CONTEC Mexico: ‘Is the Publishing Industry Sustainable?’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

In his keynote at CONTEC Mexico, Hugo Setzer has encouraged publishers to join the SDG Publishers Compact and work together.

Hugo Setzer in his opening keynote at Frankfurter Buchmesse’s 2023 CONTEC Mexico. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Adam Critchley

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

‘If We Join Together in This Effort’
As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall from our preview of the event, CONTEC, a brand of Frankfurter Buchmesse, has today (July 5) opened its 2023 conference in Mexico City and continues on Thursday, with the event seated at the capital’s Centro Cultural de España.

The opening keynote this morning has been given by Hugo Setzer, the former International Publishers Association (IPA) president who now is president of  Cámara Nacional de la Industria Editorial Mexicana (CANIEM) and, of course, publisher of Mexico City’s Manuel Moderna.

With the program designed to embrace three topics in two days—sustainability, translation, and audio—it was Setzer’s task to establish the issue of sustainability in the international publishing world today, and he began by asking the audience, “It’s hot, isn’t it?”

Mentioning the prevailing temperatures scorching several parts of the world so far in the early part of this summer—including record highs in most of Mexico—Setzer said, “This is just a taste of the effects of climate change, as if to set the context for the context of this conference, with a very successful emphasis on sustainability for the publishing industry.”

“Sharing innovation,” a phrase used by Frankfurt’s organizer of the program, Setzer said, is a good one “because it is what we need for many of the problems we face.”

Sustainability is, of course, one of the most pressing issues of the year for world publishing, with an increasing presence in conferences, trade shows, and book fairs. One of the most important points made by Rachel Martin, who directs the Elsevier response to the crisis, is that publishing has more to do than simply get its own carbon footprint as small as possible. The world industry, she points out, needs to find and develop climate storytellers whose understanding of Earth’s prospects can help consumers understand, far beyond publishing, what’s happening to the planet.

“Part of the problem,” Setzer said, “is that we often think that these problems are so big that we can’t do anything about them. There’s also the expectation that ‘someone else’ will come along and solve them. As daunting as the problems we face may seem,” he said, “it’s possible to solve them, if we join together in this effort.”

The cover image for the Sixth Assessment Report/Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel. Image: IPCC

Echoing UNESCO’s statement of the obvious—that climate change is a crisis, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear in its AR6 Synthesis Report—Setzer rightly put his finger on the overwhelm felt by those in any industry who are contemplating how to answer such a sweeping emergency.

The Intergovernmental Panel is a creation of the United Nations’ Environment Program and of the World Meteorological Organization. And according to António Guterres, UN secretary-general, Setzer said, “We can create a green future, in which harmony between people and the planet is restored, if governments, businesses civil society and academia work together.

“For this reason,” he said, “all member states of the United Nations adopted in 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for all.

“At its core are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide a shared plan for peace and prosperity for people and planet, now and in the future. The SDGs recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education while reducing inequality, and poverty—strategies that improve health and education and spur economic growth, all while addressing climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”

To ‘Act as Advocates for the SDGs’

Setzer guided the audience in Mexico City to consider the SDG Publishers Compact, very familiar to Publishing Perspectives‘ professional readership and established by the UN with the International Publishers Association in 2020. The compact now has some 300 signatories

“The signatories of the SDG Publishers Compact, Setzer said, “aspire to develop sustainable practices and act as advocates for the SDGs during the ‘Decade for Action'” designated by the UN as 2020 to 2030.

“The German Publishers and Booksellers Association,” the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, “was a pioneer in signing this historic pact,” he said, when it was launched at Frankfurter Buchmesse. “The National Chamber of the Mexican Publishing Industry has also signed the pact and is in the process of socializing its contents with all its members.”

But this presents the question Setzer had laid out at the beginning of his comments: Is the publishing industry actually sustainable?

“It seems to me,” he said, “that we have many elements that we’re working on, but at the same time I recognize that we have a lot to work on, as there is still much room for improvement. As publishing companies,  we have the expectation of being socially responsible, but we lack knowledge and training. It’s not enough to make a paradigm shift if there are no good practices built and internalized in the heart of each company, i.e., in the people who make up the company.

“Sustainability in the publishing industry also involves those who make up the book production chain. The Chamber of the Publishing Industry in Mexico is working to raise awareness of the importance of this issue among our affiliates and with other actors in the book production chain. There are interesting initiatives from the paper chamber and also from the graphic arts chamber. We’re working together to make a real impact on the improvements set out in the SDGs.

“That’s why,” Setzer said, “it seems to me that for an association such as CANIEM, the most important SDG goal to work on is Number 17—on partnerships.

“Sixty-six million years ago, the dinosaurs, along with three-quarters of life on the planet, became extinct because of a cataclysm that researchers are still trying to understand. They could not foresee it and weren’t prepared for it. Today, as we sit comfortably, if somewhat heatedly, in this room, humankind is facing a potentially catastrophic scenario, with two important differences.

“First, we’ve created the problem ourselves. At the same time, we have the intelligence that the dinosaurs did not have, as well as the scientific and technological elements and resources to remedy it. I trust,” Setzer said, “that we’ll act accordingly.”

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, more on the International Publishers Association is here, and more on the CONTEC programming from Frankfurter Buchmesse 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 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.