How one indie publisher is reducing their carbon imprint.

How one indie publisher is reducing their carbon imprint.

The publishing industry supply chain has a complex environmental footprint; outdoor sports publisher Vertebrate has mitigated its impact on climate change by introducing their first carbon negative book. Instead of using recycled paper to publish ultrarunner and climate change campaigner Damian Hall’s In it for the Long Run, which uses chemicals to clean the paper before it is reused, Vertebrate focussed on selecting a printer which used certified Forest Stewardship Council papers.  

The FSC certification guarantees that products come from responsibly managed forests which provide environmental, social and economic benefits. Sales and marketing director Julie Atkins says: “The printer we use in the UK is a zero emissions printer. All paper is FSC certified and carbon-offsetting is at source with one European printer at present, although we hope more will join to support local initiatives.”  

Atkins points out there aren’t enough local printers offering this service because FSC certified adds 15% to the cost of printing, and costs are substantially more for Europe and China. Thus, the technology doesn't exist to manage it properly. “There is not enough research carried out due to cost, so currently there is not enough choice of printers. We need to cut down on waste to make this work,” she adds. 

In it for the Long Run focuses on Hall’s preparation to break the record for completing the Pennine Way, whose last two holders were ultramarathon legends John Kelly and Mike Hartley. In 2020, Hall beat Kelly’s record by over three hours and along with members of his team collected rubbish along the 261-mile National Trail. This Carbon Negative challenge raised more than £4,000 for Greenpeace. Hall previously published the guide Pennine Way (Aurum) in 2012 and really got into ultrarunning after writing that book. He says: “I first heard of Hartley’s record 9 years ago and I thought it was superhuman. Similarly, I first heard of Kelly when he finished the Barkley Marathon [a 60-hour 100-mile ultramarathon trail race in Tennessee], which almost nobody finishes. They are both absolute heroes to me—I still can’t quite believe I ran the Pennine way slightly faster than them.” 

Originally a graphic design company, Vertebrate “made money by filling the world with plastic, publishing was our way out,” says Atkins. Whilst working with Hall, Vertebrate employed the environmental consultancy Our Carbon and Trees not Tees to figure out the carbon impact of producing the new title as well as future books, and how to offset the project with ten tonnes of carbon. For every book Vertebrate sells, it will stick a couple of kilograms of carbon back into the ground. In terms of reducing the carbon footprint of their office building, “we undertake full recycling, including composting the many teabags that power us through the day! All usage of office equipment and stationery has been audited, and we have replaced all plastic with paper equivalents.” 

With the offices situated on the doorstep of The Peak District, Vertebrate is driven by its own passion for the outdoors. By focusing titles on outdoor activities, it wants readers to feel encouraged to visit and explore local areas, enabling them to reduce their own carbon footprint. In It for the Long Run combines the world of ultrarunning and Hall’s concerns for our climate and ecological emergency. Hall suggests that thinking about “energy—your house or your workspace, how you travel and your diet” is one way we can reduce our carbon footprint, and the point he highlights is “progress not perfection is a good mantra.”