Business of Academic PublishingResearch Perception Building

5 Action Points for Publishers to Improve Environmental Sustainability

Sustainability is a globally crucial issue. Non-sustainable human activities have caused some frightening changes in the world, making it clear that all people and industries have a role to play in improving sustainability. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were set up in 2015 with a target of tackling these issues by 2030. However, we are already halfway through this period and despite many developments, we are far from meeting these goals. Here, we would like to introduce how academic publishers have a critical role in meeting these goals and what critical steps are needed to improve sustainability across the industry.

See also: Open Access and Climate Research: Transformations in the Publication Landscape Over Time

Why academic publishers are key stakeholders in ensuring our sustainable future

When we think of industries who need to assess their sustainability, we often think of polluting industries like oil and gas, commercial agriculture, or large conglomerates that contribute to inequitable conditions in our world. The public usually doesn’t think of businesses from knowledge industries as being major players in our global transition to a sustainable model, as their activities contribute less to non-sustainable development.

However, the UN has singled out the vital role that publishers play with the SDG Publishers Compact. Academic publishers are vital to the dissemination of accurate, up-to-date information for researchers and policymakers. While academic publishers in fields such as ecology, earth science, and agriculture are naturally at the vanguard of providing information on sustainability, we cannot discredit the role of all other academic publishers. Sustainability relies on innovation and education, both of which are key areas of interest for any academic publication.

Furthermore, academic publications can reach broad audiences across many countries, and these publications can continue reaching new readers years after their original publication. Using our platforms to encourage others to think about sustainability is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

See also: Science for Peace and Development: How Research Societies Can Leverage Content in Advocacy Efforts

Academic publishers stepping up to the challenge

Major publishers are increasingly addressing their role in creating a sustainable future. Publishing giants such as Elsevier and SAGE Publishing have provided detailed and engaging presentations on how they are transitioning to a more sustainable model, while Taylor & Francis has reportedly become a carbon neutral publisher as of 2020. These changes mark an overall shift in the industry’s approach to sustainability.

5 steps publishers can take to be more sustainable

  • Do away with paper

Many publications, both in academic and other spheres, have significantly cut down or eliminated their paper editions. While paper is renewable and recyclable, processing, transporting, and printing on it are all costly to the environment. As digital media is continuously growing across all fields, including academic publishing, phasing out or reducing the frequency of print editions can cut down emissions without alienating most readers.

  • Print smarter

You don’t need to kill off your print edition to make a difference.

Traditionally, academic journals have been printed like other periodicals. Once edited and typeset, the edition is printed in a single run. As successive runs are more expensive, publishers of periodicals will usually print more than necessary in one run to ensure that the demand can be met.

Of course, this results in waste, and many copies are pulped without ever being read. Print-on-demand services harness the advantages of digital printing to provide only enough copies as customers order, ensuring minimal waste. This also provides opportunities for tailoring content according to customers.,

  • Make your digital resources green

While the transition towards online publication has cut down the environmental burden from paper publishing, this hasn’t made publications carbon neutral. All digital activities incur a cost in terms of energy. Bloated websites require more processing power and demand greater bandwidth. This bloat has a measurable impact on energy consumption and thus, has an environmental impact.

There are more benefits towards streamlining your online publication. First, researchers in less economically developed countries tend to use older computers and slower internet connections, so cutting down on bloat can facilitate their access to your publication. Second, fast-loading webpages are preferred by search engines, which means cutting down your website’s code can improve your search engine performance. There are even tools that can help you estimate the environmental impact of your site.

  • Environmentally friendly operations

Publishers usually operate from offices where heating, lighting, and air conditioning can significantly contribute to emissions. Purchasing more energy-efficient equipment and switching to a green energy provider can reduce your impact. Even simple actions like encouraging people to dress appropriately for the weather or can improve sustainability—the government of Japan has found that encouraging changes to business wear has substantially cut emissions across the country.

One silver lining of the pandemic was the adoption of teleworking by many companies that had always resisted such changes. Teleworking can cut operating costs, decrease emissions due to commuting, and improve employee satisfaction and productivity.

  • Address SDGs in your publication

Even if your publication does not directly engage with any of the 17 SDGs, there is always some editorial scope to address these goals and provide relevant information on how academics can do their part to bring sustainable changes. This can range from including letters or editorials on improving sustainability within the field (e.g., best practices to cut down plastic waste in labs) to bringing in policy changes to improve equality and engagement with marginalized groups.

See also: How Openness in Science Can Drive Climate Justice: Views from Industry Experts at IntechOpen


Taking on the big issues, such as SDGs, can be challenging, yet publishers have already attempted to step up to these challenges. The SDG Publishers Compact provides simple action points and a pledge that any publisher can sign to show their commitment to realizing a better, more sustainable future.

David Burbridge

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *