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Green Book Alliance Releases Sustainability Survey Results

Pioneering survey finds high interest, encouraging levels of participation across the global book industry

Between November 2020 and January 2021, the Green Book Alliance, a joint effort led by Book Industry Communication, BookNet Canada, and the Book Industry Study Group, surveyed publishers, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, retailers, and industry service providers to better understand the current state of sustainability in book publishing.

The survey received a total of 68 responses from nine countries led by Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. The majority of responses came from publishers. The number of responses received is lower than we had hoped, and the lower volume makes it harder to draw wider-ranging conclusions from the responses. We plan to partner more closely with other sustainability efforts, including those led by national organizations, to spread the word about follow-up surveys.

Key findings from the responses to the survey include:

  • Interest in sustainability is significant; 90% of those responding either have or plan to adopt a policy governing their efforts in this area. Among those responding, the steps taken to date largely address reducing waste, cutting use of non-recyclable materials, and promoting environmentally sound office practices. Some respondents described efforts to offset the carbon footprint of work-related travel, as well as commitments to energy providers that delivered power from renewable sources.

  • About half of those responding indicated that they ask at least some environmental questions depending on the nature of the trading partner/supplier; a quarter don’t ask their supply-chain partners about environmental issues. Only 8% of those answering the survey said they conduct extensive environmental reviews with most or all of our trading partners, but 12% indicated their “decision is 100% influenced by our trading partners’ responses to our environmental questions”. Another 57% indicated that decisions are somewhat influenced by suppliers’ responses.

  • Much of the current focus remains on product certifications, such as FSC sourcing for paper products. Respondents indicated that they were increasingly interested in process certifications, both for themselves and supply-chain partners, a move that will require deeper discussions and a new body of research to establish best practices. Certifications represent an area the Green Book Alliance is considering as a mid-term offering.

  • Responding organizations have taken steps to reduce their own carbon footprints. The most common actions to date include greater use of print-on-demand technologies, ordering shorter press runs to avoid waste, printing locally, and sourcing paper and distribution components, such as pallets, in an environmentally responsible manner.

  • Some organizations are setting KPIs and measuring impact, but they represent a minority of those responding. About 28% indicated they set goals today; another quarter indicated they have plans to do so. More than a third said they do not set goals or measure progress toward them.

  • Almost 85% of those responding expressed interest in online or in-person events that might be hosted by the Green Book Alliance. The most common requests for website content included: a directory of book industry resources; case studies of sustainability initiatives; and research results.

  • Research efforts of greatest interest included documenting the carbon footprint for the book industry supply chain, and the environmental impact of current industry practices. A majority also sought information on highlighting good efforts done by industry segments, as well as developing metrics to guide certification and supply chain awards.

​Next steps

The survey confirms the value of offering information, events, and research about sustainability in ways that inform the book industry around the world. For the balance of 2021, the Alliance makes three firm commitments, shown below, and identifies four other initiatives that may be accomplished in the second half of 2021 or early 2022.

Work this year will also include efforts to build a governing council, both to broaden the coalition of engaged parties and to raise money that would be dedicated to research projects, information gathering, and case study development. Members of the Alliance will be reaching out in the second quarter to discuss the benefits of a governing council with the book publishing community.

Firm commitments

  • Continued presentation of sustainability events, led by BIC’s Green Brunch series

  • Governance: forming an oversight council, soliciting support (including contributions)

  • Outreach to industry partners to frame one or more research projects of interest

On the drawing board

  • Joint event with the IPA and its Publishers Compact at or during Frankfurt Book Fair

  • Updating the GBA web site to share the results of this survey and address the opportunities it has identified

  • Checklists or guidelines on how to talk with your trading partners about their sustainability profile

  • Solicitation and publication of case studies that demonstrate how sustainability objectives can be established, measured, and met

What you get for supporting the Green Book Alliance

  • Select and shape research projects of greatest interest, sharing results across multiple markets

  • Create a book industry specific global industry resource of shared information on sustainability efforts and best practices

  • Defining and approving accreditation schemes and awards

For more information

More detailed information about the survey results is available upon request.

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