Copping in

Copping in

The time is now. We all know there is a climate emergency. On the eve of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, which starts in Glasgow on 1st November, the time to act really is now. We can still avoid a climate catastrophe if we all, individually and collectively, take concrete action to limit our carbon emissions, and we are lucky to work in an industry that can have a significant impact on altering the course of climate change. The publishing industry is a key player in communicating about the crisis—through publishing research, facts and the science behind them, as well as engaging content for all—and in adopting sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.

As everyday individuals we can make simple, daily changes to our behaviour, such as driving less and flying less, eating more plant-based meals, or turning down the heating. But as an industry, we can be even more impactful. This is the idea behind mobilising industry support via the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Publishers Compact, launched a year ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair by the United Nations in consultation with the International Publishers Association. There has been an overwhelming show of support for this initiative.

There are many more, such as the Green Book Alliance created by Book Industry Communication (BIC) in the UK, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) in the US and BookNet Canada (BNC), or the recent call to prioritise climate action in the run-up to COP26 by many key players in the book industry. It is inspiring to see how many publishers and other actors in the publishing supply chain have stepped up to not only show support but actually take action to achieve our common, vital goal.

Asking questions of suppliers and partners, and communicating internally and externally about the importance of sustainability, is another very important and simple action we can take as an industry. It is a question of accountability, but it also ensures that issues related to carbon neutrality are prioritised and top of mind.

The clear objective is to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. There are complicated calculations and concepts behind those numbers, and it can seem daunting. According to the UN Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, current commitments by countries are nowhere near enough to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach. We will need to see a five-fold increase in ambition to achieve the target. Simply put, there is significant room for improvement and the publishing industry can play its part. No contribution is too small. So what can we do, as an industry that is present in every country around the world? Many of us are already adopting sustainable practices and publishing content that can raise awareness and share solutions with a wide audience. The SDG Publishers Compact provides a clear framework most of us can adhere to, focused around three key areas: prioritising sustainability, raising awareness, and taking action. We have seen publishers not only commit to the Compact and its 10 principles, but also to take it further and ask for more.

Some, for example, are working on how to concretely implement a system wherein journal editors and reviewers encourage authors to indicate which SDGs are relevant to their articles before publishing them. We have publishers contacting us to ask how they can share best practices and work collaboratively across borders to amplify the impact of their efforts. Others are working on concrete indicators for tracking progress across the publishing industry, and many are categorising and tagging their content by SDG, making the SDGs more “famous” and easier to access.

Much of it really is about starting with an intention to do better, by prioritising sustainability. This can be as simple as planning an environmentally sustainable editorial project from the start, questioning the specifications, packaging, quantities that are really needed, and considering digital formats. Some things we often don’t think about that have an important carbon footprint include using locally sourced materials to limit transportation, grouping shipments, or avoiding urgent ones. Asking questions of suppliers and partners, and communicating internally and externally about the importance of sustainability, is another very important and simple action we can take as an industry. It is a question of accountability, but it also ensures that issues related to carbon neutrality are prioritised and top of mind. Asking the question can be enough to solicit action.

Of course,there are concrete and even obvious steps we can take, such as limiting pulping, reducing our use of single-use plastic and cardboard, and printing with environmentally friendly inks on paper from responsibly managed forests. These are all core to the publishing industry and adopting even some of these practices can make a big difference.

Let’s do our part to make sure COP26 is a concrete turning point when we actually move the needle to ensure we don’t face even more disastrous flooding, fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters in our lifetime, our children’s and our grandchildren’s. We have a glimpse now of how things really are changing, and still a small window of opportunity to impact the course of things. Let’s not lose that chance. We know the publishing industry is ready to do its part.

Sherri Aldis is the Chief of United Nations Publications in the Department of Global Communications at the United Nations, where she oversees its publishing activities and policies and supports the communications priorities and campaigns of the UN, such as the Sustainable Development Goals. She has had an extensive career in the international book and publishing industry, mostly at Hachette Livre in Paris. She is Canadian and British and has lived in the UK, Canada, France and Tunisia.