our market and our reputation. When peak oil first emerged as a crucial topic for the future of industrial society, we were there with one of the first books on the topic, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Society, by Richard Heinberg.
When 9/11 happened, we released a major exposé on the topic, linking the event to peak oil, that sold strongly. We added important renewable energy books to our categories of interest, as well as a line of natural and green building titles that caught the emerging Green building wave before it became merely fashionable.
Sales increased. We added staff. We added buildings. We almost doubled our output of titles per year. We gained some recognition for our efforts through two Ethics in Action awards for our social and environmental initiatives, and the BC Publisher of the Year award in 2003. In a note attached to the award, Jim Douglas praised “the international quality of our list.”
And we began to make money. Always five to ten years ahead of the mainstream, our books rapidly gained relevance for a wider audience as the early years of the new millennium came to pass, and sustainability was suddenly the name of the game. As “green” became the color of choice, sales rose steadily, and we realized we had moved into a new phase.
At last, the sustainability publisher had become financially sustainable. But we were tired. We wanted our freedom back—including freedom from the anxiety of running a publishing business in a volatile market. So with considerable trepidation, we put New Society up for sale.
It was a relief when the final purchaser turned out to be Douglas & McIntyre. Their list had integrity and we had obvious compatibilities with their Greystone imprint, David Suzuki’s publisher. More to the point, they were demanding no radical changes in the way the company was run. With our on-going mentoring, our loyal and highly capable staff will gradually take over the management of New Society. It looks like a win-win situation.
Judith and I never really intended to be Publishers for Life, and we certainly weren’t business people at heart. In 1990, we had made a conscious decision to do our bit for the “turn-around decade” that was called for by David Suzuki and others. But somehow that turn-around decade has turned into almost two decades…
Now it’s time for us to be doing more of the things we were publishing about. So we're forging ahead with a new chapter...
Hollyhock: Garden to Table (New Society $24.95)
Much admired as leaders of the sustainability movement, Chris and Judith Plant are recycling themselves, buying back their New Society imprint from D&M Publishers Inc. Here’s the three-part story of how their healthy, homemade New Society imprint continues to live up to its name.
In 1985, Chris and Judith plant were back-to-the-landers of sorts, seeking the communal experience twenty miles down a gravel road from Lillooet, producing an environmental newspaper called The New Catalyst, a let’s-fix-the-world endeavor that soon led them into publishing books.
Started in 1990, their fledgling publishing imprint called New Society eventually took over its sister company—New Society Publishers, Philadelphia—with whom they had worked for six years.
“We made a conscious decision to do our bit for the ‘turn-around decade’ that was called for by David Suzuki and others,” says Chris ‘Kip’ Plant, “But somehow that turn-around decade turned into two decades.”
Based out of Gabriola Island, the Plants parlayed their dedication to “bioregionalism” into a successful vehicle for promoting ecological consciousness and community action world-wide.
Having encouraged the use of recycled paper for books, the Plants received the James Douglas Award for outstanding publishing in British Columbia in 2003. By 2005, they were the first publishing company in North America, and only the second publishing company in the world, to declare themselves “carbon neutral.”
A family health problem prompted them to retire and sell New Society to Scott McIntyre’s Douglas & McIntyre, often touted as the largest publishing house in Western Canada It’s possible Lone Pine in Alberta might have greater sales worldwide. D&M was by then Vancouver businessman Mark Scott’s company, since his purchase of the majority of the shares just prior to the acquisition of New Society, but McIntyre remained on board.
“Their list had integrity,” Chris Plant said, “and we had obvious compatibilities with their Greystone imprint, David Suzuki’s publisher.”
So D&M Publishers Inc. became a consortium of three imprints; New Society, Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone. The new owner, Mark Scott, was an acquaintance of Scott McIntyre. “One of the trickiest challenges any company faces is getting succession right,” McIntyre said in 2012, “and I’m very proud of the path we are embarking upon.”
With McIntyre at the helm as its chairman, D&M Publishers Inc., filed for protection from bankruptcy in November of 2012, having accumulated debts exceeding $6 million, including more than half a million owing to authors.
The second phase of New Society—through no fault of the imprint—was in jeopardy. Judith Plant herself became one of D&M’s major creditors because the full purchase of New Society by the D&M consortium had yet to be completed.
So what to do?
The Plants opted to come out of retirement and buy back their press, with the essential help of their financial angel, friend Carol Newell of Renewal Partners who had helped them from the outset.
Whereas almost the entire staff at D&M in Vancouver was rendered jobless by the business failure, New Society has remained stable, staff-wise, and they’re now proceeding with a full spring list with the usual range of sustainability titles and one book with a distinctly local flavour.
Much admired as leaders of the sustainability movement, Chris and Judith Plant are recycling themselves, buying back their New Society imprint from D&M Publishers Inc. Here’s the three-part story of how their healthy, homemade New Society imprint continues to live up to its name.
Signaling the phoenix-like resurgence of New Society, Hollyhock: Garden to Table (New Society $24.95) by Moreka Jolar and Heidi Scheifley reasserts the presence of a unique B.C. institution, Hollyhock, a centre for learning and well-being, B.C.’s Findhorn, created in 1982 on the grounds of the former Cold Mountain Institute on Cortes Island.
Near its ocean-view kitchen, the world renowned learning centre of Hollyhock boasts a spectacular organic garden.
Based on thirty years of cooking, Hollyhock: Garden to Table provides more than 200 new garden-inspired recipes as well as growing tips from Hollyhock’s own Master Gardener, Nori Fletcher. Moreka Jolar has been a chef at Hollyhock for fifteen years and Scheifley is a certified gourmet natural foods chef who has cooked around the world.
The Plants’ first B.C.-grown book upon their return to ownership harkens back to their roots in Lillooet—all puns intended—where communalism was viewed as a healthy and natural necessity. It’s also a follow-up to Hollyhock Cooks (New Society 2004), co-authored by Jolar.
Now New Society also intends to deal head-on with 21st century technological challenges. “We’re already selling all of our books as e-books,” says Judith Plant, “and an increasing volume of sales are electronic.
“The real challenge is adapting as a publisher to the broader electronic culture. We must consider ourselves more as purveyors of information that can be parlayed in diverse forms than strictly as a producer of books alone. Being fluid in such a world is crucial.
“The intelligent, committed and passionate people on our staff, many of whom have spent most of their working lives with the company, are raring to go. So, yes, this amounts to a re-birth of sorts.”
This third phase of New Society will also provide an opportunity for a partial employee buy-in to the company. A portion of the shares are being made available for the staff to buy anytime, and a further portion can be bought at a very attractive price, provided certain sales and profitability targets are met. 978-0-86571-727-5
Courage did not quail
Once upon a time within living memory, a lot of folks in B.C. wanted to try living in communes. Judith Plant was one of them.
As a single mother of three, she had gravitated from Fort McMurray (Fort McMud) to the West Coast where she was wooed and pursued at Simon Fraser University by a kind, handsome, English-born journalist and fellow Communications student, Chris ‘Kip’ Plant.
He had just spent seven years in the South Pacific helping Melanesian islanders liberate their small nations from the claws of colonialism, both French and English. “Add to this the misery of the diabolic, American nuclear testing in Moruroa and the Kwajalein Islands,” she writes in her memoir, Culture Gap and Beyond: Towards a New World in the Yalakom Valley (New Star $19), “and Kip was near-to-seething with rage by the time we met.”
The soon-to-be romantic pair enrolled in Fred Brown’s 400-level Communications course on Community and Society and it changed their lives. An idealist who had bizarrely accepted Fidel Castro’s personal invitation to serve as head a new philosophy department in Havana after the Cuban Revolution, Fred Brown and his partner Susan also hosted lively Wednesday discussion groups at their “Clark House” residence in East Vancouver. Fred Brown’s wandering, intimidating intellect kept returning to one obsession: “What is community?”
Kip and Judith married in May of 1979. “Kip and I both agreed that the nuclear family is just too thin-on-the-ground,” she writes, “too fragile to support our children and ourselves.” Kip was fed up with political solutions and Marxist theorists. Their combined idealism and estrangement from conventional society led Judith to accept a job with Northwest Community College in Terrace as the first adult educator in New Aiyansh, a Nisga’a village in the Nass Valley.
As a couple, with three kids in tow, they left behind the concrete of SFU to live in a renovated trapper’s shack, in a cedar and spruce forest, on the banks of the Tseax River. Meanwhile Fred, Susan and some cohorts, most notably Van Andruss and his partner Eleanor and their baby girl, had similarly moved “back to the land” to a 160-acre quarter section in the Yalakom Valley, 30 kilometres from Lillooet, known locally as Camelsfoot.
Fred Brown wrote to them, quoting the idealistic “back to the land” character Miles Cloverdale from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Blithedale Romance, “...our courage did not quail. We would not allow ourselves to be depressed by the snowdrift trailing past the window...”
After Judith and Kip had taken their family to visit Camelsfoot in the spring of 1982, they learned their rented trapper’s cabin would be sold. They had to vacate in August. They decided to join Fred Brown’s commune in July.
Judith Plant’s memoir Culture Gap and Beyond is concerned with describing how that isolated commune of sixteen people—more or less—survived and often thrived in the Bridge River Valley. Given that there are few too few books on the counter-culture, back-to-the-land movement of B.C. in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, hers is a very necessary and fascinating document.
Every commune—as they were ubiquitously called in those days—was very different; and all were also the same. In fifty fascinating pages Plant describes how the intellectually-driven but prudently practical Camelsfoot enclave learned how to milk goats, kill pigs and make head cheese while simultaneously engaging in heady, philosophical banter.
Her family slept in fire pit-heated tipis with the temperature dipping to minus twenty. Her kids learned how to use an adz and a log peeler. Everyone helped with the ambitious hydro-electric project. They made their own music. It was one for all, all for one, but she questioned the division of labour.
“While I sometimes thought I knew why I was at Camelsfoot and other times I was much less certain,” she writes, “I could only guess what motivated others and even that guesswork would probably end up being superficial.”
Feeding the firebox. Feeding the chickens. Feeding twenty people (there were often visitors) pancakes or porridge. Debating if cows were better than goats. Canning 85 quarts of applesauce, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, tomatoes and plums. Escaping to the Reynolds Hotel in Lillooet for a clubhouse sandwich and fries. Getting horses. Getting lost on a solo hike up Independence Ridge. Tolerating the triple-seater outhouse. Shooting a deer. Vowing to never shoot another one. Having your ex-husband try to take your kids away.
It was all exhilarating and… exhausting.
Then Fred Brown, the patriarch, died. The gradual dissolution was painful. This, too, is universal for communes. As the commune began to unravel, outsiders could say, I told you so. “We couldn’t defend our beautiful dream of community to anyone,” she writes, “most importantly not even to ourselves. We were crushed. I started to cry, and I cried every day for a long time. Kip and I almost split up.”
A year after Fred Brown’s death, the Plants left the commune, buying a little cabin at the foot of the Camelsfoot trail, in close proximity, but independent.
The idealism of that shared Yalakom Valley experiment endures. Van Andruss has written an in-depth biography of Fred Brown, A Compass and a Chart: The Life of Fred Brown, Philosopher and Mountaineer (Lillooet: Lived Experience Press 2012) and he continues to live with his partner in the Lillooet area where he publishes his journal of non-fiction and poetry, Lived Experience.
Even though getting into Camelsfoot from Lillooet usually required a grueling hike—a description of which opens Plant’s memoir as she attends a recent Camelsfoot reunion—the Plants became involved in the Fed Up food co-op that was first funded by a $20,000 grant from the NDP government in 1972. Twice a year Fed Up published a broadsheet called The Catalist. In 1985, the Plants were inspired to publish their own periodical, The New Catalyst, which they published from Bridge River Valley for four years. There, Judith also edited a groundbreaking book on sustainability, Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, published by New Society Publishers in Philadelphia in 1989. Fascinated with a new movement called Bio-Regionalism, the couple was well ahead of the curve and had already organized the third-continent-wide North American Bioregional Congress in 1986. By 1990 they were operating a Canadian adjunct of New Society Publishers.
In 1996, with the help of a silent partner, they eventually bought the bankrupt, Quaker-led publishing imprint based in Philadelphia, New Society Books, and soon moved their publishing headquarters to Gabriola Island as New Society Publishers. By 2005, they became the first publisher in North America to become carbon neutral, pioneering the use of recycled paper for books. Kip Plant died in Nanaimo on June 26, 2015 after courageously living with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Multiple System Atrophy for nine years. But the New Society imprint continues to serve as one of the most progressive and influential, hey-let’s-hurry-up-and-save-this-planet publishing companies in North America.