Operating sustainably

We recognize that, as a publisher, we impact the environment in several ways.

Our global operations—and those of our manufacturing supply chain—contribute to climate change through fossil fuel use. We use substantial volumes of paper to make books and journals, which can—if not sourced sustainably—contribute to deforestation. Waste is generated at all stages of our value chain.

We are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of our products and operations, with an emphasis on reducing our contribution to climate change, protecting biodiversity, and minimizing waste.

In September 2021, we announced three short-term targets, to be achieved by 2025:

  • Carbon neutral from our own operations (office, warehouses, and business travel)
  • 100% certified sustainable book paper
  • Zero waste to landfill (in markets with necessary waste management infrastructure)

How we’re taking action

Since announcing these targets we have developed an action plan to help us achieve our goals, and we continue to measure our footprint to gain a better understanding of our environmental impact.

We have also established Sustainability Steering and Governance Committees to ensure good governance, updated our environmental policy, and developed sustainability standards for suppliers.

We have made significant progress towards our targets already:

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reduction in our operational carbon footprint compared to our 2019 baseline.

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certified sustainable paper being used by our top 27 strategic suppliers, who together represent over three-quarters of our print spend, up from 66% in 2019.

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reduction from nearly 5,000 tonnes of waste in 2019 to 2,700 tonnes of waste in 2021—although this is largely due to the impact of the pandemic on office attendance and a reduction in book waste from our warehouses.

Reducing our carbon footprint
In 2021, our carbon footprint was an estimated 73,000 tonnes of CO2e, on a par with 2020 and 40% less than our baseline year of 2019*.

* A baseline year is a fixed period of time against which we measure future emissions and our progress towards climate targets. Our baseline year for carbon reporting is 2019. For 2021, data includes additional supplier and product end-of-life data not included in prior years. On a like-for-like basis, excluding these additions, 2021 emissions would be 52,028 tCO2e, versus 56,509 tCO2e in 2020 and 89,689 tCO2e in 2019.

The production of printed books and journals accounts for three-quarters of our total emissions, with paper sourcing alone responsible for nearly half. With data indicating that the production and use of digital books and journals has a much smaller impact, understanding our digital footprint will be a focus for 2022/23.

Around 6,500 tonnes of CO2e were attributable to our offices, warehouse operations, and business travel, where we have direct control over our footprint and are focusing efforts for the first phase of carbon reduction. Our operational footprint was 69% lower than our 2019 baseline and 13% lower than 2020.

While much of the decrease can be attributed to the impacts of the pandemic, as well environmental efficiencies in our real estate and supply chain operations, it also reflects some of the proactive steps we have taken:

  • Energy use at our global offices declined during the pandemic due to an increase in homeworking.

  • Our real estate floor space was 46% lower in 21/22 than the 19/20 baseline.

  • We consolidated our India, Spain, UK, and US warehouse operations into a smaller number of more space-efficient, third-party managed facilities, which has reduced the footprint of these four facilities by 40%.
  • Our Oxford, UK head office is powered by 100% renewable electricity, and renewables are included in the energy mix for our office in Madrid, Spain.
  • Our regional head office in Karachi, Pakistan installed solar panels to reduce its reliance on diesel.

  • Emissions from business travel have been minimal during the Covid-19 pandemic. As colleagues begin to travel more, we are setting business travel reduction targets.
Sourcing paper sustainably

We use around 30,000 tonnes of paper each year to make books and journals.

As a minimum, this paper must meet grade 3 of the Book Chain Project’s forest source grading system.

To help us achieve our target of 100% certified sustainable paper by 2025, we introduced a new sustainable paper sourcing policy to the top 27 print suppliers, representing around 82% of our procurement spend.

As a result, 75% of the paper used by these suppliers was certified sustainable this year, up from 66% in 20/21.

Moving forward, we will be rolling out the policy to other suppliers.

Minimizing waste
Our offices and warehouses generated an estimated 2,700 tonnes of waste in 2021, with 68% of this being book waste.

We aim to reduce waste wherever possible, and to recycle whatever we can. Overall, the majority of our waste is either recycled (88%) or used in energy generation (6%), with just 6% of waste going to landfill in 2021.

Our two largest offices, Oxford and New York—home to over 40% of our total workforce—already send zero waste to landfill.

To reduce waste further:

  • Our warehouses reuse packaging materials, including boxes and pallets, and recycle packaging where possible. The warehouses in China, India, and the UK, that handle around 60% of our stock, have a combined recycling rate of over 90%.

  • We are also working with printers to pilot more efficient packaging materials and methods and reduce their reliance on single-use plastic.
  • We are developing a book waste reduction strategy and increasing our use of ‘print-on-demand’ services, to avoid unnecessary waste.
Furthering our commitment
We recognize that we have a crucial part to play in helping the publishing industry drive positive change on a larger scale.

That is why we are signatories to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Publishers Compact. In October 2021, we also signed the Publishing Declares Climate Pledge.

As part of this pledge, we commit to act on climate change, protect life on land, strengthen publishing industry partnerships for sustainability, and educate and advocate for sustainability.

We also have an important role in tackling climate change by increasing understanding of the topic through our education and research resources, and bringing our communities together to explore the topic through global events.

'Our targets for 2025 signal our intent to drive improvements and are a big step in the right direction, and becoming a signatory to both the Publishing Declares Climate Pledge and the SDG Publishers Compact shows that we are prepared to take tangible action in driving change across areas that impact our environment the most, holding ourselves accountable every step of the way.’

Zoe Cokeliss Barsley Director of Sustainability

Case studies

Reducing technological inequalities through recycling