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A Tree Grows For Shirley

Beacon Broadside is pleased to introduce today's guest blogger, Kelly McMasters, the author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town, which was recently released by fellow independent publisher PublicAffairs

Mcmasters As my husband and I watched the Earth Day news coverage of schoolchildren packing soil around flowers and seedlings in dirt lots last week, we cringed at the rows of plastic planters left in their wake. So many well-intentioned moves toward sustainability or earth-friendly practices end up like this, it seems.

My first book, an environmental memoir about my blue-collar hometown on the east end of Long Island, was released on April 21, the day before Earth Day, which seemed fitting to me. And since my book, deals with environmental issues—in this case, the physical along with the psychological effects a federal nuclear facility has had on my hometown of Shirley, and the radioactive waste that will be sitting next door to the town for more than 300,000 years (longer than Long Island has even existed)—I realized I had an opportunity to see how I could inject some green into the often wasteful process of publication in an effort to not leave behind my own proverbial plastic planters.

The first thing I did was to hook up with NativeEnergy, a group that helps companies and individuals offset their carbon emissions. They emailed me a worksheet that helped calculate the carbon I'd be producing during my book tour. When making travel plans, I opted to take trains instead of airplanes, stay with friends rather than use hotels, and take public transportation within cities whenever possible, which also significantly lowered my impact. You can choose to direct your offsets to projects as disparate as low-impact hydropower facilities in Montana, wind turbines in Colorado, and the largest solar array in New Hampshire; I chose a methane project on a family-owned dairy farm nearby by home in rural Pennsylvania.

Next, I followed a mention on to a company called Eco-Libris. Clicking through to the company's website, I saw the messages: Moving towards sustainable reading. Balance out your books now.  According to the site, about 20 million trees are cut down every year to produce virgin paper for the books sold in the United States. Personally, I can't stand reading books on electronic media, but these numbers were astounding, and I found myself considering the Kindle for the first time. I felt incredibly conflicted about participating in the destruction of more trees through my upcoming book.

Eco-Libris offers authors a chance to collaborate through a series of possibilities. Since the first run of my book had already been produced, it was too late to work together with my publisher and Eco-Libris to stamp each book cover with their green seal and plant a tree for every book, which is one option they offer. Instead, I decided to purchase stickers, which are available at 80 cents a pop and promise a planted tree per sticker. Currently, Eco-Libris works with three planting partners active in Malawi, Africa and Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and other places in Central America, all of which are subject to non-profit reporting. I'm also working to include Eco-Libris in the sales process for my nonfiction reading series at the KGB Bar. Bookstores in the city like the Strand have also joined in.

I don't have much clout as a first-time author (I couldn't exactly demand the pages of my books contain a certain percentage of post-consumer material). But I tried to apply the environmental lessons I've learned about small changes—a light bulb here, a reusable bag there—making big impacts inspire me. So far, I've handed out 50 stickers as gifts to my friends who bought the book. That's 50 trees somewhere in the world that will continue to grow even as the books themselves begin to collect dust. Instead of imagining the trees sacrificed for the story each time I pass a bookstore, I'll take comfort in my little Shirley forest.

Kelly McMasters' carbon-offset book tour will take her to the Pilcrow Litfest in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend. Check out other stops on Kelly's blog tour at: and The Blue Marble Blog at Mother Jones Magazine.