On Friday 19 November, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2021 Futurebook conference on sustainability. I was joined by three brilliant panelists: Michael Palwyn, architect and co-founder of Architects Declare; Hazel Broadfoot, Vice President of the Booksellers Association and owner of Village Books in Dulwich; and Laurel Brunner, Managing Director of Digital Dots.
As Senior Audience Development & Engagement Manager at the Publishers Association, I’ve been working in sustainability for the past two years.
Many of you will be familiar with our work. We publish the largest annual study on diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry. We are the publishers’ voice in Westminster and Whitehall; recently, we successfully campaigned to remove VAT on ebooks. And since the beginning of last year, we have been publishers’ first port of call for guidance on the business impacts of the pandemic, from supply chain issues to furlough and much more besides.
Today, I’d like to tell you about an initiative we launched recently called Publishing Declares. As publishers, we know that our ideas and stories are limitless, but the planet’s resources are not. The planet is warming at an unprecedented rate. Habitat loss and deforestation are destroying the biodiversity essential to our very survival. And these changes will disproportionately impact some of the world’s poorest communities. With just eight years left in this crucial decade, there is no time to waste.
In 2019, we knew that we wanted to do something but we also knew that we wanted it to be impactful, sustainable, and have longevity. Under the direction of our governing board, PA Council, we established a task force of our members comprising 34 experts from a mix of core, strategic, and support functions, and representing the full range of business sizes and sectors across publishing. We have met regularly over the past eighteen months and the task force has now grown to 51, including six supply chain partners. Through robust discussion, data collection, and analysis, we designed a strategy and four key projects that encompass both the collective material risks of our industry as well as our unique potential for positive action.
…the task force has now grown to 51, including six supply chain partners.
We commissioned a specialist sustainability consultancy called Carnstone to develop the first of these projects earlier this year. Working with our members, Carnstone drew from internationally recognised frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals and Global Reporting Initiative, and existing commitments in the creative industries, like the Fashion Pact, Media Climate Pact, and Architects Declare. The resulting text is a declaration on behalf of the UK book and journal publishing industry to take urgent action on climate change. Any business from across the supply chain can join as a signatory and we very much hope that they do. Today, I’m going to walk you through each of the five commitments and talk about how we as the Publishers Association will be helping publishers take action on them.
The first commitment is to take action on climate change by setting ambitious, measurable targets to achieve net-zero as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest. This is in line with the global ambition to keep the increase in global average temperatures within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels. The 1.5-degree figure is not arbitrary – it is the threshold for dangerous anthropogenic interference in the atmosphere, after which there will be devastating consequences for the planet. It’s vital that all businesses reach net zero by 2050, but tracking direct and indirect emissions across your whole value chain is no small task, particularly for a small business owner with limited capacity and no resource. Currently, no tool exists that enables publishers to accurately measure their supply chain emissions and benchmark their data against an industry average. So we decided to make one. In 2022, our members will have access to an emissions calculator that is bespoke to our industry’s print and digital supply chains. Our goal is to support publishers of all sizes and specialisms in understanding the source of their GHG emissions and the most effective methods to mitigate them. The tool will also provide members with a common reporting framework and baselines for their key metrics. Over time, we will be able to report on the collective emissions of the industry as a whole and, ideally, set tangible reduction targets.
The second commitment relates to responsible production and consumption. To protect nature and biodiversity, we must work with supply chain partners that are resource-efficient, use sustainable materials and processes wherever possible in the content we produce, and constantly innovate to make use of new and recycled materials. Our end goal is a circular economy. But before we can make bold changes to the way that we source and manufacture products, businesses need data to make informed decisions, so we are developing a tool that will contain an index of the most commonly used materials and their sustainable alternatives, with each assessed according to environmental and social criteria. Members of the Publishers Association will automatically have access to the tool when it becomes available next year.
The third commitment in the declaration is to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to translate climate aspirations and commitments into tangible actions that safeguard the planet for future generations. This collaboration piece is really important and it’s very much at the heart of why we chose to make a public declaration. We want to ensure that everyone in the industry is aware of the key sustainability issues that are most relevant to them and that they know where to go for support to address those issues. Most importantly, we want to inspire action that results in sustained behaviour change. We have been thrilled by the response to Publishing Declares, both from within and outside of our membership. We started with 29 founding signatories and we now have 82 and counting. We will continue to drive engagement with the declaration across the industry, including at a forthcoming industry forum where we will be bringing our partners together to discuss how we can coordinate our efforts and take collective action.
We have been thrilled by the response to Publishing Declares, both from within and outside of our membership. We started with 29 founding signatories and we now have 82 and counting.
The fourth commitment is to empower colleagues to become climate literate and bring that knowledge to their work. Since we held our first meeting in February of 2020, the world has fundamentally changed. The pandemic brought the relevance and potential of our work into sharp focus. Though sadly brought about by tragedy and illness, it demonstrated that the radical transformation necessary to prevent dangerous climate change is possible. As the publishing workforce returns to the office, the environmental impact will continue to shift, presenting an opportunity to challenge attitudes and behaviours. We want to ensure that the positive impacts of lockdown are preserved, and the bad habits of life before Covid are done away with. We’ll be supporting our members to take action on this with guides and resources that will help them engage with their staff.
The final commitment is to use our expertise, platform, and voice to raise awareness and drive positive climate action wherever we can. As readers, storytellers, creators, and educators, our industry has an important role to play in the climate crisis. Publishers, in particular, make a unique contribution. Through textbooks, fiction, non-fiction, scholarly books and journals, we play a profound role in the intellectual and creative lives of people all over the world. It is both our privilege and our responsibility to inspire and inform positive climate action. Our members are already doing fantastic work in this area, and it is our pleasure to showcase what they are doing at every opportunity. We recently partnered with Exact Editions for an online showcase to coincide with COP26, which is a fantastic resource for anyone that wants to learn more about sustainability. If you haven’t seen it already, I thoroughly recommend checking it out.
As I draw to a close, I’d like to say thank you to our key partners – the Booksellers Association, Society of Authors, and British Printing Industries Federation – and especially to our Sustainability Taskforce who have been so instrumental in this work. If you would like to sign your business up to Publishing Declares, please go to PublishingDeclares.com and fill in the form. We hope everyone in the UK book and journal industry – from printers and publishers to booksellers and authors – will join us in this effort.