Academic Publishing, Sustainability

Sustainability I – FSC certification

Following the advent of digital publishing at the start of the millennium, one of the key arguments to encourage the switch from print was ecological. Digital enthusiasts were quick to claim that using less paper and shipping fewer print books would help to save the environment. Maintaining sustainability in the publishing sector is, however, much more complex; and debates on sustainability began in the industry many years ago, even before digitisation was feasible on a mass scale. Today it has become one of the most pressing issues the industry has to address. Among the most important factors to consider is the carbon footprint: minimising a publisher’s carbon footprint has become the first priority when addressing sustainability targets across the whole industry. It exercises the minds of both trade and academic publishers, as well as paper manufacturers, printers, distributors and even authors and illustrators. A crucial way of achieving this is to build a circular economy which eliminates waste and re-uses resources wherever possible. The paper production industry, which arguably has been under pressure not to waste natural resources for longer than most others, has travelled the furthest distance in this respect; more than 70% of the paper produced in Europe uses pulp; and paper produced in this way can be re-used up to 7 times. Forestry in Europe has also been managed sustainably for the past decade, meaning that carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest problem for the paper manufacturing industry, are being mitigated by the continuing replenishment of the vegetation that combats them.

The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) was set up to create a global sustainability accreditation in 1993, and along with other environmental standards, such as ISO 14001 and EMAS (EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme) has closely supervised sustainability for nearly 30 years.

But how does FSC certification actually work?

The certificate is available to various industries, including paper and cardboard manufacturing; some very specific sector-specific guidance has to be observed in order to gain the award. A key aspect is the use only of wood derived from sustainable forestry, but there is much more to it than that. Frequently-audited Forest Management is only one of two main components that are necessary for a FSC certification; the other one is Chain of Custody certification. This ensures that any company involved in the processing of FSC certified products continues to observe specific regulations and uses checked FSC-labelled woods only. For publishers and printers to become FSC certified, the use of certified papers is obviously essential, but they also are required to use FSC certified printers and distributors. For a product to carry the FSC label at the point of sale, every stage of the process has to be covered by FSC certification – from the forest itself to the finished printed book.
For publishers requiring more information, a fact sheet can be downloaded here.

Many other companies in the supply chain – notably publishers themselves – have felt obliged to develop internal sustainability strategies and find solutions for reducing their own carbon footprint. This has included the move to PoD [Print on Demand] to reduce the numbers of books printed unnecessarily, collaboration with printing companies who in turn are using sustainable methods and ensuring that materials such as inks, packaging and wrapping are as environmentally-friendly as possible; and the use of a sustainable energy supply.

To develop an industrywide sustainability strategy, the Publishers Association launched a Sustainability Taskforce in early 2020. We will talk a bit more about the aims of this in another blog post…

[Written by Annika Bennett, Gold Leaf]