Publishers urged to do more to be green

Share this on social media:

Topic tags: 

Environmental responsibility is becoming a big issue for publishers. Siân Harris reports on some of the green ideas at the ALPSP conference

‘Publishing thinks of itself as a benign industry but you only have to visit a pulp factory to see that’s not really the case,’ observed Toby Sawday, who is responsible for business development and sustainability for Alistair Sawday’s Publishing, a UK-based travel book publisher.

Sawday was speaking at the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) international conference about his company’s experience of green publishing. He pointed out that 45 per cent of all industrial round wood harvested globally is used for making paper pulp. This leads to increasing deforestation and loss of habitat for both wildlife and people. In addition, processes such as making paper cause pollution in rivers and seas as well as generating greenhouse gases.

According to John Grace, head of the Institute of Environmental Science at the University of Edinburgh, who was also speaking at the ALPSP conference, 24 trees are required to make one tonne of paper. In addition, 1.5 tonnes of coal are required to produce the electricity for one tonne of paper and this is responsible for emitting around five tonnes of carbon dioxide.

What’s more, the process of harvesting the trees themselves produces carbon dioxide as well as removing the trees’ ability to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Beyond this, there are the distribution issues. Grace pointed out that the UK alone publishes around 200,000 book titles per year. If each of them had a print run of 1,000, that would be 200,000,000 books to be shipped around the world – without even considering all the journals, newspapers and magazines.

Such observations may seem like support for electronic delivery rather than print, but it is not quite so straightforward. According to research by the Swedish Royal Institute for Technology in 2007, if somebody read the news in a print newspaper each day, they would contribute 28 kg of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per year. Reading it online for 30 minutes a day, however, is responsible for 35 kg carbon dioxide per year because of the electricity used by the PC, network link and peripherals. Reading a newspaper on an e-reader came out on top, with emissions of just 14 kg carbon dioxide per year.

However, it is, of course, highly likely that the online reader’s PC would be turned on and networked whether they were reading the news on it or not. Beyond the complicated considerations about how material is published, there are business processes to consider in improving a publisher’s – or any business’ – environmental impact.

Travel plays a major part in this. Grace recounted how one of his students discovered that the carbon dioxide emitted through travel in the UK was linearlyrelated to income with no tailing off – the richer you are, the more carbon dioxide you make. And professional emissions play a much larger part in this than the common complaints about people taking their children to school or driving to the shops. The student found that the biggest contributor of carbon dioxide was journeys in the UK for professional reasons – an observation that had conference delegates shifting uncomfortably in their seats. This was followed by vacations abroad and then travelling to work.

There are ways to reduce this though. Travel by train came out on top in the green stakes. According to Grace, emissions were just 0.01 kg of carbon per person per kilometre, assuming that the train was 40 per cent full. Cars, assuming an average of 1.6 people per car, came out at 0.06 kg of carbon per person per kilometre. Short-haul flights, not surprisingly, came out as the highest, but only slightly higher than cars. Assuming a flight is 70 per cent full, emissions are 0.07 kg of carbon per person per kilometre. The figures change for long-haul flights though: for a 70 per cent full long-haul flight, the figure drops to 0.045 kg of carbon per person per kilometre – although, of course, more carbon dioxide is emitted simply by the fact that few people would choose to drive from Europe to China, for example.

A green experience

Alistair Sawday’s Publishing has looked at many of these issues in its attempt to be a ‘green publisher’. As Toby Sawday pointed out at the conference, ‘if decisions and concerns such as Fair Trade and the environment drive us at home, why do we leave them behind when we go to work?’ He said that the company had always sourced green energy, recycled, encouraged car sharing and sourced locally-produced Fair Trade or organic products, but realised that everyone has personal blind spots. For this reason, the company commissioned an environmental audit.

This audit revealed that one of the company’s biggest environmental impacts was in running its offices. As Sawday explained, ‘they were old and draughty, with oil-fired heating, but they were rented so we had little control over them. We decided that the only way we could make a real change was by owning our own building.’

The company then worked on improving the building by adding better insulation, removing the drafts, adding a solar thermal water heater, and using sun pipes for lighting and a heating system based on wood chips.

‘We have brought our heating costs down to next to nothing,’ said Sawday. The company also turned some of its car park into an allotment that staff can grow produce in during their lunchtimes. There is even a pig that eats leftovers from the canteen. Sawday noted that these changes were a fairly easy starting point and were good for staff engagement. ‘Don’t be shy to pick the areas you can make the biggest difference in,’ he advised other publishers.

A harder task for a publisher of travel books was the issue of travel itself. Sawday conceded that the company has not really found the answer to discouraging people from driving to work, although it has carsharing schemes and a number of ways to encourage cycling to work.

For the process of compiling the travel books, the company has a fuel-efficient car that is powered with recycled chip fat. Sawday said that this reduces emissions by approximately 75 per cent compared with the average car. The company also avoids air travel where possible and practical and double offsets its emissions when it does have to fly somewhere.

Beyond these issues, there are the challenges of compiling print books. Alistair Sawday’s uses recycled or PEFC/FSC certified paper and vegetable inks. It also uses a local printing firm. Such choices do have consequences, of course. ‘We estimate that we could save 30 per cent if we printed in the Far East on virgin paper with oilbased inks,’ commented Sawday. The company has also turned down business opportunities that do not fit with its environmental standpoint. For example, although its main subject area is travel, it does not accept advertising from airlines. However, there are business benefits, as well as environmental ones, in taking a ‘green’ approach. For example, Sawday pointed out that Alistair Sawday’s is saving money on running its buildings since they were redesigned. Developing green credentials also helps with staff retention and with the company’s reputation.

‘There’s an alternative for almost everything, such as green cleaning companies and green taxi firms. It is also important to look at where your money sits and what impact that has,’ said Sawday. ‘We are a small company, but we are part of a growing movement of publishers making green demands on the supply chain.’

This session provoked considerable discussion over the lunchtime that followed it. Many delegates asked if scholarly publishers could do more to have a positive impact on the environment, with the help of organisations such as ALPSP in promoting peer support and providing case studies that are specific to this sector.