Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing

Improving Sustainability in the Publishing Industry

April 07, 2021 Westchester Education Season 1 Episode 6
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Improving Sustainability in the Publishing Industry
Chapters
Westchester Words: Education, Ed-Tech, and Publishing
Improving Sustainability in the Publishing Industry
Apr 07, 2021 Season 1 Episode 6
Westchester Education

Creating environmentally sustainable business practices has been a long sought after goal for the publishing industry. What are some additional measures companies can adopt to become more “green”? Brian O’Leary, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group will share some ideas which may be effective for your organization.

Show Notes Transcript

Creating environmentally sustainable business practices has been a long sought after goal for the publishing industry. What are some additional measures companies can adopt to become more “green”? Brian O’Leary, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group will share some ideas which may be effective for your organization.

Nicole Tomassi:

Welcome to Westchester Words, education, edtech and publishing. I'm Nicole Tomassi, and in this episode, I'll be talking with Brian O'Leary, Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group. Brian has deep roots in the publishing industry and his knowledge has informed the work that he's currently doing at BISG, a trade association seeking to address impacts impacting two or more areas of the supply chain. BISG's membership comprises companies across the publishing spectrum from publishers to book manufacturers, service vendors, including Westchester Publishing Services, who's a member, distributors, retailers and libraries. Sustainable practices are an issue that all areas of the supply chain are interested in improving, and this will be the focus of today's discussion. Brian, welcome to Westchester Words.

Brian O'Leary:

Hey, thank you, Nicole. And I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today, and I even more appreciate the fact that Westchester is a member.

Nicole Tomassi:

We're very glad to be members, and I'm very excited to have you talking about this topic with us today. So last fall, BISG entered into the Green Book Alliance with Booknet Canada and Book Industry Communication known as BIC, which is based in the United Kingdom. Can you talk about how this alliance formed and the initiatives that it's working on?

Brian O'Leary:

Sure. You know, BIC has been leading sustainability discussions in the UK for more than a year, really. And when the pandemic began its director, Karina Urquhart suggested that several of us get together for a weekly call just to talk about issues that our organizations are facing as a result of the shutdowns. Honestly, we'd previously connected regularly at industry events like the book fairs in London and Frankfurt, but the weekly calls led to a sense of more immediate cooperation and collaboration. About mid-summer Karina asked Noah Genner, who leads Booknet Canada, and me, if we'd be interested in forming some sort of joint organization to tackle sustainability, both as a topic for the global book industry and just to improve our own understanding. It's a natural fit for us, and after a few weeks of discussions, we jointly announced the Green Book Alliance at the end of September, 2020. Since then we've conducted a survey, met with people who were leading the IPA, the International Publishers Association, efforts to promote the publishers compact, which is an extension of the United Nations sustainability development goals. And also started to sort out what kinds of research makes sense for us to do as well as how we can find funding to do that fundamental work.

Nicole Tomassi:

And that's always the big challenge, isn't it, coming up with the funding to do such important work? But I think it's great also that Karina saw an opportunity during this, this shutdown to reach out to other organizations that are like-minded to see if there was a way to broaden the scope of what everyone's doing and come up with practices that could be adopted by more people instead of keeping it kind of centralized in individual countries

Brian O'Leary:

Agreed. Yeah, it was and she's a lot of fun to work with as well.

Nicole Tomassi:

Well, that always helps make things go better, doesn't it?

Brian O'Leary:

It does.

Nicole Tomassi:

So can you discuss any of the findings that the Green Book Alliance learned from conducting the global survey last fall?

Brian O'Leary:

Yeah, absolutely. In fact, Karina, Noah and I will be talking about the results in a session that takes place at our annual meeting on April 23rd. But you know, some of the things that we took away, the first is encouragingly, interest in sustainability is significant. Nine out of every 10 people who responded either have a plan or have plans to adopt a policy, governing their efforts in the area of sustainability. About half of those responding indicated that they already ask at least some environmental questions of their trading partners and supplier. But interestingly, a quarter don't ask supply chain partners about environmental issues, so that suggests an opportunity for us. Only about 8% said that they conduct extensive environmental reviews when dealing with their trading partners.

