Bertelsmann and Penguin Random House: Climate Neutrality by 2030

In News by Porter Anderson

Penguin Random House anticipates a full transition to green energy by 2022, writes Markus Dohle, well ahead of some of the new Bertelsmann 10-year guidelines for progress.

Windmills pictured in a World Resources Institute video for the Science Based Targets initiative, with which Bertelsmann and Penguin Random House are aligned in newly announced goals to be climate-neutral by 2030

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Our Shared Commitment’
In a message issued this morning (February 18) to the worldwide workforce of Penguin Random House, global CEO Markus Dohle has amplified for the PRH staff the Monday statement from Gütersloh of Thomas Rabe, chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann. On Monday, Rabe laid out an aggressive and potentially industry-leading goal for the multinational corporation to be climate-neutral by 2030.

Bertelsmann, which includes in its holdings Penguin Random House, of course—the largest of the world’s Big Five publishers—is a fast conglomerate. It spans media, services, and education units with operations in some 50 nations and approximately 117,000 employees. From the music giant BMG to the broadcaster RTL and the always impactful PRH, Bertelsmann’s endorsement of this demanding schedule of environment-friendly goals will be turning heads in many parts of the world industry.

Specific goals of the program include:

  • A 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gases
  • Elimination of more than 500,000 tons of CO2 by comparison to 2018 figures
  • A switch to 100-percent green electricity
  • An offset of remaining emissions

A photoelectric cell farm pictured in a World Resources Institute video for the Science Based Targets initiative

Dohle: ‘Our Mission and Our Purpose’

Dohle explicates for Penguin Random House employees the publishing house’s own ratification and approach to the program announced in Germany with this message:

“Yesterday, in his letter to us, Thomas Rabe announced that Bertelsmann will become climate neutral by 2030. Today I write you about our shared commitment and progress toward achieving this goal for Penguin Random House.

Markus Dohle

“In 2016, we announced our 2020 social responsibility commitments to help improve our company, communities, and planet. These commitments reflected our values as Penguin Random House, and our dedication to publishing our books responsibly and minimizing our environmental impact.

“We made two sustainability commitments for 2020: The first was to source 100 percent of the paper we use worldwide from certified mills. By the end of last year, more than 98 percent of our paper was purchased from mills that meet one of two standards: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). We are fully on track to reach our goal of 100 percent by the end of this year.

“Our second goal was to reduce our carbon emissions by 10 percent—which we exceeded by making improvements to our company’s infrastructure and energy-saving capacity, putting us well on our way to further total reductions of 20 percent by 2025.

“By 2022, Penguin Random House is aiming to have fully transitioned to green energy. Already, many of our facilities and distribution centers are outfitted with energy-saving products and technologies in addition to sourcing renewable energy to supply their power. Our colleagues will also continue to work together to further improve our own operational processes and efficiencies and in partnership with our suppliers to reduce CO2 emissions across the supply chain.

“Our strategy for achieving climate neutrality is three-pronged:

  • Avoid unnecessary or excess emissions
  • Reduce emissions where possible
  • Offset unavoidable emissions

“We have actively implemented changes in all three areas over the last few years, and I believe that we are well positioned to achieve our goal across our local operations worldwide.

“As Bertelsmann’s most international company, we know that our carbon footprint varies in different countries and that’s why it’s necessary for our efforts to be locally driven, but like everything we do, we want to share our best practices and learnings globally. Along those lines, I also want to thank you for all you do personally each day to make our offices and facilities less wasteful and more sustainable. Your individual actions collectively have a significant impact.

“It is more important than ever to take active, science-based steps to protect our environment for the next generation of readers, and for this one. Doing so is directly aligned with our mission and purpose.

“Thank you for your commitment to sustainability for Penguin Random House, and for all of us.”

Rabe: ‘We Are Taking Responsibility’

In his original message from Bertelsmann to the German company’s employee base, Rabe writes, “Protecting the environment is part of our corporate values, the ‘Bertelsmann Essentials.’

Thomas Rabe

“With our decision to achieve climate neutrality by 2030, we are taking responsibility in the battle against climate change and global warming. In this connection, Bertelsmann has become one of around 800 companies worldwide to join the Science Based Target initiative. The initiative supports companies in setting scientifically sound climate targets.”

Rabe’s reference to the Science Based Targets initiative is a program of the World Resources Institute, based in Washington. Established in 1982, the institute has funding from the MacArthur Foundation and maintains offices not only in the United States capital but also in China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia.

The Science Based Targets initiative is devised expressly for corporate entities, supporting them in transitioning to low-carbon economic profiles. As of this writing, it reports a total 799 companies having made commitments for change.

In describing the program undertaken by Bertelsmann, Rabe’s message reveals that cooperative efforts with business partners are considered an aspect of the plan.

“Bertelsmann’s site- and employee-related emissions,” the statement reads, “are to be reduced worldwide through measures such as switching to 100 percent green electricity, installing additional solar systems, improving energy efficiency, and using alternative mobility concepts. In addition, other emissions from the print and digital products’ supply chains are to be reduced in cooperation with business partners.

“In this way, Bertelsmann will eliminate more than half a million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2018. This is more than the total amount that Bertelsmann emitted at its sites worldwide in 2018. Bertelsmann will the offset remaining emissions associated with its own business activities and products through in-house climate protection projects and by purchasing carbon credits.”

In 2003, Bertelsmann’s messaging says, the company created an environmental initiative, setting up an international working group in the process. That team is now expected to provide the leadership on the new 2030 plan, having regularly generated company-wide carbon footprint data and documented progress.

As Dohle says in his letter, a key is locally based response. “Bertelsmann’s individual divisions, which operate in different industries and therefore have different carbon footprints, will take the path to climate neutrality at different paces.”

Rabe concludes his statement, saying, “Bertelsmann is a diversified company. This is reflected in our goal, because the diversity of Bertelsmann’s businesses requires different, bespoke solutions.

“In our planning, we assume that individual divisions will achieve the goal of climate neutrality more quickly than others. The first few units, such as the corporate center in Gütersloh, will achieve climate neutrality this year, others in the following years.

“In 2030, Bertelsmann will be a climate neutral company.”

Below is an explanatory and promotional video produced by Science Based Targets.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the climate crisis is here, more from us on Penguin Random House is here, and more on Bertelsmann is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.