Industry Insights with Émilie Hames
By Georgie Graham, Leyla Mehmet, Karoline Tübben and Aimee Whittle
This week, we spoke to Émilie Hames, the Sustainability Production Controller at Penguin Random House UK.
Why did you decide to work in production initially and then transition over to a sustainability focused role?
I never intended to work in production when I began to apply for entry-level roles in publishing, I actually wanted to work in marketing! However, while I was studying for my Masters in Publishing at UAL, I gained a lot of skills and knowledge that equipped me for a role in production. In one module, we were put into teams and tasked to design and produce a publication. I was given the role of Production Manager and was responsible for managing the print production schedule, sourcing the materials and monitoring the budget. This prepared me for a role in production and enabled me to secure my first job in the PRH Children’s production team.
As a Production Assistant, I became aware of how unsustainable book production can be, which fuelled my desire to find sustainable solutions. During lockdown, we reprinted one book series successively that featured glitter varnish on the cover and I couldn’t help but wonder just how much glitter – a pervasive microplastic – we had used. I researched how many units of this series we had printed historically and asked the printer to confirm the amount of glitter used per cover. I then calculated the total amount of glitter used for the entire series, presented it to my managers and successfully petitioned for the removal of glitter across PRH Children’s titles. This encouraged me to pursue a career in sustainability. Unfortunately, sustainability roles in the publishing industry are quite elusive so I planned to continue working in production while pushing for sustainable initiatives on the side. Then by chance, my current role was advertised last spring and here I am!
Are there any trends in production focusing on sustainability within publishing that you think will become more mainstream/popular?
I think the main trend will be the continued phasing out of unsustainable materials in the supply chain and switching to more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Lots of publishers have already decided to remove glitter varnish from their books, have opted to use vegetable-based inks over mineral-based inks and are actively looking at and mitigating their plastic consumption. However, there is still a lot more that we can do to amplify sustainable book production across the industry and encourage all publishing houses to review the materials in their supply chain.
We are starting to see legislation around sustainable practice that will necessitate publishers to take direct action in this space. The UK Plastic Packaging Tax, the UK Extended Producer Responsibility and France’s upcoming ban on mineral inks will all influence how publishers design, produce and transport their books. While the potential legal ramifications of these legislations seem daunting, I hope that they will facilitate an explosion of creative innovation in book design and production in the coming years.
What is it about PRH UK that brings you to work every day?
Knowing that through my role I am having a positive impact on our planet. When you work in the sustainability field, the constant negative discourse can be overwhelming and disheartening and you can feel as though you’re fighting a losing battle. But it’s important to remember that small progress is still progress! I can’t solve the global crisis single-handedly, but I can utilise my position at Penguin to embed sustainable book production and implement carbon reduction initiatives to mitigate our carbon footprint. I feel honoured to hold my current position and proud that I am contributing to the global movement that addresses climate change.
Also, I’ve met so many wonderful humans at Penguin over the years, all of whom are passionate about what they do!
What does a typical day in your role look like?
The essence of my role is to support my manager on embedding sustainable initiatives within the business and enforcing ethical compliance across the supply chain. My typical day therefore varies greatly depending on the projects we are working on and the needs of the business. I’ll start my morning by going through and answering any emails and drawing up a to-do list for the day so I can identify urgent and priority tasks. This can entail liaising with suppliers for information on a material or paper brand, assisting production colleagues with sustainable production queries, conducting desk research for a project, creating internal or external communications, writing reports, drafting business proposals, checking a supplier’s recent ethical audit reports and querying any non-compliances with them and handling FSC logo approvals and queries.
Would you recommend your role to others?
I would wholeheartedly recommend my role to anyone who is passionate about environmental sustainability and wants to make a positive change in the industry. I hope that the urgency of the climate crisis will result in the creation of more sustainability roles and we eventually become the norm in publishing.