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Tackling the climate emergency in publishing, and beyond

Tackling the climate emergency in publishing, and beyond

18 October 2021

In August, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued a code red for humanity in a major scientific report. It warned that human activity has warmed our planet and made potentially irreversible changes to many of Earth’s ecosystems.

Understandably, the pressure is on governments globally to set targets to reduce the impact of our actions on the environment, and encourage and enable people to live in a sustainable way. However, businesses of all sizes also have a critical role to play in safeguarding our planet; a pre-pandemic study showed that commercial businesses in the UK account for 18 per cent of CO2. In the US, it’s 20 per cent.

And rightly, businesses are being held to account not just by the climate emergency facing us, but by their people too. A recent survey, titled: Future of the sustainable workplace in the age of COVID-19 and climate change, shows that from the 2,000 workers in the UK surveyed, 65 per cent of them are more likely to work for an employer with clear environmental policies, and 83 per cent of respondents feel the companies they currently work for are not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Of course, there is no ‘quick fix’; becoming a more sustainable business takes time. Indeed, many businesses, OUP included, are still in their early stages of their journey. But regardless of whether they are just starting to put plans in place, or have a long-standing strategy, what’s most important is that sustainability is front of mind and embedded into business operations.

At OUP, we recently unveiled our sustainability strategy for the next five years. It aims to tackle our four biggest impact areas—climate change, biodiversity loss from deforestation, waste, and water use and pollution. By 2025, we intend to ensure 100 per cent of our paper for printed publications is certified as sustainable; we aim to minimize waste by ensuring there is zero landfill from our own operations; and we want to be carbon neutral in our own operations. It is ambitious, but we have set our intention, and will take the necessary steps to ensure that sustainability is considered throughout everything we do.

But we also recognize that we are part of a much wider publishing community. We can have greater, more meaningful impact by collaborating with our peers and supporting industry-wide initiatives.

For example, we recently signed up to the United Nations SDG Publishers Compact, which aims to ‘inspire action’ among publishers to achieve all 17 goals set out in the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We already sit on the Publishers Association’s Sustainability Taskforce and participate in the Book Chain Project, which builds better supply chains by giving publishers tools to make informed buying decisions. But by signing up to the Compact, we are committing to extend our efforts even further.

Furthermore, last week, the UK publishing industry issued a call to action—the Publishing Declares climate pledge. As one of the founding signatories, we are joining the global effort to limit warming to 1.5C, and to protect nature and biodiversity.

The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (better known as COP 26) will take place in Glasgow this November. Its focus will be on accelerating action towards reaching the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This will further shine a light on what governments and businesses need to do in order to significantly reduce the damage we are doing to our planet.

No matter what the outcome, we all have a responsibility to consider our individual impact, the impact we make through our organizations and communities, and ultimately think about where we can make positive changes in our lives to protect the future of our planet.