Nicole Tomassi:

That's interesting. I wonder if maybe that quarter who don't ask any questions of their partners, is it possibly because they aren't really sure where to start and what kind of questions to ask?

Brian O'Leary:

You know, that's certainly.. we didn't ask at that level, but that's certainly a possibility and it suggests something that we do have on our radar to do, which is to develop kind of a sustainability checklist. Something, you know, talking points to be able to have a conversation with your trading partners so that you both understand their approach and their perspective and can share your own.

Nicole Tomassi:

I think that would be really helpful and it would get those conversations going in the same direction because otherwise things can be kind of scattershot. So what are some of the other findings you might be able to give us a you know, sneak peek about?

Brian O'Leary:

Sure. So one of the things we found in the survey answers is that a lot of the focus is on product certifications, such as the FSC, which is the Forest Stewardship Council, sourcing for paper products. But respondents indicated they were increasingly interested in process certifications, both for themselves and supply chain partners. And that's a move that's going to require deeper discussions and a new body of research that's going to help establish best practices. Certifications, which would come out of a process or focus represent an area that we're thinking about as a midterm offering. We did find that the organizations that responded have already taken steps to reduce their own carbon footprints. That might be a little bit of self-selection, so the people who respond to an environmental survey are already interested in the environment. Nonetheless, we did see a significant share of saying, we've tried to do some things. Some organizations are setting KPIs or key performance indicators and measuring impact, but honestly they are still a minority of those responding, but it's something like 28% indicated they set goals today. Another quarter indicated they have plans to do so. But more than a third said, yeah, we've yet to do the work we need to do to set calls and measure progress. Something like 85%, which is a really high number, expressed interest in online or in-person events that might be hosted by the Green Book Alliance. This is encouraging, and the most common requests for content included, website content like a directory of book industry resources for sustainability, case studies for sustainability initiatives and of course research results when we conduct it. And then the last piece is that we did ask, you know, what research projects would be of greatest interest. Top of the list, documenting the carbon footprint for the book industry supply chain, which really hasn't been done as well as it needs to be. And people are also interested in the environmental impact of current industry practices. So there are good upside opportunities for us there.

Nicole Tomassi:

It sounds like it. And as you alluded earlier, this is going to be discussed a little more in depth with Karina, Noah and yourself in BISG's annual meeting, which takes place on the 23rd. And we will include links to that in the information available on our website. So, really looking forward to that discussion.

Brian O'Leary:

Yeah, me too.

Nicole Tomassi:

eBooks were once expected to dominate the market, at least, if you look back at all the discussions back in about 2010 or so, when the Kindle hit the market, it was kind of like pre-writing the obituary for print books, in my opinion. But you know, 10 or so years on they're accounting for roughly 15% of what we would consider print purchases, but paper materials are still very much the primary way that publications are purchased and consumed. I'm just wondering if you think e-books and print on demand technology make a significant contribution towards improving sustainability?

Brian O'Leary:

I think we don't know yet. I mean, there's certainly some thinking that both eBooks and on demand publishing can make book publishing itself more sustainable. And I think evaluating their impact is high on the priority list for research that we could support. The things that I've read, the research I've read has typically been fairly local in scope. So single market, as an example, that's understandable because figuring out the entire carbon footprint for any industry is a really significant undertaking. But I think that generally decision-makers need data on the full impact and the risk is that if we don't have it, we make the wrong choices for the right reasons. So one of the things that the Green Book Alliance can do is help study an issue as broadly as possible, do the research that's needed to support an informed choice and then share the data across multiple markets and multiple parts of the book industry. Because it's this kind of question is central to what we do and how we evolve as an industry over the next decades.

