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The Publishing Industry and Sustainablity

The publishing industry plays a key role in our society. It distributes knowledge, ideas, and stories. However, to address the threat of global warming, it must minimise its ecological footprint.

a person standing on stacks of books surrounded by many stacks of books

What is the current impact?

Both print and online publications contribute to climate change. Print publishing consumes significant raw materials, such as water and wood pulp:

Additionally, energy consumption for printing, product distribution, and waste handling further impacts the environment. Books often travel long distances, from China or the Middle East to the UK, and unsold copies are often pulped, consuming more energy.

While digital media reduces the need for raw materials, digital devices require metals like lithium, copper, gold, tin, lead, and palladium. Extracting these metals results in a significant environmental impact.

What are the current sustainable publishing practices?

In response, many major publishing houses and trade associations have formed the Sustainability Industry Forum (SIF) to reduce environmental impact. Focus areas include transportation, plastic usage in the supply chain, book return and disposal, raw materials, and printing. Some publishers, like Penguin, have committed to using 100% Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC™)-certified paper and to achieving climate neutrality by 2030.

Hachette has said in their Sustainable Sourcing Policy that they are committing to reach net zero carbon emissions by as close to 2030 as possible and by 2050 at the latest. They have also stated that:

“In 2018, 92% of the paper being used in Hachette UK’s publications was FSC® certified and our aim is to grow this to 98% by 2022”

But is it enough?

Further development of sustainable manufacturing technologies is needed for wider adoption. Cost and convenience remain barriers, particularly for smaller businesses. The use of recycled paper, although helpful in the short term, has limitations due to paper fibre degradation.

Publishers, such as Penguin, run marketing campaigns where new covers of popular books or special editions are released. This creates a trend where consumers feel the need to own all versions of a popular book or series. Instead, I would like to see publishers advertise more on eBooks or audiobooks. This would help change consumer behaviour and reduce the publisher’s need for a lot of raw materials and transportation.

Publishing companies could also look at slowing down the pace of demand by implementing a "print-on-demand" system, where books are printed after they are bought. This would reduce the waste of already printed books and remove the need to store them. I think publishers could also work more closely with libraries, such as giving them first access to heavily awaited releases, which would encourage readers to borrow and share books. This would reduce everyone's climate impact as well as develop local communities further.

The future of sustainable publishing holds promise, but progress is eagerly anticipated.


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