Examining Sustainability at Barnard

Book Before Barnard

The methods involved in bookmaking are constantly evolving alongside new technologies. In the present era, physical copies of books, including Race After Technology go through many stages before they reach consumers. It is important to  include all the laborers and contributors that make the existence and our ownership of books possible. 

Material Extraction

The two primary parts of a book are paper and its cover. The cover is typically made of binder’s board, which consists of cardboard and/or thick paper called composition board. This means that a book is almost entirely made of paper-based products. 

While the processes for paper extraction vary by company and country/region, the processes are overall similar. In the United States, our top suppliers of wood are Canada, China, Brazil, Mexico, and Germany. Looking at this list of top suppliers, it is unsurprising that Brazil and Mexico appear on this list as the United States has a long history of exploiting and extracting raw materials from the Global South. However, the locations of sawmills in lower income communities and/or communities that are not majority-white even within countries like Canada point to issues of environmental racism. For example, British Columbia is the primary supplier of Canada’s lumber exports. In Terrace, which is home to one of BC’s sawmills, 22.7% of the population identified as North American Aboriginal 1 on the census, compared to approximately 4.9% in the entire country. The environmental impact of living near a sawmill would potentially affect  everyone in proximity, but it seems to be no coincidence that this mill is located in an area with a higher concentration of indigenous peoples.


Wiley Publishing, who is the publisher of Race After Technology, has corporate offices and distributors in many locations around the world. Wiley does not print books itself, but they instead have contracts with different printing companies. For Race After Technology, Wiley published and printed with Polity Press which has locations in Cambridge, United Kingdom and Medford, Massachusetts. For either location, the wood, paper, and other materials required to print the book have to travel from the woods, sawmills, and other locations. Since so much wood is sourced from countries other than the U.S. and the U.K., it is very likely that materials travel to the printing press by sea and by ground. Maritime trade has a major environmental impact in many ways, including air, water, and oil pollution. This is harmful to humans and animals, plants, and other organisms in the sea. Another major impact comes from the ports. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development identified 3 categories of environmental impact for shipping ports:

  1. Problems caused by port activity itself;
  2. Problems caused at sea by ships calling at the part; and 

  3. Emissions from inter-modal transport networks serving the port hinterland. 2

In addition, these ports can have a negative impact on the health of the people and communities who work in and leave near them. This is why ports are often located in or near low-income areas around the world, or areas with a high population of people of color in places with a racially or ethnically diverse population like the U.S. For example, the Los Angeles port is in San Pedro, which is 40% Latinx and 6.1% Black. Further, it is often the case those who work these low-paying, dangerous jobs are poor people of color. Therefore, the environmental impact of ports and sea trade at large falls primarily on marginalized communities so that their health is affected and they do not have access to healthcare or income to properly care for themselves, in many cases. Similarly, for ground transportation, truck drivers are often low-income individuals working irregular hours for relatively low pay. Regardless of how the materials arrive to the printing press, the communities and workers who interact with these goods and materials experience the negative health and environmental effects so that these products are made and delivered to consumers quickly and cheaply. 

Printing and Binding 

 While there was no information available on the exact printing location of Race After Technology, the process for printing at facilities worldwide is relatively the same. Most printing presses use offset printing, which happens on large machines that typically operate automatically or semi-automatically. Aside from the metal, plastic, and other materials that are components of the actual printing presses, the printing process also requires the use of paper for the pages, ink (which can be oil or vegetable based), and the paper-based products for the book cover. 


After assembly and printing, printers and publishers store books at warehouse locations until consumers purchase them.. Barnard primarily purchases school-owned books from the library supplier Gobi, which is owned by EBSCO. Barnard uses Gobi as an alternative to Amazon, which has notoriously terrible working conditions for its warehouse workers. Typically, Milstein only buys from Amazon when books are needed on short-notice. Since Barnard has virtually no control over the conditions of workers at warehouses and companies that participate in the process of bookmaking, it is important for the College to intervene where it can, and purchasing from Gobi is a small step. 

Transportation to Barnard

This is the final step in the process of books actually arriving to Barnard. For Race After Technology, the book would likely move from the storage facility to the UPS or USPS distribution facilities by ground or air. From there, it would follow the typical shipping processes used by both UPS and USPS- air shipping for long distances and ground transportation for short distances. Finally, the book is delivered to the Barnard mailroom. From there, the order would be delivered to the library by mailroom workers.

1. Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Census Profile, 2016 Census Canada [Country] and Canada [Country].” Census Profile, 2016
Census - Canada [Country] and Canada [Country]
, 18 June 2019, www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E.
2. “Environmental Impacts of Ports.” OECD, www.oecd.org/greengrowth/greening-transport/environmental-impacts-of-ports.htm.

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