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In the complex landscape of climate action, carbon offsetting has become a widely adopted practice as many opt to offset their flights, homes, or workplaces. GBA's recent survey showed a decrease in companies who carbon offset over the last 3 years, as well as a decrease in companies who plan to use carbon offsets in the future. We wanted to dig into some of the pros and cons of this practice.


Carbon offsets function by calculating emissions for an activity and then paying offset companies to counterbalance those emissions elsewhere, often through the implementation of clean energy technologies or the support of reforestation efforts. When companies are deciding if it's the right choice for them, it's important to consider the costs and benefits.


The Role of Carbon Offsetting

According to organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), carbon offsetting alone does not address the root cause of emissions. Instead, it should be considered a last resort after prioritizing avoidance, reduction, and substitution of emissions sources.


What Are Carbon Offsets Actually Doing?

Critics have raised valid concerns about the efficacy of carbon offset projects, citing variations in their efficiency and the risk of greenwashing. Some projects may overstate their ability to reduce emissions, leading to a perception of offsetting as a superficial solution. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that carbon offsetting also serves as a lifeline for environmental projects that may struggle to secure funding independently.


Is There a Longterm ROI for Carbon Offsets?

In short, no. Unlike internal sustainability initiatives that may yield measurable ROIs over time, offsetting lacks direct financial benefits. However, in the interim, it provides a means for companies to contribute to environmental projects while striving to reduce their carbon footprints through other avenues. In this sense, carbon offsetting can be viewed as a complementary strategy rather than a standalone solution.


Ultimately, the decision to engage in carbon offsetting is nuanced. It neither inherently signifies environmental commitment nor negligence but instead depends on the context in which it's implemented.


Pros

Cons

Helps environmental projects that can’t secure funding on their own

Does not address the root cause of emissions

Allows for companies to do more in reducing their carbon footprint

Lacks long-term ROI

Flexibility in achieving carbon reduction goals for emissions that are difficult to eliminate internally

Offset projects can range in efficiency (potential for greenwashing)



Image from Unsplash by Matthias Heyde


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  • Green Book Alliance

This report summarizes key findings of the GBA survey results and compares them to past survey results (GBA Survey 2020/21).


Download the Excel sheet for a comparison of the 2020/21 & 2023/24 data:


GBA Survey Results 20/21-23/24
.xlsx
Download XLSX • 176KB

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Executive Summary

This comparative analysis between the 2020/21 and 2023/24 surveys highlights a few shifts in sustainability practices within the publishing industry, though most aspects remained consistent. However there were differences, such as a noticeable increase in efforts to reduce carbon emissions from staff travel in the 2023/24 survey, with a 19% rise in reduced travel and a 13% increase in the use of video conferencing. This shift reflects a growing emphasis on reducing environmental impact through alternative modes of communication and transportation.


Additionally, the 2023/24 survey revealed a mixed picture regarding carbon offsetting practices, with a substantial increase in organizations reporting no plans to carbon offset. There was a decrease in the number of organizations currently engaged in carbon offsetting compared to the 2020/21 survey. This trend suggests a shifting landscape in approaches to carbon mitigation strategies, potentially influenced by evolving priorities or challenges faced by organizations. Moreover, while some environmentally friendly practices remained consistent, such as the use of green/sustainable energy providers, there were notable decreases in certain areas, such as the use of certified post-consumer recycled paper. These shifts underscore the dynamic nature of sustainability efforts within the publishing industry, reflecting ongoing adaptation to emerging environmental priorities and strategies.


Notable Findings

  • Less travel, more video conferencing

  • Decrease in carbon offsetting

  • General decrease in use of sustainable paper strategies

  • Increase in environmental certifications and commitments

  • Most respondents do not know if their country has a unified national book industry sustainability group

  • Most respondents are publishers, there was an increase in respondents who are manufacturers

Highlights by Question

1. Does your organization have an environmental policy or has your company committed to any environmental goals?

  • Responses similar with ~65% choosing yes


2. Over the last 3 years or so, what steps has your organization put in place to manage its environmental footprint?

  • Responses similar

  • Options added to 2023/24 :Print on Demand instead of warehousing, Increased use of Print on Demand (compared to 2020) but still some warehousing, More materials sourced locally, Using more FSC paper

  • Top answers for responses available both years: Reduce material wastage (~77%), Improving efforts to recycle materials where possible (~60-70%), Lower energy consumption (~55%)


3. For some, businesses travel is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. What steps have been taken by your organization over the past 3 years to reduce its carbon footprint regarding staff travel?

  • Increase in reduced travel in 2023/34 by 19%

  • Increase in video conference in 2023/24 by 13%

  • 12% reduction in response that no steps had been taken in 2023/24 


4. Many organizations now operate successfully with staff working from home 100%, or in a hybrid manner - for a variety of reasons. Is this type of working arrangement applicable to your organization still, and if so is it something that your organization will continue to operate under for the foreseeable future?

  • Responses similar with ~40%-50% choosing yes for a combination of reasons including environmental ones


5. What steps have been taken by your organization overall over the past 3 years to reduce its carbon footprint when it comes to the transportation of books?

