Sustainability in Publishing today

We are still on such a high following London Book Fair last month and had the most fantastic few days catching up with our candidates and clients and gaining different perspectives and insight from seminars and panels – there was an overall feel of positivity, engagement and commitment to a more sustainable future for publishing which happens to be one of the biggest trends and issue that publishers are facing right now.

We wanted to understand the issues deeper and so were lucky enough to  attend ConText London – a relatively new event launched in Frankfurt last year where the theme was all around the state of the book paper industry and how supply chain stakeholders can work together to ensure a sustainable future; as well as addressing from the perspective of the publisher / printer partners, how to successfully implement a globally distributed, in-market production strategy to meet demand, reduce risk, and ‘green’ the supply chain.

Chaired by Ashley Gordon, Publishing Market Development Manager at HP – this event was a ‘working conference’ where we sat on small round tables and had open, honest discussions about the core challenges in the industry. It seems that sustainability and a ‘green’ supply chain are high on the agendas of printers and publishers as we get closer to the net zero coalition to be net zero by 2050.

One of the major discussions at ConText was around data – companies are starting to send out and receive more questionnaires from their suppliers on their sustainability practices, and we are seeing publishers in particular looking to focus on fewer suppliers where they can instill these practices, and have very strong relationships – this applies to publishers, associations, printers and paper mills. On the issue of data, part of the challenge is the size of business – do they have the infrastructure in place to collect the data, and is that data transferable and accessible? Can it be used to support industry wide research and intervention – and if it can’t, what can be done to help?

It is great to see sustainability talked about more widely, there was a session on this very topic at London Book Fair, and the Society of Authors announced a campaign to help writers hold publishers to account on sustainability. Communication is key; in order for the industry overall to become more sustainable then there needs to be more of this discussion and a communication piece to the consumer, so they can understand what it means to be green.

With the recent worldwide paper shortage, prices are increasing and organisations are looking at different ways to make this work – print on demand, zero waste policies and localized hubs have all proven successful and we will be seeing more of this as time goes on.

Sustainability is a real head and heart topic and from a recruitment perspective, we have seen a trend from candidates where they are looking for their employers to have a strategy around sustainability, and to be seen to be reducing their carbon emissions – there was a case study at SpringerNature for example where this approach has proven to have improved retention and is used as an attraction tool.

It is clear that if as a business you are looking at your carbon emissions and have a plan of action for a sustainable supply chain now, then you will be at an advantage. The industry needs more communication, more data and some kind of standardization of process. Our industries membership bodies and associations play a part here, and there have been some great initiatives already but I think we will certainly see more commitment to sustainable supply chains and more data around carbon output in the coming months!