Germany’s Springer Nature: New Sustainability Report

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 2022 ‘Sustainable Business Report’ from the Springer Nature Group examines workforce dynamics and climate crisis responses.

Image: Excerpt from the cover of the Springer Nature Group’s Sustainable Business Report 2022: ‘Driven by Discovery’

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

‘Making Sustainable Choices’
In the Springer Nature Group’s Sustainable Business Report 2022 released today (April 5), the company relays from its offices in London, Berlin, and New York City several key points in environmental, social, and governance.

With the international book publishing industry now on the run-up to London Book Fair and its new Sustainability Lounge (the focus of our interview with Elsevier’s Rachel Martin) focused on climate-crisis issues, Springer’s media messaging asserts that the report “shows the publisher’s increased support for the [United Nations’] Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and action on climate in 2022.

Key points highlighted by the company in today’s media messaging include:

  • The company sees itself as being responsible for 800,000 pieces of Sustainable Development Goals-related research published since 2015
  • Approximately one in five articles published by Springer Nature in the last  seven years were SDG-related, per the new report
  • In tracking for the first time how Springer Nature research is used in SDG policymaking, the company says it found that 1,400 SDG-related policy documents were cited in 2022
  • Business flights, the company reports, remain well below pre-pandemic levels and Springer Nature offices report sustained reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases
  • The report also looks at home working and a commuting offset for the first time, to reflect established hybrid working practices
  • The company reports that 95 percent of its employees completed sustainable business training modules
  • Five new national chapters of the volunteer “Green Office Movement” were created
  • The company also held what it calls “an international SDG festival involving hundreds of colleagues who took collective steps to reduce their personal carbon emissions”

You’ll note that in the “About This Report” text on Page 2 of the new document, you read that the effort “also details our actions to support the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in line with our involvement in the SDG Publishers Compact,” which is the fast-growing covenant led by the International Publishers Association (IPA). In that project, some 300 publishing companies of the world have so far become signatories, committing to diligence and transparency in responding to the tenets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In this graphic, Springer Nature details metrics by which it assesses ‘our impact’ in raising internal company awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals. Image: Springer Nature Group

Corporate Responsibility

Not unlike the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, themselves—which run the gamut of everything from “No Poverty,” “Zero Hunger,” and “Gender Equality” to “Responsible Consumption and Production,” “Climate Action,” and “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions—the 48-page Springer report has sections not only on the ubiquitous topics of open access and transformative agreements to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the effort to “harness technology,” and “sustainability governance and materiality.”

Granted, the Springer Nature document has that feel of a company’s corporate-responsibility brochure, and this inevitably means a tone of self-promotion and -congratulation, perhaps unavoidable.

This piece is created, however, at a time of direly deepening threats to the planet’s ecosystem, better understood since the recent release of the United Nations’ latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023, which carries one arresting, overriding, stark warning: Time is running out faster than we thought it was.

If you’d like to see one of Springer’s most interesting contributions to this amalgam of social, ethical, and environmental concerns, look at the new Springer report’s Page 6 and its “materiality matrix,” which captures the relative intensity of various hot-button issues and challenges. In 2022, the company wisely added “political uncertainty” to that matrix, a 19th factor, which scores quite high on the model, not least because Vladimir Putin’s savage and unprovoked assault on Ukraine is couched in that factor.

In this graphic, Springer Nature Group’s materiality matrix adds “political uncertainty as an option for the first time. It’s No. 19 on the chart. Image: Springer Nature Group

As you can see, Factor 19—the newly added “political uncertainty”—enters the field on a par with technology and innovation; workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion; and climate impacts, a telling level of potency for a newly added factor.

Quickly, in some statistical points that help grasp the scale of this major house’s presence, Springer reports:

  • €1.82 billion in revenue (US$1.98 billion)
  • More than 1.5 million research submissions
  • Publication of more than 13,000 books
  • Operations in 46 nations
  • Nearly 10,000 employees

The size of this major academic and scholarly publisher, of course, has much to do with how forcefully it can both devise its course in so many of these matters, and even how thoroughly and engagingly it can report results.

In terms of its carbon stance, the company reiterates that it has been carbon-neutral since 2020 and is now “setting out science-based targets with an aim to be net-zero carbon by 2040.

“We will focus on emissions reductions over the next 10 years,” the company’s new document pledges.

And beyond carbon, the company’s tracking of its water, office paper, and office waste is instructive, showing proud progress:

  • Water use is down 60 percent since 2019
  • Office paper use is down 75 percent since 2019
  • Office waste is down 43 percent since 2019

And perhaps you’ll want to peruse Page 33 on which–in so heated a political era as this–the “Working Ethically” section of the report includes a discreet chart indicating that whistleblowing reports have been received at a remarkably steady rate: 128 in 2020, 133 in 2022, and 125 in 2022. There’s a bit more variance in the use of the SpeakUp system, with 87 reports listed in 2020, 114 in 2021, and 2022 106.

‘Working With a Common Purpose’

In a comment on the release today of the new report, CEO Frank Vrancken Peters is quoted in a joint statement with chair Stefan von Holtzbrinck, saying, “It is the people at Springer Nature that make this such an inspiring workplace.

Stefan von Holtzbrinck, left, and Frank Vrancken Peeters

“As colleagues returned to our offices, we were reminded that there is just nothing like the energy that you can get from being in a room of colleagues working with a common purpose.

“As we work to provide ever better services to researchers, educators, and healthcare practitioners, we hope to build on this positive momentum and create a ripple effect for wider society and the planet.”

And, of course, as mentioned by Elsevier’s Martin in her interview with us, Springer Nature is one of the key companies in publishing with an dedicated officer for many of the concerns in the new report.

Thea Sherer

Thea Sherer is the company’s director of sustainability and climate action, and she says, “‘Driven by Discovery’—the title of this year’s report—”reflects the work and commitment across the organization in delivering on our vision to accelerate solutions to the world’s urgent challenges.

“We continue to make good progress as a sustainable business, including a strong focus on developing and delivering our net zero roadmap.

“We are also seeing colleagues making sustainable choices in the way they work and embedding climate conscious practices across our entire business.”

The full report, in PDF, is here.

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: Klaus Flugge To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award
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 sustainability 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 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.