Hachette Book Group: 2-Percent Rise in Carbon Footprint

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Paper accounts for 95 percent of Hachette’s carbon footprint, with a 2-percent rise in 2020 attributed to increased demand for print books.

Hachette Book Group, in its new environmental progress report, stresses its commitment to FSC and SFI certification in sourcing paper with ‘aggressive fiber testing’ outside of the PREPS initiative. Image – iStockphoto: K Thalhofer

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

Annual Reduction Goal: 2.5 Percent
As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, on Thursday (April 8), we covered Springer Nature’s report on its commercial and corporate social responsibility activity for 2020 including its environmental impact assessment.

Today (April 14), one of the Big Five trade houses, the Hachette Book Group USA, has issued an  “environmental progress report,” for 2019 and 2020. As might be anticipated, there was a major reduction in the company’s carbon footprint under the conditions of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, paper costs tipped the balance the other way.

Excluding paper, the company reports, “HBG’s carbon footprint declined 34 percent last year, because of large reductions in office electricity, business travel, and other pandemic-related impacts.

“However, the paper we procure accounts for approximately 95 percent of HBG’s overall carbon footprint, and we printed significantly more books in 2020 than we did in recent years. Because of this increase, the company’s carbon footprint rose 2 percent overall in 2020.”

The new report from Hachette Book Group is responsive to HBG’s environmental policy, which was established in 2016. Quoting from the company’s media messaging, “We continued to optimize wherever possible to reduce our carbon footprint, with an annual reduction goal of 2.5 percent for the 2017-to-2020 period.”

Nevertheless, as it turns out, those high paper expenses, the company reports, caused it to see a rise rather than a reduction in 2020.

Hachette Book Group currently produces what it says is more than 1,400 new adult titles annually, with some 50 to 100 of those being produced in digital-only formats. Its output also includes as many as 300 books for younger readers and 700 audiobook titles, in both digital-download and physical formats.

Emphasis on Recycled Paper, Endangered Forests

In measuring HBG’s carbon emissions, the company says it tracks:

  • Employee commuting and business travel
  • Electricity for all our facilities
  • Product transportation
  • Physical audiobook materials
  • Paper purchased for books
“We remain committed to sourcing recycled papers when they’re available in the marketplace and to push our suppliers to integrate recycled fiber into more paper products.”Hachette Book Group

And looking at those paper expenditures in particular, Hachette Book Group points out that while a heavy printing schedule saw a rise in paper usage, the company continued for a second year to prioritize recycled fiber.

“In 2020,” the company reports, “100 percent of HBG’s overall paper usage came from Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) fiber” for a second year.

“This exceeds our combined certified fiber goal of 95 percent,” the company reports. “For the 2017-2020 period, we had an aggressive target for recycled fiber, aiming for recycled to represent 20 percent of our overall paper use. In 2020, recycled fiber was 9.2 percent of our overall paper usage, flat compared to 2019, and our recycled tonnage increased by 6 percent.

“We remain committed to sourcing recycled papers when they’re available in the marketplace and to push our suppliers to integrate recycled fiber into more paper products.”

It becomes clear in the presentation of the report’s points, that—like many players in world publishing—Hachette’s leadership seems to sense a growing international unease with paper production, on which the print book industry rests.

Pietsch: ‘Recommitting to Our Environmental Goals’

In a brief statement, Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch is quoted taking on the subject directly, saying, “In 2020, with offices closed and business travel curtailed, HBG’s carbon impact improved in several areas. However, 95 percent of our overall carbon footprint is attributed to the paper in our books, and as our print quantities grew significantly, we did not meet our 2020 reduction goal.

Michael Pietsch

“We are recommitting to our environmental goals through 2021.

“During 2021, we will update our carbon footprint measurement methodology to align with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, in line with the approach recently adopted by Hachette Livre.

“We look forward to sharing more detail about our program as we develop this new approach and expand best practices. It’s my hope that everyone at HBG will join me in making environmental sustainability an even higher priority in all we do.”

