Connecting with Eco-Libris
WOW: Today, we welcome Raz Godelnik, CEO of Eco-Libris. The last time we introduced the company was during the summer with our Going Green blog. But we have a lot more to learn about Eco-Libris.
Raz, we’re delighted you could join us. Let’s start at the beginning. Who created the initial concept for Eco-Libris? (Is there a unique story behind the Latin name?)
Raz: It all started when I was thinking about paper and the environmental impacts of its production. I realized that it might take a while to get to the point where eco-friendly alternatives (from the use of recycled paper to e-books) will replace virgin paper. Then, I talked with some friends about the idea of giving people the opportunity to balance out their paper consumption by planting trees and received good feedback about it.
The decision to focus on books was made after learning that only about 5% of the paper used for printing books is made of recycled paper and because most books don’t have yet an online eco-friendly alternative (e-book), like magazines and newspapers. So, if you want a book, you usually can’t avoid purchasing the paper-made version, unless you go to the library or get it from websites like BookCrossing or BookMooch, which are all excellent choices. You also can’t tell people to stop reading books, so it seemed to me only natural to give book lovers a new alternative to make their reading habit greener--planting trees for the books they read.
About our name--well, the name is inspired from ex-libris (in Latin: ‘from the books of...’), which is a decorative label or print people used to paste on their books for the purpose of identifying the books' owner. In general, it was a more decorative and aesthetic way to make sure everyone will know this book is yours than just writing your name inside it.
We see Eco-Libris as the new, green version of ex-libris. In our vision, people will balance out their books by planting trees and will indicate their commitment to sustainability by putting our sticker on these books. As the ex-libris was an elegant way to show the identity of the book owner and her (or his) appreciation of the book, we hope to see Eco-Libris stickers become the new way book owners present their identity, saying: “Hey, I love this book, but I also care about the environment, and I am trying to live more sustainably. That’s who I am!”
By the way, the credit for creating the name goes to Oren Entin, one of the most creative people on our team.
WOW: Your concept is impressive, and I imagine you must need creative people to make this work. Could you tell us who your team members are? What are their roles?
Raz Godelnik, CEO
Raz spent a few years in financial management and business development positions and also served as an advisor to the Israeli Minister of the Interior. Afterwards, he co-founded Hemper Jeans, an eco-fashion jeans company focusing on producing fashionable jeans made of hemp. He also writes on green business for the second-largest newspaper in Israel. In Eco-Libris, his job is to navigate the company and make sure it meets its mission: balancing out half a million books by the end of 2008.
Eylon Israely, Business Development
Eylon has more than a decade's experience working in profitable international online businesses in various marketing, sales and operation management roles. His job in Eco-Libris is to spread the word about Eco-Libris in the West Coast and essentially make sure that every book sold there will have an Eco-Libris stamp on its sleeve, thus single-handedly reversing global warming.
Oren Entin, Online Marketing
Oren is an online entrepreneur with eight years of experience in management, customer support operations and marketing, specializing in various online marketing strategies including guerrilla marketing. He is the co-founder of Hemper Jeans, an eco-fashion jeans company, and works as a freelance consultant to several online ventures. Oren is responsible for Eco-Libris’ online marketing operations.
Gilad Ness-Berlin, Business Management Advisor
He holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University, worked for a few years in the Israeli Ministry of Finance, and in the last couple of years he runs his family business - Berlin Technologies. Gilad provides Eco-Libris with his expertise and experience in business management and strategy.
Gili Koniak, Environmental and Natural Resource Advisor
She is a Ph.D student in the field of plant ecology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. She also holds a B.Sc. in Agricultural Economics. She spent the fall semester last year at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, as a research fellow, focusing on how to bring together science and policy makers, ecosystem services and ecological economics. Gili is contributing her expertise in natural resources to help Eco-Libris ensure the quality of the planting operations carried out by its partners.
WOW: I’d say that's one “all-star” team. How does your team balance replanting trees with earning profits? That sounds complicated for a green business.
Raz: We did a lot of thinking before we decided to start operating as a for-profit. We chose the for-profit model because we got to conclusion that this model is the most effective one to accomplish our goals.
I think that nowadays it’s more understandable that there is no contradiction between doing good and doing well. Microfinance, for example, is a great example of how you can combine a business approach with social goals and do it very successfully. We aim to follow this model and, as a green business, be committed to both making reading more sustainable and to the triple bottom line: financial, environmental and social.
WOW: That’s an intense bottom line. You’ve clearly accomplished a lot in a short time. Eco-Libris launched last summer. Please tell us what has changed, and what plans do you have for the future?
Raz: We are at the beginning of our way, but already get a lot of enthusiastic responses. We are looking to continue spreading the word and presenting ourselves to book readers. We put out a lot of effort, especially towards the holiday season. We look to offer people who like to give books this holiday season to green up their gift with Eco-Libris. We just started a green gift guide for book lovers on our blog, where people can get recommendations for great green books to give as gifts.
