Building a Greener Publishing Business

On Thursday 12th March 2020, I listened in to the Building a Greener Business webinar. Organised by Book Industry Communication (BIC), it was reorganised online at the last moment due to the cancellation of the London Book Fair. 

Although the situation with the Coronavirus has evolved so rapidly in the last ten days that what felt important then has paled in comparison to what is happening today, I wanted to share a few key points that might be useful when we come out of the other side of this crisis. 

The two main areas the UK publishing industry has been focusing on to become greener are paper sourcing and single-use plastic. 

In the last few years, huge steps have been made to use FSC paper wherever possible. For Penguin Random House, the UK’s largest book publishers, currently 99.9% of their paper is from FSC sources and they have pledged to move to 100% by 2020. 

In terms of single-use plastics, Jo Shaw, Sales Director at Nielsen Book, shared the staggering statistic that we produce more plastic every year than the total weight of human beings in the world. 

Neil Springall, Head of Operations at PRH shared two initiatives they have taken to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in their distribution process:

  • Investing in multi-use pallet lids to replace shrink-wrapping
  • Shredding transit cardboard packaging to fill cartons instead of plastic

This has resulted in at least an 85% reduction in single-use plastic coming into the warehouse and a 50% reduction in the plastic leaving the warehouse.

These are great concrete steps in the right direction, but there is still so much more to do. 

Lisa Faratro, Director of Environment and Sustainability at CPI, explained that approximately 190 million books were sold last year in the UK and the estimated carbon footprint of each book was between 2.71 and 4 kg. However, what we’re not measuring is the carbon cost of unsold books. 

Stephen Day, formerly SVP of Supply Chain, Global Operations at Pearson, shared some shocking estimates of the cost of pulping unsold books. 

For one publisher, the resources needed to pulp $100 million worth of books included:

  • 524,554 trees
  • Energy to power 9,888 homes for a year
  • CO2 emissions equal to those from 12,217 cars for a year
  • Water to fill 656 swimming pools
  • 1,930 rubbish trucks to waste
  • Enough aluminium plates to build 51 F-18 fighter jets

Whilst the publishing industry is taking measures to reduce the environmental impact in each of these areas, if we were able to better forecast the demand, and print just what was needed when it was needed, we would be able to reduce this further. 

There was also a recognition amongst participants that all of the green steps described in the webinar will not be enough to meet the UK government’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions target of 2050, and they are certainly not radical enough to ensure a safe ecological future for our children and the generations after that. 

So, what else can be done? 

Stephen Day recommended the following changes:

  1. Move from holding large amounts of inventory to printing on demand. The aim is to satisfy the customer’s needs with the right product at the right time, and not overproduce.
  2. Simplify designs and formats. CPI are already looking at using less environmentally harmful chemicals and materials in the printing process, but we should also be simplifying formats and designs as much as possible. 
  3. Store files and data centrally. At the moment, files are often stored around the world, some with printers, some with editorial teams. Instead, these should be held in central repositories to enable easy access and encourage more agile, on-demand ways of working. 
  4. Clean up the data. There is an environmental cost for storing and processing data. We need to better manage it, keeping only what is most valuable to the business. 
  5. Decentralize printing operations. Having simplified and clear data stewardship and workflows would allow us to print closer to customers and reduce the miles a book travels from printing to customer. 

Once we come through the current crisis, I hope we will have the opportunity to step back and explore different ways of creating and publishing beautiful, cool books people need, using simple, effective workflows that protect and enhance employee well-being, printing only what’s needed a few miles from the customer, whilst ensuring a fair financial return for employees, contributors, suppliers and investors, as well as actively contributing to an ecologically safe and fairer future for everyone.

See this article on LinkedIn, here.


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