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Can the Publishing Industry Be Carbon-Neutral?

Anyone invested in the future of this world should have an interest in going carbon-neutral, especially industries that produce large amounts of waste or harmful gases. Inevitably, this includes the book publishing industry, which contributes to the increase in greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and water vapor) that cause climate change. Consider this: Creating a single piece of print can produce approximately its own weight in CO2. Now imagine how much CO2 is released when thousands of books are made at once. It’s staggering to think about, especially when factoring the process of shipping books across the world and maintaining work environments. The US has pledged that it will produce net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, so one might imagine that there is much the publishing industry must do to help achieve that goal.

But first, what exactly does carbon-neutral mean? The most simplistic meaning is that the amount of carbon dioxide one produces must be offset by performing actions that decrease an equal amount of carbon dioxide. Essentially, while companies still produce CO2 in the process of making books, they have to invest in several practices that will reduce CO2 without halting the entire industry. On a broader scale, they must also consider production of the other greenhouse gases.

In order to begin the process of going carbon-neutral, publishers have to calculate their emission levels. This can be done by hiring someone from a climate change firm that will calculate everything for them. For those not willing or capable of paying someone outside the company to do the work, there are guides and formulas that publishers can use to calculate it themselves. An example of a guide targeted toward emission calculations for publishers can be found in this Carbon Neutral Template for Publishers. These guides break the publishing industry down into sections like shipping practices and paper sourcing and then provide a formula for people to plug in their information for an easy calculation. Once the emission output has been calculated, they can see the areas that need improvement and then base their investments for carbon neutrality off of that.

There are several ways a publisher can reach carbon neutrality. The one that people think of most often is planting trees to offset the logging industry. While this is something that shouldn’t be neglected, it’s also important to consider where they source their paper from. Clear-cutting forests is incredibly harmful, so it is important to find paper that comes from more environmentally responsible companies. Oftentimes, this paper will have the stamp of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Printers should also source papers that are varying percentages of recycled material and use vegetable-based inks. Aside from paper and ink, companies should invest in and use greener sources of energy such as wind or solar power. Employees can be given incentives to purchase fuel-efficient and electric cars. They should pay attention to waste and encourage employees to recycle things that would otherwise end up in landfill. Sending e-galleys instead of print books reduces the amount of materials used. Eco-friendly courier options can be used for shipping.

While the examples given here are not an exhaustive list, they are good starting points for publishers to utilize. However, it can be said that the two most important steps to make carbon neutrality possible are 1) to invest in technology and organizations that are already working to reduce the impacts of industry on the world and 2) to encourage others to do the same. Achieving the lofty goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 can only be done by convincing everyone to work together towards the same goals, and affordable access to greener solutions can only happen when everyone invests in them.

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