According to 2019 research from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, six in ten Americans are now either ‘alarmed’ or at least ‘concerned’ about global warming. Between 2013 to 2018, the proportion of those who are ‘alarmed’ more than doubled, indicating that the issue is climbing quickly up the agenda of the social psyche.
For publishers, this means that tackling climate change becomes not only an altruistic endeavour but also as a commercial one, as audiences increasingly seek to buy from sustainably-minded companies.
Tom Reynolds, Production Director at TI Media, says that the drivers for climate action within the publishing industry are now multiple: “Publishers’ climate change and sustainability efforts are no longer a ‘tick-box’ exercise,” he says. “Finding more and new ways to be more sustainable is now a strategic part of the business. And that is definitely in part being driven by our readers’ desire to buy from companies that are sustainable. We saw that first-hand in our own business when we were asked to replace ploywrap with paperwrap. It came directly from requests from the consumer.”
The need to view the bigger picture is echoed by Dr. Malte Wienker, Director of Corporate Communications and Sustainability at Axel Springer: “The topic of sustainability has been an important concern to Axel Springer for many years,” he says. “In 1994 we were one of the first in the media industry to voluntarily publish a Sustainability Report. Furthermore, sustainability has officially been one of our five corporate values since 2019. The issues affecting the print side of the business – paper production and printing operations – are obviously hugely relevant.”
“But others have gained in importance, too. This includes, for example, the determination of the entire-company carbon footprint, also taking into account purely digital work and factors such as cloud computing. Our goal is to work climate-neutrally as an entire company. One important measure on our path to reaching this goal is the switch to certified green electricity since the beginning of this year.”
On the ground, there are many examples of sustainability-led-publishing in action.
Condé Nast Spain is now focused on creating an organisational structure ‘inspired by sustainable principles, capable of developing an environmental policy with effects on corporate social responsibility, public relations, institutional certification and reputation, and one that provides social and environmental benefits.’ This includes a commitment to making profitability and sustainability compatible, and the organisation is now the first Spanish media company – and the first within the Condé Nast group – to offset its carbon footprint. A 20 per cent decrease in overall electricity consumption, and a 100 per cent reduction of Gasoil consumption by company vehicles, has now also been achieved.
Like TI Media, News UK (part of News Corp) has switched polybags for biodegradable wrapping. This change was first introduced for The Times and The Sunday Times in 2019, as part of the company’s pledge to remove all single-use plastic wrapping by 2020. This action follows in the footsteps of the UK’s National Trust magazine, which sent out Bioplast 300-wrapped magazines in the summer of 2018. The Guardian also switched to the same solution in 2019.
Condé Nast recently ramped-up its environmental credentials with the announcement of a new sustainability assessment programme and five year strategy. The company aims to become entirely carbon neutral by 2030, starting with a reduction in corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 per cent and print and digital supply chain emissions by 10 per cent by the end of 2021.
The five-year sustainability strategy covers all areas of its business, and includes plans to reduce emissions, engage suppliers, use more sustainable materials, and more broadly become a voice for change as a leading advocate for sustainability policies.
They’re all examples of companies working within the publishing sector to begin to tackle the social issue of climate change head-on. In the UK, the line between public and private sector has been blurred even further by the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). The publishing body has long endorsed corporate environmental responsibility, and has signed a voluntary Responsibility Deal with the UK Government that commits the industry to undertake a raft of initiatives over a five-year period, with the aim of mitigating the environmental impact of UK magazine media.
The PPA Sustainable Action Group actively facilitates the interactions of the industry, to help achieve targets outlined in the Responsibility Deal and, as part of its commitment to driving sustainability across publishing, it has devised a dedicated Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Of course, as is still the case in pretty much all sectors of industry, the media world still has a long way to go if it is to forge a truly sustainable future, both environmentally and financially. Nonetheless, perhaps unsurprisingly for an industry that is built on meeting the contemporary needs of audience, strong steps already appear to be in place.