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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

FutureBook 2021 - Small Presses, Small Environmental Impact?

By Millie Kiel and Mara Radut

In light of COP26, everyone is making promises – big and small companies alike – and the publishing industry isn't staying quiet on that front either. Rethinking everything is key when every little impact on the climate is increasingly making a dent. Books, as generally the most reliable sources of information out there, are solely dependent upon the publishing industry. The industry chooses what kind of information should be spread and how it is spread.

The Bookseller hosted its annual FutureBook conference on 19 November, its main focus for 2021 being “rebuilding the book trade” after COVID-19, which requires raising a lot of questions. For example, what should the reinvention of the book trade look like after the pandemic? How can publishing become “more diverse, more sustainable and more culturally impactful?” What solutions have been working thus far and which ones haven’t been as effective?

This year will be the first to see the FutureBook Sustainability Award, an offshoot of The Bookseller’s Climate Issue (released on 15 October 2021) which monitors and aims to recognise the progress of the industry on the environmental impact caused by the book business.

In looking for publishers to nominate for the award, the team from The Bookseller were encouraged by what they saw. Molly Flatt, one of the magazine’s editors and authors, said: "Our new Sustainability award unearthed encouraging evidence that publishing really is taking action to tackle its climate impact.” It is hoped the award will encourage even more publishers to take even more action, with Flatt going on to say that “this is one category where copycats are only to be encouraged."

What Does Sustainability Look Like for Independent Publishers?

While they may not have the clout of the Big Five or other large publishing groups, what is clear from the shortlist for this inaugural award is that independent publishers pack a punch when it comes to sustainability in publishing. Of the six publishers on the shortlist, four are independent businesses.

The Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) is one of the independent nominees for the FutureBook Sustainability Award 2021. The IPG is committed to keeping itself as sustainable as possible. With ideas ranging from using paper made from sustainable sources to researching printers that offer carbon offsetting, the members of the IPG offer innovative solutions and blueprints for all publishers who are looking to make a change. The IPG has also launched a Sustainability Action Group, a forum where publishers from across the industry can gather to discuss the environmental impact of the industry and steps that can be taken to reduce it. The group hosts events, creates and shares action points, and generates resources to support publishers to operate in a way that is friendlier for our planet. They have recently announced The Book Journey Project, led by a cross-industry taskforce and delivered by experts at The Book Chain Project. The IPG’s project will map the journey of six books from the point of ordering to their delivery to readers, each modelled on different scenarios. Along the way they will measure and record greenhouse gas emissions and areas of waste or inefficiency. As “one of the most significant sustainable research projects ever undertaken by the publishing industry” this initiative will provide clear evidence on the environmental impact of the publishing supply chain. It will shine a light on areas where change needs to be made, and in what way.

KoganPage is the second indie to feature on the Sustainability award shortlist. A leading global publisher of books and content on business, the publisher is a champion for operating a sustainable publishing model. For one, they are a certified carbon neutral business, meeting the standards in terms of measuring, calculating, and offsetting all of their organisational carbon emissions within the Scope 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions boundary. KoganPage also work within wider publishing circles to champion sustainable practices in the industry as a whole, participating in initiatives including the Publishers Association Sustainability Taskforce, the Green Book Alliance and the IPG Sustainability Action Group.

These are only two of the many wonderful indie presses currently striving to make their processes as environmentally friendly as they can. By its very nature, the smaller scale of independent publishing tends to mean more efficient and scaled-down practices. Supply chains tend to be kept more local, and distribution will often be less global.

Whether they’re independent or not, though, we’re always thrilled to see publishers taking steps to make their processes more sustainable. We’d like to congratulate the IPG as the first winner of FutureBook’s Sustainability Award!

Nevertheless, with independent presses almost outnumbering the big players in the shortlist, perhaps larger publishing houses have a lot to learn from independent publishers.



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