Towards a greener book industry

Opinion - Publishing Wednesday, 13th November 2019

BIC is exploring how it can help guide the book industry towards more sustainable practices. Karina Urquhart reports

Back in August, a group of book industry professionals gathered in London to discuss, learn and explore how our industry might improve its carbon footprint and become environmentally greener and cleaner. The venue was the Poetry Café, and the sold-out event was the August BIC Breakfast: Towards a Greener Book Industry. Attendees represented service providers, book distributors, printing and logistics suppliers, publishers, data aggregators, shippers, and trade bodies.

As the session progressed, it became clear that our industry still had much to do environmentally. It also needs to shout more about the great work already happening, do more of that great work, and expand efforts into new areas perhaps not yet widely known about or considered. It is clear we need to think about how we might collaborate and co-ordinate to improve our green credentials. There is a definite desire that these current and yet-to-come efforts be managed and communicated to ensure that the book industry does all it can to be cleaner, greener and sustainable.

Unavoidable questions
As we know, increasingly global book industry standards such as ONIX and Thema are being adopted worldwide with a view to bettering international communications and discoverability, and increasing sales. Great news, but what does this mean for the book industry's supply chain? What is the size of our industry's carbon footprint and its consumption of plastic? How can organisations increase their sustainability while reducing their overall environmental impact? And what does the future hold? These questions face us now, and they're not going away.

At the breakfast, attendees heard from Carly Griggs and Nick Sammons of Carnstone's Book Chain Project, who provide an overview of publishers' green issues and what is being done to address them. Neil Springall of Penguin Random House Distribution gave an update on the measures being taken by distributors to reduce plastic within the industry (he revealed the shocking statistic that since 1950 humans had produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic, of which 76% had become waste* - that's the same weight as 207 million humpback whales!) as well as organisations' responsibilities to carry out returns responsibly.

Dave Thompson of Publiship provided an overview of the forthcoming IMO2020 green initiative, which will be introduced by the shipping industry next year, and explains how it will affect organisations throughout the book industry supply chain. He pointed out that although international shipping had a smaller carbon footprint than diesel train, truck or air freight, it was nonetheless responsible for 2.1% of all CO2 emissions globally. Fuel consumption could be greatly reduced simply by slowing the ship's speed by 10%.

Green manifesto
The BIC event is well timed: it follows fast on the heels of the Booksellers Association's (BA's) announcement in July 2019 that its Green Bookselling Task Force has now created a Green Manifesto calling primarily on booksellers, but also on the rest of the book trade, to reduce the environmental impact of many long-held practices and processes. It is encouraging that the American and Australian Bookseller Associations are supporting the BA's initiative.

The enthusiasm from the BIC Breakfast attendees, and the desire for a co-ordinated approach, has led BIC into discussions with various stakeholders on how it can best support the UK book industry's green interests. And given the global nature of the book industry, BIC is having similar conversations with BISG (Book Industry Study Group) in the US, and BookNet Canada. Building on its existing programme of supply chain efficiency work, by early 2020 BIC intends to announce its intentions in this space with regards to the green agenda.

As the BIC Breakfast drew to a close, Dave Thompson revealed that the world now had its first all-electric cargo ship, which is operating in the Pearl River in China - good news you might think. The drawback is that the ship currently transports coal! Clearly, there remains much work to be done.


BIC will host its Building a Greener Business seminar at London Book Fair on 12 March.You can subscribe to BICs "Green Supply Chain" mailing list (List 4) at

Karina Urquhart is executive director at Book Industry Communication Ltd (BIC).

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Book Fair Show Daily.

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