Publishing for the planet: finding parallels across the publishing industry

Springer Nature Group
By: Nicola Jones, Wed Apr 26 2023

Despite global consensus on climate change, misinformation and climate scepticism abound, with recent evidence suggesting the latter has evolved from criticism of climate science, to criticism of the policies intended to address the climate crisis. Yet many individuals continue to demand faster action, seeking to hold their policymakers, employers and the brands they engage with to take accountability for reducing their carbon emissions. 

Publishers are responding, with 140 of them signing Publishing Declares; committing to becoming net zero as soon as possible, and by 2050 at the latest. Many are reporting on their carbon emissions and taking action to reduce them - read about Springer Nature’s approach in our latest Sustainable Business Report. Elsewhere in the industry ecosystem, the Society of Authors has launched ‘Tree to Me’ a toolkit for authors to talk to their publishers about the sustainability of their books. While a focus on sustainable operations and book production is both understandable and necessary across the industry, at Springer Nature we also consider another angle  - how the content we produce as publishers can contribute to the sustainability discussion and move the dial forward in terms of finding solutions and pathways to progress. 

So at London Book Fair’s new Sustainability Hub this year, we convened a discussion with Pan Macmillan to show the variety of collective action taking place, but particularly the role of publishers in helping our audiences to engage with sustainable practices in their own life and work. As Director of Springer Nature’s SDG Publishing Programme, I moderated the conversation between Flora Graham, Senior Editor of the free daily newsletter the Nature Briefing and Carole Tonkinson, publisher at Pan Macmillan imprints One Boat and Bluebird. The session had an editorial focus, which stood out on a programme of sessions dedicated to operations at the Sustainability Hub. 


Pictured above L-R: Flora Graham, Carole Tonkinson and Nicola Jones presenting at the LBF Sustainability Lounge.

By bringing this panel together, we were able to show the similarities in our approaches, despite our ostensibly different business models, audiences and content. For example, both publishers agreed strongly that the biggest impact publishers can have on the sustainable development goals and the climate conversation is to enable the important facts of climate research and climate action to reach the public via the pages of their magazines, book and journals, helping readers of any age and stage of life to decipher fact from fiction, and address misinformation when they encounter it. 

Also, as Carole identified, we’re both looking for brilliant communicators. For her, personality is key - it prompts readers to pick up a book. From our perspective, it’s about synthesising complex research papers, identifying the knowledge people need and communicating it both accurately, accessibly and in a way that resonates with the audiences we serve. 

We discussed the position of trust that publishers occupy too; providing readers with reliable information either from respected figures like Nancy Birtwhistle, author of bestselling non-fiction books on sustainable living for Pan Macmillan, or from a brand held in high-esteem like Nature; globally renowned as a vital source of peer-reviewed scientific evidence and groundbreaking research. To quote Flora, ‘trust is everything’. 

During the session, one audience member asked how publishers can avoid sustainability becoming a buzzword. While Flora spoke about the need for robust reporting to dig beneath the surface, Carole mentioned intention: yes, we run a business, but there is sincerity in our industry and a drive to address critical topics to facilitate progress amid uncertainty, misinformation and fear. Carole’s response inadvertently echoed Springer Nature’s mission statement: to open doors to discovery and find solutions to help address the world’s urgent challenges. We’re fortunate to have found allies across the industry, who are committed to publishing for the planet and echo our belief that publishing can help find the solutions we need to address the goals and more. I hope to continue our conversation into the future. 

Nicola Jones

Author: Nicola Jones

Director, Springer Nature SDG Programme

Nicola is responsible for coordinating the publishing activity across Springer Nature where it relates to the UN SDGs, with the aim of bringing research that has the potential to help achieve the Goals to the attention of those best placed to implement it. In order to do this, she works with the editors and publishers across Springer Nature’s journals, books and other products and across all relevant disciplines to ensure that the approach is joined up, information is shared across departments and that all relevant colleagues are engaged with the programme. Nicola is passionate about the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration for solving complex global problems, and the need for solid research evidence to inform policy and practice.

Related Tags: