Print less, print closer, print greener

Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 26th May 2021

We need a greener supply chain for book publishers, writes Paul Randall of HP Publishing Solutions

The climate crisis is real, and until we collectively look to reduce unnecessary book miles, we must acknowledge that the truth is more than inconvenient; it’s critical. The truth must drive positive change in the book industry supply chain

Book publishing has had its share of revolutions, from the inventions of moveable type and the Gutenberg printing press to the industrial revolution, the creation of the mass market paperback, and the digital revolution at the turn of the twenty-first century. Where once businesses focused on economies of scale and accepted the writing off of losses, consumers, employees, and shareholders now demand a new paradigm to drive the way the industry operates—one that removes environmentally detrimental practices from the supply chain and achieves greater economic benefit for publishers.

Welcome to the sustainability revolution for book publishing.

New operational models for the manufacturing and distribution of books for trade and academic markets allow for more efficient use of energy, materials, and labour, resulting in less waste and greater margins for book publishers.

With on-demand printing using technology and processes developed with sustainability in mind, publishers can meet their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals and drive down their fully landed costs. That’s a win-win.

Emerging POD networks, such as HP’s global print partner network, are meeting the needs of publishers to satisfy their customers, grow their businesses, and act responsibly. It’s clearly better for the environment to send a digital file than to ship a physical book and when book files are stored in the cloud using the HP Piazza Suite of solutions, print jobs of any size can be dynamically routed to the print facility closest to the end user.

For each bound book that sits on a shelf there’s energy, lumber, water, freight, glue, ink and labour to pay for, as well as services such as storage, picking, packing, delivering, and—too often—fees associated with unsold inventory: more energy, more freight, more labour. When printing to meet consumer demand, publishers save money while eliminating environmentally harmful waste.

Publishers working with HP Publishing Solutions are benefitting from a consistency of print quality, the ability to manage their content through a centralized system, streamlined operations and accounting, and speed to market.

Transportation is one of the most significant contributors of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so shortening the distance that books need to travel should be a goal for every publishing company. Printing closer to the consumer means that books travel shorter distances, and means that supply-chain hold-ups like we’ve seen recently from the Suez Canal blockage are much less likely to disrupt book sales.

Environmentally and economically speaking, another great benefit of the print-to-order model is the reduction of returns. What happens to the 30% of manufactured books that remain unsold? Some can be recycled, many (most?) end up as landfill. Every unsold book has an actual cost to the publisher that eats into profits and an environmental cost that benefits no one.

The notion that some books can be recycled does not absolve the industry of the energy it takes to ship products from a store to a warehouse to a recycling facility, with more energy then consumed in the pulping process.

Innovations have been made in the printing sector, and partnering with an agile global print network that meets or exceeds corporate promises of sustainability is one way to be part of the solution. We all deserve a greener supply chain. And the sustainability revolution can’t wait.


Download HP Publishing Solutions’ whitepaper: Reduce your carbon footprint at