Momentum behind sustainability in publishing has been growing since 2020, with discussion and planning on a larger scale than ever before.

There is scope for small, achievable measures in the short term; in the longer term it is essential that we harness this momentum to overhaul environmentally harmful practices and replace them with resilient, ecologically responsible ones.

While the widespread (though not universal) adoption of FSC certified paper in book printing has been a major achievement in sustainable practice, the Australian book industry has to do more work on both book production and the supply chain. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe disruptions to national and international supply chains, resulting in publication date pushbacks, paper shortages, printing and freight backlogs, leaving bookshops understocked at times. As in other industries, these disruptions highlight the need to focus on making the supply chain more robust.

Browse opportunities for a greener supply chain through the sections below.

This Green Bookselling Manifesto (from the UK) calls on publishers and distributors to:

  • Phase out single-use cardboard such as ‘zipper’ boxes
  • Move toward recyclable or re-usable cartons
  • Review with us the inherently wasteful returns process
  • Cease sending unsolicited proof copies to booksellers
  • Cease sending unsolicited marketing and other print material to booksellers
  • Phase out environmentally damaging packaging materials
  • Phase out the inclusion of multiple paper sheets in deliveries
  • Move to efficient, consultative paperless invoicing systems

aerial view of trucks being loaded from a storage depotTransport, and to a lesser extent storage, present the greatest environmental impact of publishing’s ‘post-production’ activity. 

The majority of books sold in Australia are stored and distributed by United Book Distributors, Alliance Distribution Services, or the HarperCollins distribution centre.

The storage of books in distribution centres contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as the warehouses must be cleaned, temperature controlled and lit. 

Carbon emissions from freight are high in Australia due to the vast distances, with books shipped to retailers spread across the country. As yet, electric trucks have not become common enough for widespread domestic use. 

Carbon emissions are also generated when paper is transported to printers, and books from printers in Australia and worldwide to Australian distribution centres.

Research commissioned by the UK Independent Publishers Guild found that in this post-production stage ‘the overwhelming majority (over 99%) of Greenhouse Gas emissions come from two transportation stages: delivery and return’.

Printing in Australia reduces carbon emissions from freight, but many publishers prefer Asian printers for cost effective quality colour printing.

It has been suggested that the industry could work towards decentralising printing operations so that books can be printed as close to customers as possible. At present this kind of system is not economically feasible in Australia, and large investment in longer run printers and binding equipment would be required to accommodate this change. 

More immediately, there are opportunities to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted in the process of transport between manufacturers, distributors, and consumers:

  • localise supply chains to reduce unnecessary transportation
  • consolidate vehicle loads and design routes to be as direct as possible
  • explore electric transportation options (e.g. electric trucks)
  • prioritise domestic over offshore printing
  • build the use of sea rather than air freight into production schedules
  • create or develop carbon offset models for any unavoidable air freight

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This content was last updated on 6/21/2022, and is updated quarterly. Please contact us if you have any recommended updates.