From Amsterdam: Rachel Martin on London Book Fair’s Sustainability Lounge

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The new Sustainability Lounge at London Book Fair—its concept led by Elsevier’s Rachel Martin—will run throughout the week.

The cover of the Sixth Assessment Report/Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change features an image called ‘Fog Opening the Dawn’ by Chung Jin Sil, a remarkable aerial from the Weather and Climate Photography and Video Contest, 2021, of the Korea Meteorological Administration. Image: The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report/Synthesis Report

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

‘We Need Publishers To Be Catalysts of Action’
The timing of London Book Fair’s new Sustainability Lounge program is significant.

Rachel Martin, the global director of sustainability at Amsterdam’s Elsevier, says that the arrival of the United Nations’ latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has raised the alarm to its necessary pitch.

We are not on track to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) or even 2.0 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit),” the report tells us.

The message has become inescapable: The level of urgency has soared in these years since the 2018 advent of these UN reports. One conclusion is unmistakable in the panel’s new Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023: Time is running out faster than we thought it was.

From the panel’s Sixth Assessment Report’s distillation of points for its video presentation:

“We need deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. A greater focus on adaptation. More emphasis on equitable solutions. Scaled up financing. Enhanced technology and international cooperation. We have feasible, effective options available now.”

‘We Need the Poetry and Fiction and Children’s Books’

If there’s anyone in book publishing who’s becoming the international go-to personality for the climate crisis for the book business, it’s Martin at the publishing giant Elsevier—like London Book Fair, a RELX company.

Rachel Martin

Martin and her Elsevier colleague Michiel Kolman have worked with London Book Fair director Gareth Rapley and his associates to develop the Sustainability Lounge. And in an interview with Publishing Perspectives, it becomes evident that Martin has two assignments for the international publishing business.

  • Obviously, publishing must adopt climate-crisis responses in carefully worked out plans to ensure the industry lowering emissions in its own operations, from acqusitions through distribution and sales.
  • But maybe not as obviously, publishing also needs to produce the content necessary to capture, inspire, and guide the world’s attention to the racing rise of an existential threat.

“We need the poetry and fiction and the children’s books and the stories and the different perspectives around this,” Martin says, “in order to get people to understand there is a better future out there—because there has to be a better future out there.

“And so we do need publishers to be catalysts of action, we need them to be publishing on topics like what does 2030 look like? We need them to be talking about self-help, and how do you become a change-agent in your own organization?”

‘We Need Every Inspirational, Motivational Idea’

A graphic from the Synthesis Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Sixth Assessment report (AR6), March 2023. Image: The IPCC report Summary for Policymakers

The International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) leadership for years has been staging focal events around the issues, both at London and at Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 18 to 22), where its “Sustainability Summit” last October was standing-room-only.

The IPA also has led the way in three critical publishing responses to the crisis:

Gareth Rapley

But the Sustainability Lounge at London Book Fair has the distinction of being a stage devoted all week to the question of the climate emergency, with bespoke programming throughout the run of the trade show.

Presentations in the Sustainability Lounge, as we’re listing below, are arranged in daily themes:

  • Day One (April 18): The UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, Diversity, and Inclusion
  • Day Two (April 19): Climate Practices
  • Day Three: (April 20): Company Case Studies

Michiel Kolman

Its programming–informed by Martin and Kolman’s expertise–has the participation of institutions including the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe, the IPA, the United Kingdom’s Publishers Association, the European and International Booksellers Federation, and others, and also a number of publishing houses and associated industry companies that have placed their own high emphasis on  sustainability and blazed some trails (as Elsevier has done under Martin’s leadership) to sort out the most practical and efficacious responses to the crisis.

Martin—a vivacious conversationalist, full of humor and enthusiasm for her specialization—is crystal clear on what’s needed from publishing: both those best practices in sustainability but also “a vision of what we’re working toward, so people feel like they’re headed for a better life. They need to be inspired.”

