Clear-Cutting Sumatra: Rainforest Pulp Used in German Children's Books

Children's books are the second largest segment in Germany's billion-euro book industry. But publishers' profits are coming at the expense of rainforests in Asia, according to a new report from the WWF. Nearly 30 percent of German children's books use pulp from rainforest wood harvested in Sumatra and elsewhere in the region.

Photo Gallery: Rainforests Dying for Children's Books Photos
AFP

The titles of German childrens books like "Das ist der Wald" ("This Is the Forest") are more literal than one might think. According to a new study into the publishing industry's role in deforestation, wood pulp harvested in the rainforest was used to produce the book's cover.

A new study published on Monday by the German branch of the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) reports that nearly 30 percent of the country's children books use paper that includes elements from rainforest trees. The paper is largely produced in China, where pulp is often imported from Indonesia.

The WWF selected 79 books, published between October 2010 and July 2012, from German publishers at random for testing. Of the titles examined, 22 contained a significant amount of wood harvested in rain forests. In six more of the books, there were traces of rainforest wood. Titles from renowned German publishing houses including Herder, Duden and Langenscheidt all failed the test.

To increase profit margins, the 40-page report notes that many publishers are having their books produced in China, where paper firms import a significant amount of wood pulp from Indonesian islands such as Sumatra. Companies like Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) und Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL) drive the booming wood pulp industry on the island, which has some of the richest bio-diversity in the world.

The environmental group "Eyes on the Forest" estimates that since APP has been active in Indonesia, the company has been responsible for the destruction of more than 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of rain forest, cutting into the habitats of Sumatra tigers, elephants and orangutans.

It's a macabre reality behind children's books like "Tiere im Wald - Was hörst du hier?" (Animals in the Forest: What Do You Hear Here?), published in 2010. Rainforest wood was found both in the book's pages and cover.

Plausible Deniability

China leads the world in both paper export and wood pulp import, bringing in more than 15.2 million tons of the stuff in 2011 for paper production. Meanwhile the number of children's books imported into Germany from China and Hong Kong increased 12-fold between 2000 and 2011.

The WWF presented a similar study, "Tropenwaldzerstörung für Kinderbücher" (The Destruction of the Rain Forest for Children's Books") at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009 to raise awareness of the issue. Some companies pledged to change their ways, switching to recycled paper or paper certified by international watchdog Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Other publishers ignored the report altogether.

"By enjoying cheap production in the Far East, publishers are accepting the deforestation of the rainforest," says Johannes Zahnen, who is in charge of forestry policy and business partnering at WWF Germany. Coppenrath, a Münster-based publisher and a leading player in the children's book market that led the list of offenders in both 2009 and 2012, "ignored our warnings and are focused only on maximizing their profits," Zahnen said. "What's especially dishonest is that by doing damage to the environment, they're also jeopardizing the future of their own target group."

After fiction, children's books are the second largest segment of the German book market, which generated more than €9.6 billion ($12.5 billion) in revenue in 2011.

zft/SPIEGEL

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