Working towards a sustainable publishing industry

Since we started the Scottish Mountaineering Press, the challenge of creating a sustainable publishing company has been a part of all our decision making, from production through to marketing. As a result Rob Lovell was asked to host a conversation as part of a Publishing Scotland event. Here are his thoughts from the experience, accompanied by further reflection on the state of sustainability within publishing. 

You may have seen posts about environmental sustainability from us before. At the end of the 2021/22 financial year we performed a carbon audit to build our understanding of this and think about how we could act on the emissions we produce as a company. We published an article back then explaining what we had done, and we’re doing the same thing again this year.

Having been through that exercise, and with interest in sustainability piqued, the Press has since become involved in the broader activity being led by Publishing Scotland, the organisation that represents the Scottish publishing industry as a whole and supports us in achieving the goals set by the Scottish Government in relation to sustainability.

Thanks to this involvement, I was privileged to be asked to host a conversation at this year’s Scottish Book Trade Conference, a one-day event that brings Publishing Scotland members together to offer insight, debate, discussion and inspiration. 

Sustainability is a huge topic, covering not just the environment but the workforce, supply chain and governance within an organisation. Over half an hour Kate Chambers, (an Environment, Social and Governance Analyst) and I sought to define the topic, share knowledge and identify three areas where practical steps can be taken towards becoming more sustainable. 

Kate gave examples from the food and drink industry and I focused on publishing, and while the difference in progress between our respective sectors is stark (mainly because of differences in regulation), there are clear similarities in the challenges we face.

Kate’s first piece of advice was to start measuring; whether you are a one-person outfit or a multinational, until you know where your impact lies, you can’t do anything to address it. If you are short on time, target one area. It’s better to be doing something than nothing, and you don’t need to be doing everything straightaway.

Next, Kate advised us to start talking to each other more: strike up a conversation about sustainability, and you’ll often find there is a deeper story to tell, an angle that you’ve not considered or something new to learn. The topic is so broad, and there is so much to it that no single expert has all the answers; only by working together will we tackle the problem.

Kate’s last piece of guidance was to try to make your sustainability objectives real for people. As producers of guidebooks and lovers of the outdoors, everyone here at the Press is acutely aware of the impact that humans have on the environment. For us, this is enough to spark a desire to change. More broadly, incentives can encourage sustainable decision-making and, if done well, can foster permanent cultural change.

From conversations I had with other attendees at the conference, it’s clear that we’re all at different points on our journey towards sustainable publishing, but that we are all far closer to the beginning than the end. There is a tremendous amount of work to do, but, encouragingly, widespread enthusiasm for working together, learning and offering mutual support within an industry that delivers so much joy to so many.