Game of Rules

medium_Laurel_2012.jpegThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Much as we would like to believe that people will do the decent thing, it generally takes the rule of law to make them behave. But the global television phenomenon that is Game of Thrones makes it abundantly clear that the rule of law on its own is not enough and nor is compliance. Characters regularly cheat and lie and commit atrocities that are against the rules, even in the most heinous and violent societies. In fantasy and in the real world, how well individuals and institutions fulfil their legal obligations changes from nation to nation and culture to culture. In the land of printing and publishing most players follow the rules reasonably well, but things are getting harder.

Rules governing environmental performance and behaviour are rather like the rules governing the plotlines in Game of Thrones: they are random and meandering with no clear destination. This is probably because no one’s quite sure where the various storylines are going. Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin doesn’t appear to be entirely sure where he wants to go with it. He has two more books in the works and is keeping slightly ahead of a worldwide television audience snapping at his heels. Environmental rules have no such sprawling fan base, but there is a clock tick tock ticking nonetheless.

Not knowing where we are going, or even if we should be en route at all is the problem. Environmental legislation for printers and publishers operating on a global stage might even be an impediment to business. Take China’s recent update to its environmental protection laws. They were written in 1989 just about the time when China started to open up and go for growth at all costs. The new priorities lead to unprecedented development all over the country and quite dreadful pollution, especially in large cities such as Beijing. The new and more robust rules put environmental protection, rather than unfettered development, at the heart of Chinese government policy. However the new rules will also require industries to shape up or have their bosses face the threat of being arrested and detained. This obviously includes printing and publishing companies.

If this was a Game of Thrones script, the arrests would be sudden and probably arbitrary depending on the size of the budget for a given episode: less money, fewer actors on screen. But the new environmental rules in China are real and their implementation will not be arbitrary. Printing companies, like other companies in heavy industries, will have to account for their environmental impacts because environmental protection is becoming a key priority.

All over the world governments are pushing environmental legislation higher up their agendas. Printing companies and their representative associations have a few options. They might prefer to wait for the axe to fall and face the consequences. Or perhaps they want to ignore their environmental responsibilities and run the risk of being caught and penalised. Alternatively they might take a look at their operations, invest in new, greener technologies and hold up a clean pair of hands to the regulators. If this was a Games of Thrones script such a boring response to an external threat would never happen. Fortunately it isn’t.

– Laurel Brunner

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