The stark effects of climate change have undeniably become more apparent in the last decade. Frightening weather patterns that were once a rarity are now eerily familiar. With an increasing number of companies starting to be more upfront about their aims to tackle sustainability issues, it’s time the publishing industry does the same.
As we enter a new year, larger publishing companies need to be candid in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, as it’s no secret that mass producing the latest bestsellers uses a surplus of energy and water consumption. Our time to make a difference is fleeting, and we lie at a crossroads with two polar routes: one points towards climate chaos, the other is an upwards trajectory towards a cleaner, brighter future. If all of the publishing industry pledges to achieve carbon neutrality, we can begin to feel more optimistic about the latter option becoming a possibility.
Scrutinizing the whole production process is needed to detect which areas will need dramatic upheaval or small tweaks. Although it seems obvious, ensuring renewable energy is used is a massive leap towards decreasing our bookish carbon footprint. Since little is to be done about emissions from cutting down trees for paper/hardback books, utilising renewable energy would offer a clean journey to greener books. Through wind, solar and hydro power, we can balance out the carbon that has been released through deforestation. Penguin Random House, one of the largest book publishers, have set a vastly attainable goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030. They aim to significantly alter the processes of their supply chain and reduce their carbon emissions by using 100% renewable energy. It’s hopeful that this pledge will have a ripple effect throughout the industry, inspiring more companies to follow suit.
The familiar feel of a book is hard to replicate on a virtual platform. This is what makes it so difficult for many of us to transition to eBooks or audiobooks, arguably a slightly eco-friendlier alternative. The pleasure we get from leafing through a physical book is what many of us look forward to coming home to at the end of the day, as we ache for a break from being glued to a screen. Digital formats have certainly revolutionised the industry, as they are also suitable for those of us who live an active lifestyle. This alternative also offers a more affordable book buying habit if you get a kick out of obtaining the latest bestsellers (which are often obtrusively priced hardbacks). Yet, the decline of paper and hardback books has not occurred since the self-proclaimed ‘e-revolution’, so we need to brainstorm ways to shed greener light onto our old literary friend, the paperback. Whether this is through using recycled paper or natural ink sources, such as vegetables, more can be done to make us feel less guilty for our incessant book buying habits.
Dramatic changes simply don’t occur over night – it takes worthwhile planning and consideration. Sadly, millions of books are discarded each year, and the ability to sustainably source and recycle this waste is pivotal for the road to being eco-friendly.
Although sourcing paper sustainably may seem like the most obvious way forward to solve the publishing industry’s sustainability crisis, the supply chain holds more crevices that need to be smoothed and remoulded. Plastic packaging and office commuting all contribute to the emissions that damage our planet. Working from home is certainly the most viable option for reducing these unnecessary office commutes, and lockdown has proven this can be done efficiently with a minimal effect on work quality. Biodegradable packaging poses a promising remedy for the excess of plastic pollution floating in our oceans, and although the initial switch could prove to be costly, over time the prices will fall as the phenomena becomes more common.
A fundamental shift is needed to overcome the barriers we face with the climate crisis, and although we can continue to grill companies to make radical changes, the dilemma inevitably boils down to us as individuals. To act on policies, a dramatic shift in our universal mind-set must be replicated across all business models in the industry. The changes we make in our own daily lives may seem miniscule and as though they barely scratch the surface of the problem, but it all accumulates over time. Talking about climate change is the first step for change, and by bringing publishers, suppliers and authors together we can build enough momentum to fling ourselves into the deep end and create significant, worthwhile action.