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Sustainability in publishing: Consumers setting the pace

Publishers and their suppliers are increasingly recognising that future compliance with sustainability targets will be driven by the concerns of consumers and not merely statutory or institutional regulations. Here we delve deeper into the detail by examining four industry case studies.

 

UPM Sustainability in Publishing  ()

 

Elle UK: Spearheading a mind shift with ‘baby steps’

Elle UK dedicated its biggest fashion edition of 2018, the September issue, to sustainability, something that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. But, says Editor-in-Chief Anne-Marie Curtis, the magazine has been witnessing a marked shift in customers’ buying patterns and an awareness that sustainability is at the heart of this change.

“Consumers are asking more and more questions about how and where products are made, and how sustainable they are… Look at younger consumers. They are asking so many questions before they make a purchase. They need to know where it is from, what the provenance is, how it was made and who it was made by?”

Then came a personal ‘eureka moment’ when Curtis met Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of Institutional Affairs at Kering, the global luxury group managing fashion houses such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. Daveu impressed upon Curtis the holistic approach brands will need to commit to, to bring about changes that will benefit sustainability.

“Without these changes,” says Curtis, “there will be nothing around to make fashion within 20 years from now… I decided to devote our biggest fashion issue to sustainability.”

Apart from the cover, the September edition of Elle was printed on 100 per cent recycled paper. The production used 40 per cent less water and 25 per cent less energy to produce than previous issues of Elle. Yet, says Curtis, those points, no matter how important, are minute if you take into consideration that “this edition was the biggest message yet to the industry and to our audience that we are starting a sustainability journey together”.

A reader survey confirmed Elle readers’ growing awareness of sustainability issues. It also highlighted the need to educate and inform readers. “There is so much information out there and people need guidance,” says Curtis. “We started by taking baby steps. If everyone makes small changes, incrementally, then ultimately those changes will have a big effect.”

To give Elle’s ‘sustainability journey’ a practical kick-start, it published an A-Z manual of what could bring about meaningful changes in readers’ day-to-day lives. Each idea was aimed at introducing sustainable ethical behaviour into one’s lifestyle.

The editorial experience of producing this magazine made a significant impact on staff, says Curtis. “This might only have been one issue but Elle’s staff members have learnt a lot. Once you are educated, you start a natural process to do things in a different way. As soon as one’s mindset shifts, it becomes easier to make the right choices.” Realising that one-off engagement with readers will not bring about permanent change, Elle has committed to a continued engagement to drive an accelerated sustainability debate.

This started in the January 2019 issue, with an investigation into the booming fashion rental market, which is estimated to be worth a potential GBP£923 million (US$1.1 billion) in the UK, and which is being hailed as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion.

This was followed up in the February issue with the first Elle Sustainability Challenge, which saw four writers tasked with making different changes to their lives – from eating more ethically to eliminating all non-recyclable waste.

 

Elle sustainability issue ()

 

Elle UK's 'Fashion and the planet' survey

The September 2018 issue of ELLE asked more than a thousand readers – aged between 20 and 40 – what sustainability meant to them. The results were telling.

- 80% of readers were more likely to buy brands that care about their workers and give them a fair wage.

- 70% Said climate change is their biggest environmental concern.

- 62% were more likely to buy from brands that value sustainability.

 

The Economist: Standing up to scrutiny

The Economist Group, with its globally curious and environmentally aware readership, is committed to adhere to the highest standards of sustainability targets throughout its supply chain. This commitment, however, has become increasingly complex as sustainability targets and challenges continue to evolve, explains Faye Jeacocke, Director, Production Operations at The Economist Group.

The Economist and its sister publications, 1843 and The World In series, account for the majority of the group’s annual spend on paper and printing. All suppliers of paper and print services used in producing these publications adhere to one or more of the internationally recognised environmental standards: ISO 14001, FSC and PEFC.

The business case for ethical procurement is clear. It improves supply chain efficiency, protects and enhances a company’s reputation and increases sales. But, says Jeacocke, responsible supply chain management needs to stand up to the same standard of scrutiny as the journalism that has earned The Economist its reputation as one of the most trusted news sources in the world.

“The printed paper remains a big chunk of our production process and yes, paper production is carbon intensive,” says Jeacocke. “Therefore we take great care to ensure that our suppliers show that they are proactively looking at ways to improve sourcing practices. We need to ask: do they reduce their carbon footprint? Do they use less water? Increasingly, these issues are key when we are sourcing suppliers."

”If consumers are concerned about a matter, then it is important to provide concrete answers, says Jeacocke.

She references recent concerns in the UK by customers asking why The Economist needs to be wrapped in plastic. “If our readers ask these questions, we need to provide answers… We need to find a permanent solution that will satisfy customers.” In the same way, consumers are asking more questions about how the sourcing of materials impact local communities. “It is not just about the end product being sustainable. It is also how you work within the overall environment, taking into account matters such as infrastructure and how sourcing can make the life better for people and local communities.”