Nicole Tomassi:

Yeah. I think that's a really wise thing to do, especially because so many companies that are part of the book industry, they're not just based in one country, they're in several, if not, in all the continents. And so it's something that is a very global kind of perspective that needs to be brought to this kind of an issue.

Brian O'Leary:

Sure. If you look at the way Westchester works, I mean you're fundamentally global in your operations. And so thinking about things in that sense is important.

Nicole Tomassi:

Yes. I, I would agree. That's absolutely right. Great observation. And it kind of leads into my next question a little bit because, you know, as a company, we do provide editorial and production services to publishers all around the world. And, we've taken certain measures such as digital processes like PDF files that help move content back and forth with our clients through the editorial workflow in an electronic way. And we also provide them with a cloud-based portal where they can access their project assets and get information on where their projects are as it's moving through the editorial and production workflow. We also produce accessible ebook files for our clients to use, and I'm just wondering if there are other sustainable practices that packagers and printers can consider that would, you know, help their own initiatives as well as their clients sustainability efforts.

Brian O'Leary:

You know, the way I think about it is that everything we do requires energy, whether we're managing physical or digital workflows. So two opportunities that immediately come to mind, the first is to look for ways to reduce overall demand for energy and core processes. More efficient management, new lighting, energy saving practices, like insulation and heat recapture are likely to both save money and reduce the demand for energy. So that's under the reduce/reuse kind of category. And the second is related. If you pursue energy sources that are not adding carbon to the atmosphere, you're reducing your overall carbon footprint. So if you're sourcing from renewable renewable providers who use wind or water to generate power, that's a plus, as is the use of solar power. Combining lower demand for energy with more sustainable sourcing is a good way to get started. And the thing that's encouraging is I think many companies in the industry already understand this.

Nicole Tomassi:

That's probably true. I wonder though, given the events of the past year where so many companies had to turn to a remote workforce model where, most, if not all of their employees, instead of going to a central location to conduct their work, now they're working out of their houses. So while on the positive side, they're not driving in their cars or, taking some form of transportation to get to their work, they're also, maybe have different ways that they're using energy within their homes. It's going to be interesting to see how companies, you know, get their arms wrapped around all of that, especially as they're trying to figure out what their plans are for centralized work locations coming out of the pandemic. Do you have any thoughts on it?

Brian O'Leary:

I do. You know, I mean, developing the tools that would allow, individual companies to try and measure their carbon footprint is probably a piece of the solution because it's going to be hard for the Green Book Alliance, for example, to go to Nicole's house and figure out how energy efficient she is, but we might be able to identify some best practices on how to get to that answer. I think that the trade offs are going to be ongoing. It's not today, it's, the pandemic and whether we commute. Next year it could be something different and developing and sharing the tools for that is an important part of the work that we continue to do.

Nicole Tomassi:

Hmm. So you're already tackling one really big topic with sustainability and like we said across, countries and, and organizations. So, if that wasn't enough, what else is BISG strategy and its committee's working on and how are companies able to take part in that?

Brian O'Leary:

Sure. Well, you know, we have five standing committees, metadata rights, subject codes, which is the BISAC standard ,supply chain and workflow. These are the primary way that we solve problems that affect two or more parts of the industry. Each of them is governed by a charter, which is reviewed and approved by the BISG board each year. And the charters outline what each committee plans to work on in the coming year. They all have, each of the five committees has four or five projects planned. Metadata, for example, is working on an update to the best practices guide with a focus on ONIX 3, now that that's largely the required standard in the U S market. Rights is continuing to pilot a draft taxonomy, it's part of a standards development process that we undertook starting about three years ago. And it's planning a rights education program that I'm really excited about that will roll out later this year. The supply chain committee is studying piracy, particularly in education and professional publishing. And it's trying to strengthen our engagement with the retailing community. We're doing some research into ways as well that we can improve how returns from the tradespace, how returns are handled in the U S market. Workflow is updating two publications, one on fonts and eBooks and a second on fixed layout publishing. These are two products that Westchester Publishing Services has been really helpful in providing guidance on. And we'll also be in through the workflow committee, providing a workshop in June on best practices for accessible metadata. The subject codes committee is going to release an update to the BISAC code list in November, much as it's done each year since 1995,. You know, the pandemic kind of blunted the celebration, but, uh, we have we'd last year, we celebrated 25 years of BISAC as the BISG standard.

