AUPresses Session Notes: Publishing Sustainably – Working Toward Net Zero

by Laura


Background of trees with AUPresses logo and session title along with Sheridan logo

What does sustainability mean to your organization? Is it reducing the amount of waste or seeking environmentally certified suppliers? Is it about reducing not only your physical footprint but your digital one as well? Or perhaps a full commitment to achieving net zero? Defining what sustainability means to your organization is one of the first steps on the path to publishing sustainably. The process of getting there will take many players to define, implement, measure, and achieve your goals and progress and you’ll need a dedicated team to help you achieve it. 

It Takes a Village

Establishing a sustainability group is another critical step, and working with other departments at your university, creating open dialogue with authors and key stakeholders, and reaching out to other regional businesses and associations will help build additional support and collaboration opportunities for your efforts. “One of the ways publishers can play a distinctive part [in an environmental sustainability] is in the work they publish,” remarked Ally Lee from Liverpool University Press, “use your platform and profile to educate and be a force for good.”

Measuring a Digital Footprint

While shifting from the production of physical books and journals to digital products may reduce the size of the footprint related to the production of the product, it doesn’t eliminate a footprint. When thinking about carbon emissions emitted from the production of digital products, you’ll need to look not only at your internal energy use that goes in to producing digital books, but the energy used across the spectrum such as by those hosting your content and the end user accessing your content. 

Andri Johnston from Cambridge University Press shared the efforts that they are putting forth towards digital sustainability. During their research they found that the majority of carbon emissions from digital publishing come from their end users’ devices, particularly laptop and desktop users accessing CUP’s content online. While you can’t control how people are accessing your data and the devices and power grids they use, you can control the size of your website. CUP recognized this and aimed to identify the areas on their website that had the highest emissions. Doing so allowed them to discover ways they could cut back on the size of the content on their site – be it using a smaller sized image (ex. 80KB vs 8MB) or eliminating the use of graphics and videos where they weren’t necessary – and they have since created a standard guidelines document that will bring down the overall website size. Why does website size matter? The more content on a page – be it text, images, videos, etc. – the longer it takes to load, and the more energy is used.

Going Green Beyond the Book

Looking to donate books rather than pulping, and seeking to print on FSC or SFI certified stocks are some of the countless actions publishers are implementing on their path to going green. But there are other ways that publishers are going green outside of the content realm. For example, Nadine Buckland shared that maintaining green spaces around buildings has allowed The University of West Indies Press to reduce the amount of energy needed to cool their buildings.

Regardless of whether you are just starting out or fully committed to becoming net zero, as Ally shared, “small actions are better than none.”

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