This executive at one of the very biggest academic houses in the world says with a smile, “Academic publishers are very good at putting out the science, right? But we need to use every lever at our control. Every inspirational, motivational idea of cultural power to push us over a little hump when we’re not quite sure if we want to go down a path” required to ease the warming crisis.

For that, she’s turning to the trade: The role for carbon-footprint reduction is urgent–and so is the call for climate-relative literature.

‘We Have Some Definite Data Gaps’

A graphic from the Synthesis Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Sixth Assessment report (AR6), March 2023. Image: The IPCC report Summary for Policymakers

A quick perusal of the Sustainability Lounge topics will give you echoes of some of the key issues that Martin tells Publishing Perspectives she’s encountering, “wearing all my hats,” as she says with a laugh, to shuttle full-time between corporate colleagues, policymakers, and cultural players to head up programs, sit on committees, push along initiatives, and—most importantly—spot and highlight coherent and genuinely actionable responses for the book publishing business and for the planet.

Here are a few of the themes you hear Martin land on most readily:

  • The need for dedicated sustainability leadership: “It’s been amazing to see so many new sustainability positions opening up in publishing houses” like hers. These sustainability directors can network with each other, sharing news and data, she says. “And it’s so collaborative. The UK Publishers Association has its sustainability task force, the Association of American Publishers has started, the Australians have theirs.” The essential internationalism of the crisis make this discussion increasingly crucial to worldwide publishing’s performance in relation to the crisis.
  • Karine Pansa

    The need for data: Echoing a call that Karine Pansa, the International Publishers Association president is emphasizing during her term of office, Martin says, “I find the biggest issue we’ve got with climate and an international approach is data. We don’t have all the data. We have some definite data gaps. Some of the methodologies about calculating your own emissions or the Publishing 2030 Accelerator, where we’ve got the carbon label prototype?–It’s a methodology that we’re trying to give to the sector. This is the kind of data you need to collect.”

  • The need for top executive-level involvement: “We do need the CEOs,” Martin says. “We need the leadership to embrace this and put it into their strategic planning, into each organization’s long-term planning, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

Juergen Boos

Martin is especially good at bringing the issues of climate crisis and publishing home, something you’ll see in her 4 p.m. discussion on April 18 with Frankfurter Buchmesse president and CEO Juergen Boos, London’s Gareth Rapley, and Elsevier’s Kolman: “Book Fairs: How Sustainable Are They?”

Martin tells Publishing Perspectives that she’s calculated the carbon footprint on the Elsevier stand. “And what are some of the lessons learned,” she asks rhetorically, “in terms of carbon emissions at book fairs? We’re thinking about something a bit like the ‘carbon label,'” she says, “something that RX and London Book Fair might give their exhibitors to calculate their own stands’ carbon footprints” in the future.

Rachel Martin stops herself in mid-conversation, thinks about it. Then she decides to go ahead: “Okay, what we found out—spoiler alert—is that it’s more about who is on your stand than it is about some of the materials on your stand.”

Below we have an edited edition of the agenda programmed for London’s Sustainability Lounge. More events may be added, and more details will be available at each session’s spot on the trade fair’s seminar schedule. You can find the Sustainability Lounge schedule, opening on Day One of the fair, April  18, here.
April 18: The UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, Diversity, and Inclusion
April 18, 10:30 to 11 a.m.
Opening of the London Book Fair Sustainability Lounge
  • Sherri Aldis, UN Regional Information Centre, Western Europe, Brussels
  • Gareth Rapley, London Book Fair

April 18, 11 to 11:45 a.m.
SDG Publishers Compact: What Is It and How Do We Sign Up?

  • Sherri Aldis, UNRIC Brussels
  • Irina Lumelsky, United Nations Publications
  • Michiel Kolman, IPA Inclusive Publishing and Literacy committee
  • Karine Pansa, IPA president

April 18, 1:30 to 2 p.m.
Halfway to 2030: What is Needed to Get the SDGs on Track?

