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Sustainability and the literature sector

Sustainability and the literature sector

30 June 2014

BookBrunch - Peter Hughes

Peter Hughes reports on a Free Word event that examined how publishing can pursue sustainable strategies.

Name one thing that literature requires? Authors? Of course. Publishers? Naturally. Red wine? Undoubtedly. But what about trees? If there is one point about the industry that we can't get away from, it is that books use a lot of paper, and that this has a potentially huge impact on the environment.

Which is just one reason why the Publishers Association Environmental Review Group was so keen to support Sustainable Responses from the Literature Sector, an event set up by Julie's Bicycle to examine best practice on the environment. Originally founded by the music industry, Julie's Bicycle offers creative organisations expertise in sustainability across the arts including free online tools, research, and bespoke consultancy to help creative organisations measure, manage, and reduce their environmental impacts.

Held at the Free Word Centre, the event began with an introduction by Julie's Bicycle CEO Alison Tickell, who addressed the dangers of ignoring the impacts of environmental change, and the potential for the creative sector to drive change. She emphasised the importance of engaging with our environmental impacts, not just as individuals but as major worldwide industries with incredible reach and cultural influence.

This was seconded by Andy Fryers, Director of Hay on Earth at the Hay Festival, whose keynote illustrated the importance of literary festivals "walking the walk" and addressing their environmental impacts - such as waste, water, energy and audience travel - but also engaging audiences and taking them on a journey to think about sustainability in their own lives too. Programming the festival to include environmental work and themes goes hand-in-hand with initiatives such as "Future Dragons", which provides seed funding to sustainable projects voted on by festivals audiences, directly connecting them to solutions-driven, sustainable thinking that has a positive impact on the local community in Wales.

This Sustainable Literature event, part of a series bringing creative organisations together to build a greener vision for the sector, was a great opportunity for literature organisations to discuss issues ranging from where and how we manage our offices, cultural buildings and festivals; promotional efforts; publishing; and even ongoing discussions over whether an increasingly digital industry means an environmentally sound industry.

For the publishing industry though there is much of which we can be proud. As we pointed out, the industry has made great strides on sustainability. Figures from the Publishers Association Statistics Yearbook showed that while last year saw a 10% increase in the number of metric tonnes of paper used, this has been matched by the sustainable attitude of UK publishers, in particular using known sources of paper, a key area for the publishing industry. In fact over the last five years there has been a 96% decrease in the use of unknown paper sources in UK publishing.

We have also made great strides in creating tools to help publishers understand the product carbon footprint of certain book formats, and through the Publishers Green Network have an organisation for grassroots advocates to share their ideas and good practice.

Digital is fast growing and brings a new environmental footprint to map. The stages in the creation of digital content - design, storage, distribution and the use of devices to access ebooks, are not unique to publishing. In fact, there is much we can share, and this is an opportunity ripe for further collaboration.

As Alison Tickell reminded us, we only have one world. For an industry so reliant on natural resources the importance of our environmental impact cannot be understated, but with the industry ever more committed to not only creating wonderful new products but doing so in a carefully sustainable fashion we are heading in the right direction.

You might even say, if you'll forgive the expression, that when it comes to the environment we can see the wood for the books.

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Peter Hughes is Chair of the Publishers Association Environmental Review Group and Head of Corporate Responsibility at Pearson.

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