And, predicts Jeacocke, in the future customers will demand much more. “Climate change as a global concern will continue to intensify. How we respond to it will become more and more intensive. It will necessitate a more concerted effort. All our processes – and how carbon intensive they are – will be intensely scrutinised.”

 

Axel Springer: Pioneering sustainable data storage

A pioneer in ensuring responsible sourcing of paper for its brands, including the likes of Bild and Die Welt, Axel Springer, Europe’s largest digital publishing house of multimedia brands, wants to extend its sustainability reputation to include data storage.

When Axel Springer published its first environmental report in 1994, it followed a four-point guideline:

1- Raise environmental consciousness among readers, business associates and employees;

2- Promote environmentally friendly production of raw materials by exerting a positive influence on suppliers;

3- Use environmentally efficient technologies and materials in all corporate divisions to reduce the burden on the environment, use materials sparingly and ensure their reusability; and

4- Avoid or reduce the environmental impact of the company by reducing energy and water requirements, emissions and waste per unit produced.

A quarter of a century later, those four pillars still serve as the foundation to the many measures introduced by the company in the interests of environmental protection. But while the goals remain the same, the measures need to change. Axel Springer, which by January 2019 was generating more than 80 per cent of its operating profits through digital offerings, acknowledges that value and supply chain practices targeting responsible sourcing and use of paper need to be expanded to include responsible storage and distribution of data and content.

“Axel Springer was one of the first suppliers to push for transparency and high standards with regard to sustainable forest management in paper production. This is exactly what the company now wants to do with its digital products,” explains André Twachtmann, Head of Infrastructure Services at Axel Springer. Twachtmann is responsible for the ‘accommodation and supply’ of Axel Springer’s data.

This means new challenges and areas of compliance the company has never experienced. In the course of digitisation and internationalisation, Axel Springer had around 200 consolidated subsidiaries at the end of 2017. The company wants to be able to record as accurately as possible the amount of electrical energy used whether directly or indirectly in external data centres to therefore derive the CO2 climate-impacting footprint and in turn to influence it with the use of key performance indicators.

This is vital information not only for the company, but also consumers of Axel Springer’s output. “For example, the total electricity consumption in relation to sales could serve as an indicator for the customer,” says Twachtmann. “We are talking to various providers about innovative ways of calculating this factor.”

The end goal is a formula that would determine the server providers’ power consumption caused by Axel Springer data storage and distribution. It’s no easy ask. Cloud services, as one example, is a shared service that Axel Springer shares with many other customers. Hence specifying how much of the total power consumption is due to Axel Springer’s data can be a complex and complicated task.

Nonetheless, Axel Springer needs the information to be able to conclude new contracts with such service providers. The company wants to be in a position to produce a concrete value once a year that provides an answer to the question: “How much of the server provider’s energy consumption does Axel Springer cause with its data?”

It remains an ongoing concern and Axel Springer will continue to work with various providers to find innovative ways to calculate this factor and to improve its sustainability management and value offering. “We want to be pioneers,” says Twachtmann.

 

UPM: Intensifying supply chain due diligence

As a supplier to the publishing industry, UPM Communication Papers understands that the sustainability performance of its own suppliers impacts not only its clients but society at large.

For this reason UPM recently renewed its Third Party and Supplier Code – a set of requirements for suppliers and partners
to ensure they align with UPM’s overall sustainability goals and comply with a code of good business practice.

The code is UPM's way of expanding its sphere of influence and multiply the positive influence it has on society and the environment. It is now possible for UPM to monitor and audit compliance of its suppliers and partners based on a set of risk assessments.

Where UPM identifies risks and potential non-compliance, it offers support and cooperation to address challenges. Effecting change through partnership delivers real benefits for UPM, its suppliers and of course, our customers.

This not only strengthens the drive towards UPM’s overall sustainability goals but ensures that the company can continue to offer customers a risk-free supply chain. UPM employees remain committed to this process and see it as a privilege to be part of a business that wants to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

UPM's three spheres of sustainable development

1- Environment: Continually seek opportunities to further improve performance in responding to global challenges such as climate change and resource scarcity.

2- Social: Taking care of employees, looking after their safety, growth and diversity. Taking social responsibility for the fundamental human rights of communities influenced by the company supply chain through the establishment of internal and external monitoring for sourcing practices.

3- Financial: Looking beyond own profit margins to create value for customers and have positive societal impact. This represents
a commitment to paper and the paper industry despite declining markets in some traditional uses. Reimagining paper as sustainable solution to future challenges.

This article is an extract from Sustainability in Publishing, a whitepaper made in partnership with UPM Communication Papers. You can download the full report here. 

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