  • Sherri Aldis, UNRIC Brussels
  • Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives
  • Louis Coiffait-Gunn, Publishers Association

April 18, 4 to 4:30 p.m.
Book Fairs: How Sustainable Are They?

  • Michiel Kolman, IPA Inclusive Publishing and Literacy committee
  • Gareth Rapley, London Book Fair
  • Juergen Boos, Frankfurter Buchmesse

Day Two, April 19: Climate Practices

April 19, 10:45 to 11:15 a.m.
BIC’s ‘Designed for Recycling’ Project
BIC is the UK’s Book Industry Communication organization

  • Simon Crump, environmental consultant to BIC

April 19, 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
EIBF: Book Returns Around the World: Exploring Challenges and Best Practices
EIBF is the European and International Booksellers Federation

  • Daniel Martín Brennan, EIBF
  • Tora Åsling, EIBF

April 19, 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.
The Publishing 2030 Accelerator: Testing Early-Stage Ideas to Transform Publishing, Covering Carbon Labels, Print on Demand, and Accounting Systems

  • Jörg Engelstädter, Canon Future Book Forum
  • Rachel Martin, Elsevier

April 19, 3:15 to 3:45 p.m.
Publishing Sustainability Tools for a Greener Future: The Publishers Association’s Carbon Calculator and Materials Matrix

  • Susan Pinkney, Publishers Association
  • Alice Wood, Publishers Association

April 19, 4 to 4:30 p.m.
Bloomsbury Case Study: An LBF Sustainability Initiative Winner

  • Jude Drake, Bloomsbury

Day Three, April 20: Company Case Studies

April 20, 10 to 10:30 a.m.

HP: Putting Sustainability Solutions Into ConTEXT

  • Ashley Gordon, HP

April 20, 10:45 to 11:15 a.m.
Penguin Random House: Sustainable Production Toolkit

  • Courtney Ward-Hunting, Penguin Random House UK

April 20, 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Pan Macmillan and Nature: Publishing for Planet

  • Flora Graham, Nature Briefing
  • Carole Tonkinson, Pan Macmillan Bluebird and One Boat

April 20, 12:15 to 12:45 p.m.
Climate: A Data-Driven Approach Toward Progress

  • Rachel Martin, Elsevier

April 20, 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.
Oxford University Press

  • Zoe Cokeliss Barsley, Oxford University Press

And here’s a video produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the release of their critical new 2023 Synthesis Report. The video is a practical way to get a three-minute introduction to the issues the panel is grappling with in its studies:


A programming note:
Publishing Perspectives will participate in a Sustainability Lounge event on London Book Fair’s opening day, April 18: a 30-minute examination of the status of the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals with an eye to the 2030 time line for this program’s accomplishment.

April 18, 1:30 to 2 p.m., Sustainability Lounge
Halfway to 2030: What is Needed to Get the SDGs on Track?

  • Sherri Aldis, UNRIC Brussels
  • Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives
  • Louis Coiffait-Gunn, Publishers Association

More coverage relative to the 2023 London Book Fair:
London Book Fair: International Publishers Association Events
London Book Fair: A Keynote From London Mayor Sadiq Khan on the Climate Crisis
Richard Charkin in London: ‘The Perils of Literary Publishing’
Sustainability: Exact Editions Promotes ‘Collections’ for Book-Award Juries
London Book Fair’s New Director Gareth Rapley: ‘A Rich History’
London Book Fair Names Main Stage Speakers
London Book Fair Plans: Scholarly and Rights Conferences
Exact Editions to Showcase IPG Publishers’ Books at London Book Fair
Industry Notes: London Book Fair Awards, Hay Festival in Colombia
London Book Fair Opens International Excellence Awards for Submissions

More from Publishing Perspectives on the climate crisis is here, more on London Book Fair is here, more on sustainabilty in the international publishing industry is here, more on the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals is here, more on the IPA and UN SDG Publishers Compact is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the global media partner of the International Publishers Association.

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.