  • Responses similar with Greater use of Print-On-Demand, smaller print runs/not overprinting etc (~50%-60%) and Printing locally where possible (~40-50%) being top answers

  • More options were added to 2023/24 survey: Reduced air shipments, Eliminated all air shipments, Increased cover-only or affidavit returns, Increased use of FSC packaging, Introduced or increased direct to customer deliveries


6. It is a controversial option for some, but does your organization offset any or all of the carbon it produces?

  • Increase in no plans to carbon offset by ~17% from 2020/21 to 2023/24

  • Decrease in number of company’s currently carbon offsetting from 2020/21 to 2023/24


7. Does your organization currently use green/sustainable energy providers? If so, for what type of energy use? e.g. heating, lighting etc.

  • Responses similar


8. It is stating the obvious, but we would not have printed books without paper. These next statements are concerned with both paper for the creation, promotion, and distribution of the printed book and the use of paper in the office generally. Please tick all that apply.

  • ~14% decrease in use of certified 100% post-consumer recycled paper for printing books

  • ~18% decrease in not sending out any unsolicited paper marketing material

  • ~13% decrease in paper for manuscripts, books, and/or royalty statements is sourced from a certified forest management system


8. Does your organization currently have a department or person with overall responsibility for your sustainability agenda?

  • Responses similar, slight increase (7%) in answer ‘yes’


9. Does your organization measure its sustainability through any sustainability KPIs or metrics?

  • Responses similar, almost equal responses between yes, no, no but we intend to


10. In the last 3 years, the use of non-biodegradable and/or single-use plastics (including materials used during distribution, shipping etc, book finishes, lamination, manufacture, shrink-wrapping, plastic bags and so on) for your organization has generally:

  • Responses similar

  • ~10% increase in stayed the same


11. Has your organization undertaken any environmental sustainability certifications or commitments (e.g., SBTI, ISO 14001, Carbon Disclosure Project, UN SDGs etc)?

  • 2020/21 only asked is your organization ISO 14001 certified


12. What (if any) environmental questions do you ask your trading partners/suppliers before you agree to trade with them and throughout your trading relationship?

  • Increase of ~13% in “ask some environmental questions depending on the nature of the trading partner/supplier”


13. What (if any) environmental questions do you ask your trading partners/suppliers before you agree to trade with them and throughout your trading relationship?

  • Responses similar with number one choice (~60%) “Our decision is somewhat influenced by our trading partners’ responses to our environmental questions”

  • Increase of ~13% for “our decision to trade is never influenced by our trading partners’ responses to environmental questions.”


14. Would representatives of your organization want to attend future industry forum meetings hosted by the International Green Book Supply Chain Alliance on environmental matters relating to greening the supply chain?

  • Responses similar 


15. What features do you use on the Green Book Alliance's website? (tick all that apply)

  • New options added in 2023/24 survey (makes comparing more challenging)


16. What projects do you think are important for this international effort and the industry to consider?

  • New options added in 2023/24 survey (makes comparing more challenging)

  • Responses similar 


17. Does your country have a unified national book industry sustainability group that we could contact?

  • Responses similar with number one choice (~45%-60%) “Don't know”


18. My company’s primary business is (select one)

  • Responses similar, primarily publishers (~55%-70) but increase (~13%) in manufacturers (paper or printing)


19. My role is:

  • Responses similar, primarily C-suite oversight and Departmental manager (~35%-45%)


20. My involvement with environmental issues and topics is:

  • Responses similar, with number one choice “Direct - it’s part or all of my job”

Countries Breakdown of Survey Respondents

2020/21

Brasil

England

France

Germany

Hong Kong

Hungary

Denmark

Australia

United States

UK

Canada

2023/24

Deutschland

Netherlands

South Africa

Australia

UK

United States

Canada

Both

Australia

UK

United States

Canada

Deutschland/Germany


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On March 26th, 2024 BookNet hosted "Green Paths: Learning from Publishers' Sustainability Journeys." In this event, industry leaders shared insights into their efforts toward environmental responsibility. The event, hosted by BookNet Canada, showcased the sustainable practices of the University of Toronto Press (UTP), Invisible Publishing, and Nosy Crow, and was moderated by New Society Publishers' EJ Hurst.


UTP highlighted its commitment to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through publications and journals, emphasizing collaborations with figures like former Toronto Mayor David Miller. The focus extended to unexpected areas, such as climate change's connection to theatre and cinema, showcasing diverse approaches to sustainability.


Meanwhile, Nosy Crow, a UK-based children's publisher, shared its journey in implementing sustainability strategies. Key initiatives included reducing Scope 3 emissions and navigating supply chain complexities, reflecting the broader industry's challenges and ambitions.


Attendees gained insights into collaborative projects like the Book Chain Project, aiming to map carbon footprints and promote circular economy practices. Future tools and resources were also discussed, aiming to support publishers in their sustainability endeavours.


The event provided a valuable platform for industry players to exchange ideas and strategies, reinforcing the growing importance of sustainability in publishing.

For further details and access to event recordings, visit the BookNet Canada website.


Photo by blackieshoot from Unsplash.


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