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January 31st, 2022
Racing to Zero – Part 1

Confession time… until I had read a ton of articles around COP26, I hadn’t really grasped the concept of Net Zero… even though b small is signed up to the UN Climate Change Race to Zero campaign and all our staff and contributors care deeply about the fate of the planet. My five year old granddaughter reminded me of this recently with a spontaneous drawing:

Translation of caption above the Earth: We live on this planet. It’s called planet Earth (aref). We have to look after it. If we don’t look after it, it will disappear. 

 
We are at the ‘discovery’ phase of our engagement with the issues. We are trying to understand more clearly what our impact is and what we can do about it. So we decided we had to focus initially on five key areas. Here they are, with our successes (✔︎) and our plans to improve (❤︎):

 

 

1. Ethical sourcing

✔︎   A very large percentage of CO2 emissions from book manufacture come from the paper used. “…a 400g book equals c2kg CO2, the same as traveling 10 km in a typical car, or two uses of a tumble dryer.”* All our books are produced on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper and our printer uses soya ink to avoid the toxicity of standard printing ink.

❤︎  We will keep a close eye on developments in sustainable printing materials. For example, although the cartons in which our books are shipped are made of card and the packing material is waste paper, special orders are sometimes packaged with plastic shrink-wrap. We are working with our printer and distributors to find sustainable material to avoid this.

2. Local manufacturing

✔︎ We aim to print a percentage of our books in Europe in future. Most of our books are printed in China. Children’s books have been manufactured in China for decades and we have a 30 year relationship with our HK printer. They offer high quality production, superb customer service and the know-how to deliver books all over the world.

❤︎  We do a lot of ‘co-editions’. That means that our print runs include books for markets like the US, Australia and Europe. Ideally we want to print closer to our customers but of course this might not be Europe. Currently very few European printers have an expertise in fulfilling worldwide co-edition orders. So we are unlikely to move all our printing from China in the near future but we are working with our printer to make the process as sustainable as possible.

3. Waste

✔︎ We aim to tailor our print quantities to avoid unnecessary waste. Publishing is not an exact science so it’s impossible to be sure of the level of sales and reprinting small quantities is costly. The quality and price of print-on-demand (POD) is not suited to children’s books. So we try, where possible, to print exact quantities for specific orders and keep some of our books in stock using short run printing. We do still produce a small quantity of printed catalogues for marketing (they’re so beautiful!) but send out more and more electronic versions.

❤︎  Overstocks and publishing mistakes are unavoidable so we actively look for charities to which we can donate large and small quantities. We are really pleased that some of our bilingual books have gone to French-speaking Africa via Book Aid International. We always keep in mind the mantra: ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.

4. Travel

✔︎ We are one of the original ‘virtual’ publishers and even before the pandemic, our staff, authors, illustrators and freelancers worked from their own homes. This saves commuting and connecting online means that we can work with people all over the UK and abroad.

❤︎ Not commuting of course is offset by everyone heating their homes and not sharing facilities. So we try to exchange of ideas for reducing our personal carbon footprint – from using recycled loo paper to buying ethically sourced teabags!

✔︎ The pandemic has of course made a huge dent in our international travel plans. But before Covid hit, we already travelled to the Frankfurt Book Fair by train, a fun journey involving a dawn start at St Pancras and in one case, an unexpected change of trains half way through Germany when our engine broke down.

❤︎ Face-to-face networking is very important and we will still need fly occasionally to trade fairs or to visit key customers. But now we’ve discovered Zoom, we’ll aim restrict those flights and ‘meet’ as many customers as possible online.

5. Content of our books

✔︎ As a friend recently pointed out, reading is a very sustainable activity: no screens, no electricity, no expensive devices. Many of our books are designed to provide hours of entertaining craft activities, often reusing and recycling, the ubiquitous toilet roll tube!

Some are written specifically to inform and educate about climate change and what we can do about it. A recent ‘What you can do’ article in the Royal Geographical Society’s magazine put talking about climate change at number 1.
And some are aimed at bringing people together through language learning. It needs a global effort to solve the global problems, so future generations need to communicate with each other.
 

❤︎ We want to continue produce books that inform children and their carers about the way the world works, to understand other countries and cultures and maybe we can inspire future generations to find solutions to the climate crisis, together?Those are our key starting points, to get us thinking, discussing and taking action. We know we must keep working on them which is hard when we are a small team working flat out on day-to-day tasks. So we’re committing to updating them twice a year, every six months. Watch this space for an update in May 2022.

References:

*Edward Milford quote from The greening of the book Nov 2008 blog

Book Journeys Project: The Story So Far

A new initiative by the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) to identify, measure and set targets for improving the environmental impact of the journey of a book from printer to its ‘end of life’.