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is based in Washington and Geneva, and is a standards initiative, intended to “establish comprehensive global standardized frameworks to measure and manage greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions.”

Image: A graphic from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Paper, and Its Impact

In the immediate point of its new report, however, Hachette Book Group is focused on paper, citing as its goal “to diligently oversee our supply chain to ensure that we avoid using paper originating from unacceptable sources of paper fiber, such as endangered forests, and require our paper to be free of unacceptable sources as defined by FSC’s controlled wood standard.

“During 2021, we will update our carbon footprint measurement methodology to align with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.”Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group

“We regularly discuss paper sourcing with our suppliers and remind them of their strict adherence to HBG’s paper and environmental standards.”

Are reminders the answer? Clearly, HBGs leadership believes they’re not, and that more direct measures are needed to ascertain just what wood, what trees, goes into its paper.

“In addition to working with our suppliers,” the company writes, “since 2016 HBG has done fiber testing on our books in order to verify that the fiber used in our paper does not come from at-risk areas or tropical hardwood forests. Thus far, we haven’t found any fiber of these kinds in our title sampling.

“In 2020, we continued aggressive fiber testing and enforced strict rules on new papers outside of the Publisher’s Database for Responsible Environmental Paper Sourcing (PREPS) rated papers. HBG will continue random fiber testing—to include current papers, new papers and substitutes—and will monitor results and manage our supply chain to align with our strict environmental policy.”

Quickly for your information, in case these are new certification programs to you:

HBG also is touting its attention to shipping cartons and their role in paper usage: “During 2020, we moved to 100-percent eco-friendly paper fill for shipping cartons. And early in 2021, not included in our 2020 results, we installed new BoxSizer technology in our warehouse.

“The BoxSizer cuts cartons to fit their contents more tightly, reducing the amount of carton fill needed, reducing our shipping volume, reducing damages, and resulting in a greener, more efficient method of shipping books.”

BoxSizer, from Atlanta-based WestRock, describes itself as “the only stand-alone e-commerce packaging machine that continuously reduces multiple footprint box sizes. It does this dynamically on-demand without stopping for changeover, making it ideal for B2B and B2C applications.”

Still quoting from BoxSizer’s self-descriptive copy, “By ensuring optimal DIM weight [dimensional weight], the BoxSizer platform can lower total carbon footprint and improve sustainability. Additionally, right-sized packages keep products secure and neat while making packaging easier to open for end customers.”

Emphasis and Outlook

“HBG’s environmental initiatives,” the report reads, “span many different areas, including paper sourcing, office recycling, energy usage, product transportation, and packaging. We are guided by our strong policy and our commitment to communicating consistently about our progress on our environmental goals.”

It’s worth noting that Hachette Book Group has itself placed the bulk of its emphasis on its use of paper products and other logistically related elements of its environmental-impact work. This not only recognizes public and industry concern but also shows an interest in forthrightly flagging challenges. HBG, after all, is not the only publishing company encountering these hurdles.

But is alignment with these certification programs and an introduction of responsive warehouse packaging technologies adequate for an industry that’s regularly operating in a major area of natural resource? As international climate and environmental impact concern rises, it’s interesting to wonder whether the consumer base may be in the early stages of a disaffection with print because of its use of Earth’s organic resources, even under the most stringent certifications.

The digital acceleration credited to the pandemic’s constraints has broadened the sector of the international book consumer base now acquainted with alternatives to print. Predictions vary among industry observers, but it’s generally believed that some new users of digital alternatives to print will elect to opt for those digital formats going forward.

Hachette’s report arrives ahead of the April 22 (Earth Day) summit of 40 world leaders invited by Joe Biden and the November 1-12 United Nations COP26 in Glasgow. Our international readers will recall that Arnaud Nourry, the former CEO of Lagardère’s Hachette Livre, was pushed out on March 29.

More from Publishing Perspectives on environmental impact is here, more on Hachette is here, and more on the climate crisis is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic 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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.