A Greener Future: How can Publishing Become More Sustainable?

A Greener Future: How can Publishing Become More Sustainable?

With areas such as ‘The Hall of Shame’ - where unsold books go to be destroyed; high carbon emissions from book manufacturing and shipping; and the consumption of energy and raw materials to create and store books, it’s no surprise that the publishing industry is looking to find some ‘greener’ solutions sooner rather than later. Sustainability is starting to receive some promising and long-awaited attention within the industry as publishers and service providers look to reduce their carbon footprint. Print on demand and digital publishing have been key ways for publishers to become ‘greener’ and that’s where ‘Direct to Consumer’ sales can really come into play, embodying the sell-first and print-later philosophy. 

So how else can publishers become more sustainable and what are organisations doing to gather momentum? As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the UN has launched the SDG Publishers Compact — designed to inspire environmental action among publishers. The Compact aims to accelerate the SDGs by 2030 and signatories aspire to develop sustainable practices and act as champions of the SDGs, partially by publishing books and journals that will help inform, develop, and inspire sustainable action. Some of the SDG Publisher Compact members include Cuento de Luz, Books International and the Association of University Presses.

The Green Book Alliance is also coming into force to drive solutions to environmental issues in the supply chain. The alliance is made up of Book Industry Study Group (BISG), Book Industry Communication (BIC), and BookNet Canada (BNC) and alliance activities include information sharing, joint planning and environmental events. BIC has put on a number of thought-leadership webinars, called BIC Green Brunches, to explore key areas of the book supply chain that can and do impact upon our planet’s environmental health. Recordings of these webinars can be found here. BIC’s Green Supply Chain Committee has recently signed off its’ Green Work Plan for 2022 and beyond, which maps out their sustainable goals such as: collaboration with The Publishers Association to promote sustainable forestry management and reduce GHG emissions. On their Green Initiatives, BIC recently wrote:

“It is in the supply chain that significant changes can be made by the book industry to lower its carbon footprint and improve its green credentials. BIC is focussed on developing and promoting industry standards to help reduce this and help organisations become more sustainable: As the long established dedicated supply chain organisation for the book industry, BIC is at the heart of leading the greening required”— Book Industry Communication

So how, as a publisher, can you move towards a more sustainable future?

1) Get involved

Learn more about the sustainable issues within the industry and how publishers can work together to combat these. Join organisations, such as BIC, that are working towards a more sustainable industry and keep an eye on their webinars and blogs on green issues. Share your latest sustainability practices online and encourage other publishers to do the same.

2) Set sustainability goals

Draw up a list of environmental goals for your business, based on your research and industry practices. For example, as part of HarperGreen, HarperCollins Publishers have put in place Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) approved goals to further reduce emissions over the coming years: 60% reduction across operations and 20% reduction across supply chain by 2030 or earlier. Oxford University Press has launched a target to print on 100% sustainable paper and minimize waste by ensuring there is zero landfill from its own operations by 2025. 

3) Asses your printing practices & your printing partners

Some areas to consider for your own printing practices or to check with your printing partner : 

4) Look at your suppliers’ accreditation

Publishers such as Boydell & Brewer are looking at their supplier’s accreditation and using this as a guide for how sustainable the companies are. Research your suppliers and check that they are FSC and PEFC accredited.


FSC is the Forest Stewardship Council’s ‘Chain of Custody’ certification which promotes responsible forestry and traces products back to their forest of origin. Certified companies are required to monitor supply chain conditions and integrate review procedures into their production operations.

PEFC is the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification ‘Chain of Custody’ certification. They certify timber and paper products to ensure they derive from responsibly managed forests, aiming to achieve compatibility between international forest certification schemes.

5) Go digital

Consider creating digital formats for your titles such as ebooks and audiobooks, which don’t require any printing. According to Zoe Cokeliss Barsley, director of sustainability at Oxford University Press, “A digital book has a footprint about a tenth of print book — regardless of the fact that you do need energy to run the data systems and all the devices — you use don’t need to cut trees down, you don't need the inks — or glue." You can read more about moving into audiobooks here and about digital composition by a service provider here.

6) Make changes within your workplace

There are many small but incredibly effective changes you can make to help make your company more sustainable, such as switching electricity to green suppliers in your workplace; making sure all office stationery and products are eco-friendly and reusable; cut out non-essential printing; turn off all computers and lights at the end of the day.


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