Boomerang Books speaks on eco-bookselling at ABA Conference #abaconf10

Boomerang Books’ Managing Director Clayton Wehner spoke about eco-bookselling and carbon neutrality this morning at the Australian Booksellers Association Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane.  Clayton was joined by Howard Nielsen (NAC Consulting), Fiona Stager, owner of The Avid Reader bookstore in Brisbane, and Fairfax journalist and co-author of new book Screw Lightbulbs: Smarter Ways to Save Australians Time and Money, Liz Minchin.

This is the transcript of his speech:

Good morning, I’m Clayton Wehner and I’m the managing director of online bookstore Boomerang Books

Can I preface my presentation by saying that I am not a greenie.  In fact, I am a capitalist – I actually want to make money from our bookselling venture – just as I am sure many of you do.

As an ex-Army officer I’m a pragmatist and a conservative, I’ve voted Liberal all my life and – get your rotten tomatoes ready – I would have to say that my political hero is John Howard.

Like John Howard and many business people in this country, I am concerned that pushing forward with a carbon tax ahead of the United States and other first world countries will disadvantage Australian businesses.

I suspect that booksellers would be hit hard by this – imagine if our GST became 13% to account for the carbon cost of the products that we sell – suddenly Amazon’s prices are looking even more attractive.

So you’re probably thinking that I am the worst possible advocate for the environment – why am I up here today talking about green initiatives?  Well, despite the views that I have just articulated, our business Boomerang Books has gone down the path of becoming carbon neutral.

I suppose the message that I want to impart today is that you don’t need to be a tree-hugger to adopt environmentally-friendly initiatives in your business.   Indeed, you can be an inflexible, right-wing leaning conservative, like me!

Of course, there are some really good business reasons why you should consider positioning yourself as an eco-friendly bookstore – the speakers on day one of this conference were fantastic and each of them emphasised the need for your business to ‘tell a story’, to be remarkable and to be different to the rest – and an eco-friendly status can certainly contribute to that story.

So let me quickly tell you the story of Boomerang Books and its eco-push.

I attended the ABA Conference in Melbourne in 2008 and we were lucky enough to hear from Kate McMaster, who had set up Australia’s first carbon neutral bookstore, the Little Dog Bookshop in Yass, just to the north of Canberra.  Kate’s session inspired me and I got in touch with her soon after to discuss her journey.

We, too, decided that Boomerang Books should go down the path of becoming carbon neutral and we approached the Carbon Reduction Institute – the same organisation that Kate did – to assist us with this.  Our decision to go down this path was based on two motivations:

Firstly, we genuinely want to give something back to the environment.  It’s really a no-brainer is some respects – Books are carbon.  They used to be trees.  I want my kids to be able to enjoy books and I want my kids’ kids to enjoy books after them.  It’s appropriate for us to help ensure the sustainability of the industry and the planet.

The second factor is, of course, that becoming carbon neutral is a point of difference for us.  The online book retailing market is hotting up – the big boys Dymocks, A&R and Borders have got their acts together with fantastic new websites, Booktopia, Fishpond, The Nile, Seekbooks are all selling lots of books, and of course there’s the ever-present threat from Amazon and The Book Depository.

As competition has increased, inevitably there has been a squeeze on price – 3 for 2 deals, discount weekends, below-cost discounting.  We all know that competing on price can be dangerous, particularly for small bookstores like Boomerang Books.

So, going down our chosen path means that we can trumpet the fact that we are carbon neutral bookstore – Australia’s first carbon neutral online bookstore.  Our clientele is typically a 35-50 year old female fiction reader and it’s probably no surprise that this demographic, in general terms, is highly environmentally aware.  Which means it’s a good fit for our target audience.

It didn’t go down well with all of our customers.  A couple of customers wrote nasty emails to me saying that they would never do business with us again because our stance was uneducated and ill-considered.  And that’s fine – you can’t please everybody.  But for those few complaints, we’ve received many, many emails of support too.

So, how does it work?

Well, Boomerang Books is now subject to an annual carbon audit and purchases carbon credits each quarter to offset our organisation’s emissions.  Each carbon credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide or its greenhouse gas equivalent (CO2-e) reduced or saved from entering the atmosphere.

The cost of offsetting a book is, on average, 1% of the price of the book. Boomerang Books customers have the opportunity to help pay for the environmental footprint of their books by contributing half of that cost (ie. 0.5% of the sale price) when they purchase books on our website.  For a $30 book, this levy represents an additional cost of only 15c to the customer.

But we don’t compel our customers to pay the 0.5% levy – they can choose to opt out if they wish.  Unlike the airlines who will only offset flights if you pay the extra fee, Boomerang Books will still pay the 1% carbon offset contribution regardless of whether the customer contributes or not.  So we take responsibility for the footprint of the book, not the customer.

Now, this is obviously an added cost for our business, but there are many ways that you can contribute to the environment without going down the path of becoming carbon neutral.

Some of other things that we do in our business – most of them are pretty simple and many of you would already be doing some of these things:

  • We don’t do any print or mail marketing – all marketing is done via electronic means (email, social media, website).
  • We don’t print emails or other documents that can be read directly from a computer screen.
  • We maintain a paperless office to the fullest extent possible – we use a wiki and other online repositories for information and knowledge management.
  • We use recycled paper and we try to print on both sides when practicable
  • We recycle paper, batteries, mobile phones, printer cartridges, computer and electrical equipment, plastic containers and bottles.
  • We use public transport as much as possible.
  • We rarely fly anywhere – except to the ABA Conference – and prefer online meetings, Skype and the trusty telephone.
  • We wear attire that is appropriate for the climate (normally a t-shirt and jeans) and don’t overuse heating and cooling.
  • We turn our lights off at night, make use of natural lighting where possible, and use electric lighting only when it is required.
  • We use Energy Star rated computer and electrical equipment.
  • We turn all electrical appliances and computers off when not in use.

Granted it is easier for an online bookstore without a retail shopfront to do these things, but I am sure that many of you are already doing a lot of them anyway.  If you are, you should be trumpeting that fact.

The first step is to brainstorm and articulate a policy, train and encourage your staff to follow the guidelines, and tell your customers about it – it doesn’t have to cost you much, if anything, and you will be doing the environment a favour.

I will leave you with an interesting stat – only 45 out of 200+ delegates chose to offset their conference attendance.  The cost of offsetting was $6.40 – yet most forked out over $1000 in total to be here.  This might be a sign that we’re not quite ready to embrace the environment, at least when we’re required to dip into out own pockets?


Published by

Clayton Wehner

Clayton is the founder and managing director of Boomerang Books. In a past life, Clayton worked for 12 years as an intelligence officer in the Australian Army and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon and holds a BA (Hons) in Political Science and a Master of Management Studies (Human Resource Management) from the UNSW. He is also a trained Indonesian linguist and served with the United Nations in East Timor as an interpreter/translator.