At CONTEC Mexico: Examining the Hopes and Hurdles of Sustainability

In News by Adam Critchley

Challenges facing publishers in the bid for industry sustainability were the chief topic on CONTEC Mexico’s first conference day.

A first panel on sustainability at the 2023 CONTEC Mexico conference from Frankfurt on July 5 featured, from left, moderator Adriana Ortega, Arantxa Mellado, David Hänssler, and Hugo Setzer. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Adam Critchley

By Adam Critchley

See also:
CONTEC Mexico: ‘Is the Publishing Industry Sustainable?’
Frankfurt’s CONTEC Mexico 2023: Sustainability, Translation, Audio

Sustainability and Book Buyer Awareness
In its first of two days at Centro Cultural de España in Mexico City, the focus of Frankfurter Buchmesse‘s 2023 CONTEC Mexico program was the fact that while actions are being taken toward industry sustainability, there’s still much work to be done.

In one discussion, panelists agreed on Wednesday (July 5) that an element of success for the book business has to do with creating awareness among book buyers of how publishing processes need to change.

Moderator Adriana Ortega, company director for Latin America for MVB, talked about the importance of publishers entering a “virtuous circle” that reduces the environmental impact of the business while creating awareness of the need to make that shift among both consumers and suppliers.

“There’s good news, there’s a strong field of action,” Ortega said, “but there’s also much still to be done. We need to look at sustainable practices already put into place by publishers and how they can be replicated.”

One of the issues that undermines publishers’ moves toward sustainability is demand, however, according to David Hänssler, senior project manager at Holtzbrinck Buchverlage.

“There’s an urgency for book delivery,” he said. “Customers in Germany want their books in 24 hours. And we should inform our customers about how unsustainable that is, to create awareness of the impact.”

“We have to make our processes more transparent and create more awareness, not only among our customers but also among our suppliers.”David Hänssler, Holtzbrinck

Arantxa Mellado, the founding director of Spain’s LiberExpress, a print-on-demand book distribution channel, said that publishers “can find ways of printing and distributing to create a publishing industry that’s more sustainable.” Sustainability, she said, begins with the book’s conception. “How big will the print run be? How can we distribute it to readers in the most sustainable way?”

She also spoke about the need to control the consumption of paper and inventories by using what her company offers, print-on-demand models. This is especially clear when publishers print a surplus of books.

Hänssler agreed that over-production of books is a major issue to be tackled. “We have a lot of paper cut-off that’s just disposed of, and we also need to ensure that paper can be recycled,” he said. “Laminating book covers, for example, can make the paper impossible to recycle. We have to make our processes more transparent and create more awareness, not only among our customers but also among our suppliers.”

In addition to the use of recycled and recyclable paper, he pointed to the need to use non-metal inks, which can also be a factor that makes paper unrecyclable.

‘A Little Overwhelmed at Where To Start’

Mexico’s publishing association has implemented actions to promote the sustainable use of water and energy in their production processes, according to Hugo Setzer, the president of Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM). His opening keynote at the conference focused on the entire industry’s need to achieve sustainability.

“Mexico is the world’s fourth-largest recycler of paper, although there will always be people who accuse the publishing industry of destroying the world’s forests.”Hugo Setzer, CANIEM

“Mexico is the world’s fourth-largest recycler of paper,” Setzer said, “although there will always be people who accuse the publishing industry of destroying the world’s forests.

“We can be a little overwhelmed at where to start when it comes to achieving sustainability,” he said, calling on publishers to sign the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Publishing Compact and commit to the 10 obligations it sets out to achieve greater sustainability. Those include stating sustainability policies and targets; actively promoting and acquiring content that advocates for themes represented by the SDGs, such as equality, sustainability, and justice; and safeguarding and strengthening the environment.

By signing the pact, publishers commit to annually reporting on their progress; sharing data and best practices; nominating an employee to promote SDG progress and coordinate the pursuit of the SDG throughout the organization; and raising awareness among staff and suppliers.

Publishers can also become advocates to customers and other stakeholders by promoting and actively communicating about the SDG agenda through marketing, sites, promotions, and projects, and by collaborating with other signatories and organizations to develop, localize, and scale projects to advance progress on the SDGs. This means that publishers need to dedicate budget and resources to accelerating their progress in SDG-dedicated projects.

New production processes can result in a different product, Mellado said. “A book may not be as perfect a product as it was before, but readers have to understand this is because our production processes are changing as we adopt more sustainable practices.”

‘The Climate Is Changing, So Why Aren’t We?’

“Achieving sustainability can sometimes seem idealist,” Setzer said, “which is why it’s an important debate. It’s a question of social responsibility.”

“We have to adjust production to market demands, but that’s difficult to do [because] a publisher’s production plans must be guided by data from distributors on the performance of similar books.”Arantxa Mellado, LiberExpress

Hänssler said, “The main obstacle lies in processes and organizational structures that are decades old and need to be re-thought.

“We’ve had so many discussions about how to make a book look nice, but we never talked about sustainability, and we need to think about that when we’re talking about the visual look of the product and whether we can do things differently. The climate is changing, so why aren’t we?

“We also have to focus on how to make money,” he said, “and when we look at sustainability, we can see how it can cut costs, such as using lighter paper, which lowers transportation costs.”

Mellado said, “We also have to adjust production to market demands, but that’s difficult to do [because] a publisher’s production plans must be guided by data from distributors on the performance of similar books.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on México is here, more on sustainability is here, more on the SDG Publishers Compact is here, more on publishing conferences is here, and more on the CONTEC programming from Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

About the Author

Adam Critchley

Adam Critchley is a Mexico-based freelance writer and translator. His articles have been published in Latin American Literature Today, Brando, Forbes, GQ, Gatopardo, Publishers Weekly, Travesías and Vinísfera, among other publications, and his short stories have appeared in The Brooklyn Review, El Puro Cuento and Storyteller-UK. His translations include a series of children's books based on indigenous Mexican folk tales. He can be contacted at adamcritchley@hotmail.com.