Climate: Martin Predicts Carbon Emission Labels on Books

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Exclusive to Publishing Perspectives: Elsevier’s Rachel Martin, speaking at a climate conference, predicts carbon labeling on books.

Rachel Martin speaks at the Global Sustainability Development Congress. Image: GSDC

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

See also: Madrid’s Readmagine: Skill Sets and ‘Human-Centric Digital Innovation’

‘Calculating the Carbon Footprints of our Books’
Speaking at the Global Sustainable Development Congress in Thuwal, Elsevier‘s global director of sustainability, Rachel Martin, has told an international audience that within five years, it’s likely that all mainstream printed books will display labels on their front and/or back covers, specifying their “environmental credentials.”

“This will not only give consumers more information,” Martin told her audience, according to the event’s organizers. “But it will help publishers, authors, and booksellers too.”

Martin, as Publishing Perspectives readers know (here is our pre-London Book Fair interview with her), has become a leading figure in the international book business’ bid to bring its operations and output into environmentally responsible ranges. Working closely with the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the programs it’s leading, some of them in cooperation with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals framework, Martin was a player in the development of London Book Fair‘s Sustainability Lounge earlier this year.

In this regard, both the IPA and Martin’s Elsevier-based program has worked closely with Sherri Aldis, director of the  United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe.

In her comments made Thursday (June 1) at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, organizers say Martin pointed out that a single paperback book emits “on average the equivalent of between one and four kilograms (2.3 to 8.1 pounds) of carbon dioxide.” Indeed in international estimates, the average international carbon footprint for a human being each year is believed to be the equivalent of some 4.5 to 5 metric tonnes (4.9 to 5.5 tons) of carbon dioxide.

In the United Kingdom, Martin said, that range of emission may rise to as much as 9 or 10 metric tonnes—and to more than 15 metric tonnes in the United States—but might be as low as 2 or fewer tonnes in India.

Martin, the congress says, told the audience that she sees the value of product-labeling for books to be the logical consumer-demand response as world citizens become better versed in the details of the climate crisis and responses being made by many industries and businesses, including book publishing.

Martin: ‘An Impact on the Planet’

Onstage at the Global Sustainability Development Congress, from left, Mohammed Al Ta’ani, Rachel Martin, Tommy Detemmerman, and Jauad El Kharraz. Image: GSDC

“In the near future,” she said in the conference’s report to us, “consumers will think much more about the environmental cost of what they buy. How much carbon is stored in a book will be something they consider and something that influences what they choose to read.

“Books teach, entertain, inspire, and enrich our lives, but they also have an impact on the planet. By calculating the carbon footprint of our books, we can make more informed choices.”

Ebooks, Martin said, are one alternative to printed books, but they require devices, which consume energy. Martin, the program Saudi Arabia says, said that while printed books won’t “disappear anytime soon,” the publishing industry is “increasingly conscious of over-production costs.”

This is one of the points Martin is likely to touch on in Madrid on May 9, when she speaks as part of a trio of presentations at the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez‘s (FGSR) Readmagine industry-facing conference devised by the foundation’s managing director, Luis González.

There, Martin is scheduled to speak during a 10:15 a.m. session on these issues, her presentation being titled Lessons Learned From the Prototype of a Carbon Print Label for Books. Also appearing at that point in González’s program will be Manuel Gil of Antinomias Book and Jordi Panyella of Pol.len.

One of Martin’s most compelling points for the book business is that publishers can not only work on their own industrial carbon response but can also “use our cultural power” to inspire others in other disciplines and industries to take action, the literary world serving as a home to “carbon storytellers” whose fiction and nonfiction can be part of the international messaging needed to answer climate change and its increasingly dire threats.

The Global Sustainable Development Congress, staged in the Middle East for the first time by Times Higher Education this week, looks to advance progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with tangible action plans.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the climate crisis 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 Amsterdam-based Elsevier, a leading scholarly and academic publisher, is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

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.