The UN definition of sustainable development (also known as the Brundtland definition) states that:
‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’
This definition mirrors the challenges faced by the publishing industry in the coming decades.
Australian publishing will need to be bold and innovative to reimagine current practices. Our task is to supply readers with a wide and engaging variety of new material, and to respond to the continuing appetite for physical books, while ensuring that the industry’s operations do not cause harm to the planet.
As climate disruptions become more likely to interfere with business and shipping operations, we also face the challenge of building greater resilience and flexibility into the supply chain.
Coordinating our sustainability efforts and establishing shared goals will allow for wider-reaching action across the industry, particularly when it comes to smaller publishers who can struggle to make small changes alone.
At present, a desire on the part of publishers to push for sustainable practices (such as low-carbon paper or less plastic used in distribution) can often be stalled by economic and logistical difficulties. Collective pressure on key suppliers to operate sustainably will be crucial to changing practices throughout the supply chain.
Industry-wide knowledge sharing will also allow sustainable practices to spread more quickly and become standard practices. Organisations such as the Green Book Alliance and the UK Book Industry Council are already bringing together stakeholders across the supply chain to create more effective models for sustainable operations.
Effort must also go towards building awareness of sustainable publishing methods among consumers. For instance, readers might be prepared for slightly elevated costs from a switch to environmentally-friendly materials, or for slightly longer delivery times, if they understand the environmental benefit. Standardised certifications are helpful here in allowing readers to identify at a glance books that have been produced according to rigorous sustainability criteria.
Large online retailers have radically altered consumers’ expectations of price and delivery times over the past two decades. This shift has been particularly pronounced in the book industry, with smaller or independent retailers unable to match such pricing and speed expectations. Building sustainability awareness will require informing consumers of such difficulties.
In order to promote awareness of green publishing methods among readers, we might consider:
- establishing a credential system that allows customers to see at a glance whether a book was sustainably produced.
- producing open, accessible sustainability policies which outline the steps publishing houses are taking to minimise their environmental impact
- engaging readers in dialogues about green books – in the media, on publisher websites, and through events.