Nicole Tomassi:

Well, happy birthday.

Brian O'Leary:

Thanks. I think, you'd asked a moment ago about how'd you get involved? And participation in BISG committees is open to staff at any company that's a member of BISG. We recognize that the money that people spend and companies spend to join BISG is an investment and what we've been doing, really over the course of the last several years is for companies that are on the fence we said, yes, coming to a committee call or two to test drive the conversation, decide for yourself whether joining makes sense. And honestly, our, our success rate there is pretty good because we're talking about everyday issues that affect companies across the supply chain. And once you get involved in shaping a solution, it makes your company smarter and you better able to figure out what's going on and how we can, or you can do better within the book publishing industry.

Nicole Tomassi:

Yeah. I would definitely tend to agree with that because, you know, certainly we kind of did the, test drive model if you will and sat in on some sessions and the like, and we realized that there's really a lot of valuable work that the committees are doing. And I think that was the impetus for us joining. I would also share, you know, certainly there was the profiles that PW had done recently about each of the committee leads, if you will. And those profiles were really interesting and the takeaway there is that each of the women that leads these committees, they found that they actually get a lot more out of being a part of BISG than maybe they were expecting to, and they're finding it very rewarding to connect with others that are occupying that particular industry niche that they work in. So, I would encourage people to read those profiles. It gives you a really nice glimpse of the kind of work the committee members are working on and how involvement can be very fulfilling on a number of levels.

Brian O'Leary:

Thanks. Yeah, those are, those are great reviews, Julie Blattberg who works with us, interviewed each of the committee chairs. This is to our understanding the first time that all of our committee leads are women. And we thought given March is Women's History Month, that it was a good opportunity to kind of highlight their work to the broader publishing community.

Nicole Tomassi:

And, uh, I'll include links to that on our website as well.

Brian O'Leary:

One of the things I wanted add is that some of the links that we've given you provide, bring people to our committee charters that gives you a good one or two page summary of what each of the communities is working on. Another link that we've given you points to more than 30 events, including at least 25 webinars that we're doing this year that we host. And I encourage both members and non-members who might be listening to look at our annual meeting, which is scheduled for April 23rd. That's the one in which we'll be discussing opportunities to make book publishing more sustainable. I'm particularly looking forward to an opening keynote from Sherri Aldis, who's Chief of U.N. Publishing at the United Nations, and she'll be talking about the sustainability goals to publishers compact and more.

Nicole Tomassi:

That sounds really exciting. I'll share with you, I've already signed up for the annual meeting and I'm sure a lot of other people have, and you know, there's always more room at the table, so to speak. So you know, definitely get over to the BISG website and sign up for that. We'll include links to that as well, on our website. And that is WestchesterPublishingServices.com. Brian, I want to thank you so much for joining me today to talk about how companies throughout the publishing industry supply chain, can work with each other in a more sustainable manner. And I want to thank our listeners for listening to this episode of Westchester Words. You can follow us on your favorite podcasting platform to be notified about new episodes when they become available. In the meantime, please share your thoughts or comments about today's discussion and let us know what topics you'd like Westchester to cover for future episodes, by emailing us at [email protected] that's E D S V C s.com. Join us next time when I'll be speaking with Sam Tucker,Senior Editor for Culturally Responsive Education at Westchester Education Services. Until then stay safe, be well and stay tuned.