Sustainable publishing demands rethinking our processes from acquisition and editorial through to sales and marketing, but particularly in distribution and production.

As resources for learning and entertainment, physical books are long-term possessions that can be cherished, shared and recirculated. This means a sustainable future for publishing involves trade-offs between producing sustainable products with minimal environmental impact and producing products designed to last. This balance will shift according to the needs of publishers, individual book projects and their readers.

While paper (and its carbon by-products) presents the most visible, and significant, environmental issue on the production side of publishing, other environmentally damaging materials including laminates, foils and glues are used. 

The following sections offer alternative materials and best practices to make books as sustainable and durable as possible.

Designing books with sustainable principles in mind can minimise the resources and energy used to print them, extend their lifespan, and ensure they do not cause further damage to the environment at the end of their life cycle.

Piles of hardback cover books

Sustainability in design means considering:

  • book format, with a view to minimising paper waste in printing as standardised layouts and paper sizes can increase the efficiency of paper use
  • whether a hardback is required, given they require tougher glue and thicker card
  • sustainable treatments for binding
  • alternatives to plastic for cover lamination or packaging
  • the relative environmental impacts of various decorative finishes, and finding alternatives to the more damaging materials like glitter
  • whether a dust jacket or J-band is necessary

A green book design guide such as that produced by the UK Book Chain Project can be helpful in guiding production, editorial and design staff to more sustainable design decisions.


Designing for durability sometimes entails choosing a less sustainable option. For example plastic laminates for book covers are more durable than environmentally friendly machine varnish, while hardback covers are sturdier but less eco-friendly. 

In some cases, it might be more desirable to design books that are flimsier but easier to recycle, especially when content is not geared towards long-term relevance.

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This content was last updated on 6/21/2022, and is updated quarterly. Please contact us if you have any recommended updates.