The World’s elite arriving for COP27 — mainly on private jets

There can be no doubt that the publishing industry needs to change its product and marketing practice, rapidly, to help meet Climate Change goals. The book publishing industry is in by no means as bad a predicament as cement manufacture, road building or steel making. But as book publishers and buyers we have our problems and we need to understand the scale and the scope for rapid improvements.

The use of paper to make books does come with a carbon cost. Shipping and wrapping them adds to the cost. At Exact Editions we love books, and especially we love beautiful books which have been for centuries printed on paper. So the carbon challenge for us is to find ways of preserving books digitally and rendering them virtually so that their publishers can promote them and represent them vividly in a digital form. A particular target for us and for the book publishing and selling sector is to discover ways of promoting and presenting books, exactly as they are in their printed form, in a digital representation. This matters in the current sustainability crisis because a good proportion of the books printed, bound and shipped across the world are wasted. They are used for merely temporary events, and then abandoned, or they are shipped in the hope of sale before being returned to a wasteful fate (usually landfill or incineration). 

The Exact Editions Reading Rooms for Books platform is intended to meet this challenge. For most of the promotional or merely evaluative purposes for which print books are used: simply for display and for temporary access, a virtual Reading Room for that book, generated by a click, should be adequate. This is a form of temporary access which publishers can set up gratis through the Exact Editions platform.

It is hard to estimate reliably how much CO2 waste stems from the use of a single printed volume when it is shipped for temporary use by one or two possible customers, much will depend on the method and distance of transport, but we can get some reasonable estimates for the carbon cost of a single, average, printed volume. One that is sitting still and resting on your bookshelf. Most studies that have looked at the CO2 cost of printed books come up with a figure of 1–3Kg per volume. From which it follows that solid books are generally heavier in their carbon cost, or environmental damage, than their weight on the kitchen scales. We can further conjecture that a decent private library amounts to well over 1 ton of CO2 cost in its manufacture and acquisition. There it is sitting on your shelves.

These figures may strike you as surprising — in which case you might be rather shocked (as was I) when you consider the carbon cost of private jet flights to the COP27 meeting in Sharm-el-Shaik. Estimates are again necessarily crude, but according to the BBC Reality Check team a typical private jet passenger flying from Amsterdam to the COP27 meeting will have accounted for 3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (£7,000 for fuel for the whole plane — c15 passengers). Perhaps 400 private jets arrived for the meeting — in which case the CO2 equivalent of those flights is comparable to the carbon consumption/accretion of a very large library (c 10 million books).

At least one million new books are published each year (new ISBNs). Most, but not all, of these books have a print edition. At a very conservative estimate we posit that on average each book title printed and published this year and next year will have 10 copies used for mere display/evaluation, one-time, non-returnable, use. The carbon cost is measurable. Even books printed on-demand, a manufacturing process which is a positive step and an improvement for the supply chain, will sometimes necessitate incidental non-saleable copies. If we can rapidly replace such nonce-use by an efficient digital service the printing, publishing and bookselling industry could make a measurable improvement to the carbon footprint of printed books in this decade.

So airplanes are a big problem, and private jets disastrously more so. Books are less of a problem, but we will want more books even when private jets have been outlawed. Since the crisis is here with a vengeance and time is pressing, publishing and bookselling must also develop cleaner and less wasteful means of using, evaluating and displaying books before they are sold and the pages turned. Books that are only needed for examination, display, evaluation and inspection should now be first and foremost digital. One of the advantages of the Exact Editions system is that the publisher can choose how long to leave the book open for its virtual display. Here is a book (a Climate Change relevant, Open Access, title, so with no © issues in its usage here) Paris Climate Agreement: Beacon of Hope

A Reading Room available for 30 days:

Digital Editions – Subscribe To Digital Archives | Exact Editions
Exact Editions offers subscriptions to streamlined digital editions. Read anytime, anywhere with fully-searchable…

A Reading Room to the same book available for 365 days:

Digital Editions – Subscribe To Digital Archives | Exact Editions
Exact Editions offers subscriptions to streamlined digital editions. Read anytime, anywhere with fully-searchable…

A Reading Room that only lasted an hour (from which no content is now accessible):

The Exact Editions platform can be used to create as many such virtual Reading Rooms as a publisher may need for the display of each title on the platform. There is no charge for using the free self-service resource open to any ISBN, and no marginal cost for creating additional Reading Rooms and collections of books from the Pro service When there are no marginal costs for unpredictable and instantaneous temporary displays there should be zero case for incurring real dollar costs and carbon damage with physical logistics.