We also aim to work with publishers, writers, bookstores, and anyone involved with the book publishing industry that want to make a difference. We’re already communicating with some of them, and we hope many of these people and organizations will find the way to translate their will to help the environment and decrease their impact on it into action. Eventually, I’m sure that they will learn that being eco-friendly is not only good for the environment, but also good to their business.
WOW: I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, learning how to become eco-friendly is the only path to face. We noticed that you have three non-profit planting partners that you work with to replant trees in much-needed areas: Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), RIPPLE Africa, and The Alliance for International Reforestation. Could you tell us a little about them and a little about how you chose them as partners?
Raz: Our three planting partners are US-and-UK-based, non-profit organizations working in developing countries for the benefit of both the environment and local communities in these countries. They are working in regions where deforestation is a crucial problem (Latin America and Africa, which are the two regions that are losing their forests at the highest rate, according to the State of the World’s Forests 2007), and where the trees planted provide many local people with opportunities for a better future. All of our partners are committed to sustainable practices as well to working closely with local communities to ensure the success of planting operations.
Our planting partners were chosen after an extensive and in-depth selection process led by Gili Koniak, Eco-Libris’ environmental and natural resources expert. We made sure that the planting partners we work with are not only respectable organizations, but also organizations with proven know-how in planting the right trees in the right areas. The process included review of many criteria to ensure the quality of the plantings such as the specific species that are planted, locations of planting, mixed forest, usage of native species, monitoring and management plans of the plantings, etc.
WOW: Clearly, every angle of Eco-Libris requires a serious amount of research. Do you anticipate more partners in the near future? How do you establish these partnerships?
Raz: Right now we are very happy with our three planting partners. If we will see a need to add more planting partners in the future, we’ll consider that and apply the same rigorous screening process we used in the first place
WOW: That’s great. Speaking of your partners, how do you verify that they actually planted the trees?
Raz: To verify that all aspects of the planting are been handled properly, we are working closely with the organizations we selected as planting partners. To demonstrate this to our customers, a full annual assessment of the planting projects will be conducted and published on our website every year. In any case, we tried to avoid these issues in the first place by choosing only highly respected organizations we know our customers can trust.
We also added some other measures to make sure our customers receive the best value for their money. For example, since not all trees survive during their growth, we plant 1.3 trees for every tree our customers pay for--that means, 13 trees will be planted when you pay for 10 trees. This measure was calculated in accordance with the organizations’ statistics, and this way we significantly increase the chance that at least 10 trees will actually mature and live happily ever after.
WOW: “Happily ever after” is a nice way to put it. Once the trees are planted, for how long do your planting partners manage them? (What if they die--are they replaced?)
Raz: Our planting partners not only plant the trees, but also manage and monitor the planting areas afterwards. In most cases they employ local workers who work with the local communities and are also responsible for following-up, monitoring and evaluating the planting sites. They work together with local communities, and this usually maximizes the chances for these forests to grow and benefit both the environment and the locals for many years.
WOW: You’ve tied together all the ends. What about working with authors, publishers, bookstore owners, or distributors?
Raz: We have numerous collaborations in the pipeline, which we hope to finalize soon. Some collaborations I can already present are: collaboration with Chegg.com, an online textbook rental service to balance out every textbook rented (http://www.chegg.com/index.php/EcoFriendly); balancing out the printed copies of Net Impact’s guide for green MBA programs ‘Business as Unusual’ (http://www.amazon.com/Business-As-UNusual-Graduate-Programs/dp/B000VHPCQO); and a collaboration with the writer Mary Kearns to balance out copies of her new book ‘Growing Toward Balance’ (http://www.growingtowardbalance.com/purchasing.shtml).
WOW: That’s exciting, and it’s only the beginning of many more to come, I'm sure. How can book clubs get involved with your project?
Raz: We love book clubs, and we see ourselves as a great fit to work with these groups of people who share such passion to reading. We already had the pleasure to work with a book club from Ohio, where we balanced out all the books discussed at their meetings throughout the year. We provided the members with Eco-Libris stickers to put on all the books that have been balanced out, so they can proudly show their commitment to the environment.
We invite book clubs to get in touch with us and work together to become green book clubs. We’re sure many book clubs members are looking to green up their reading and we’ll be happy to help them to achieve it.
WOW: Yes, I think many book clubs will want to join forces, as they learn about Eco-Libris. As of this month, do you know how many books you’ve offset?
Raz: More than 5,000 books were balanced so far.
WOW: Amazing! Is there anything else you’d like all the book readers in the world to know about Eco-Libris?
Raz: Just to clarify our approach to planting trees--our approach is similar to the approach of UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme), which sees the overall benefits and significance of planting trees, on both environmental and social levels, and do not concentrate only on the issue of carbon absorption. That’s the concept behind the Billion Tree Campaign initiated by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wangari Maathai (the campaign, by the way, also featured us on their website—(http://www.unep.org/billiontreecampaign/CampaignNews/Eco-Libris.asp).
WOW: We can’t thank you enough for sharing your green business here with us. (I’ve offset 25 of my books, but I have a long way to go.)
Readers, please check out Eco-Libris, if you haven’t yet been to their site. It’s a remarkable concept with genuine benefits! Plus, the holidays are right around the corner.