Rachel Martin is Global Director of Sustainability at Elsevier, driving transformational change in the priority areas of sustainability with a focus on climate action 🌏

Together with the International Publishers’ Association (IPA), she has supported Exact Editions’ COP26 Virtual Book Showcase since its inception and is a valued promotional partner of the project.

Now that the showcase is well underway (and freely accessible until the end of 22 November), we wanted to ask about her about the effect of the initiative, as well as her wider perspective on sustainability in the book industry.

Click the link below to browse the showcase  – and then read on to hear from Rachel! 🎙


Rachel Martin, Global Director of Sustainability at Elsevier

 — — — 

1) How do you think that the COP26 Virtual Book Showcase has been effective in educating a wide audience about climate change and sustainability?

COP26 has provided an incentive for many nations around the world to strengthen their climate goals. But while our governments might be making clear pledges, success will depend on action; action from individuals, organisations, and all parts of our society. 

Research has shown time and again the benefits from reading in terms of helping to inform, inspire, educate, and empower, making books an essential tool in our toolkit to act on the climate emergency. The COP26 Virtual Book Showcase is an excellent demonstration of this with 156 books for the young, the old and everyone in between. The range of books included the showcase testifies to how diverse and vibrant climate related literature, fiction and research can be. Perhaps it is too early to say if the showcase inspired action, but I know a few people who have been inspired to pick up one of the featured books and start reading about climate!

2) Upon your recent appointment as chair of the Green Supply Chain Committee, you stated that “the effects of climate change are being felt in every region of the world and urgent action is needed.”. How do you plan to use this new role to affect change and ‘sharpen the focus of the book sector’?

For the book and journal sector, many publishers, booksellers, printers and other organisations have already embarked on their own sustainability journey, with some further ahead than others. 

Collectively, we know we must reduce our carbon footprint and operate more sustainably, in order to limit our impact on the environment. However, there are some key challenges. Most organisations will find the bulk of their carbon emissions are embedded in their supply chain linked to parts such as paper, printing, distribution, data servers, and waste. These are often shared problems across the supply chain that require collective solutions. The BIC Green Supply Chain Committee is an excellent forum to not only champion a green agenda but provide leadership with tools, resources and even development of certifications and standards that will help make our supply chains greener and more sustainable. 

I hope in my role as chair, that I will help contribute to this effort, promote a green agenda and continue to support wonderful cross industry efforts such as the COP26 Virtual showcase that Elsevier has also participated in.

Elsevier COP26 Collection

3) Do you think that digital books could have a place in supply chains that print books are traditionally a part of? (For example, textbooks in schools or inspection copies).

I know many people who will say that print will always have a place in their heart! However, the pandemic has shown us the potential for print and digital to co-exist in areas where print has traditionally dominated. We saw how schools turned digital literally overnight and how publishers adapted to digital working  –  for example, substituting the sending of proof copies and working remotely. Is there space for digital in our supply chains? Absolutely, and there should also be space for new innovations and ideas as technology changes.

However, if we look at the supply chain through the sustainability lens, we must also be realistic. Both print and digital have an environmental footprint. Print in terms of raw materials such as paper and pulp and of course the distribution and waste. Digital also has a footprint in terms of data servers and hardware. There are multiple groups researching this particular area in terms of the which is “greener” but there isn’t an agreed consensus and at the end of the day it comes down to format and purpose. 

When we think through what the ideal supply chain should be, we must also start to consider the sustainability aspects. We need efficient supply chains, but we also need to experiment with new formats to meet the changing and evolving needs of consumers and readers. Perhaps the question for the future won’t be should it be print or digital — but a more nuanced view where certain ways of consuming information will be better done digitally, whilst others remain in print or even a combination of both.

4) Do you have any predictions for how the publishing and bookselling industry will embrace a more sustainable model over the next 5 years?

I was recently at the Frankfurt Book Fair where I was involved in coordinating the first Sustainability Summit, convened by the International Publishers Association. During these sessions I was encouraged to hear the unanimous support for the sector to proactively address climate. It seems that across the entire value chain, we are all on the same sustainability journey, albeit at different stages and from different perspectives. Can we do more? Absolutely!

The focus right now has to be on our carbon footprint. We need to decarbonise our sector, and that is going to require making some changes in how we have always done business. What might this look like in 5 years?

Taking Elsevier as an example, we have been net zero for our direct emissions and business travel since 2020. However, the challenge for us is gathering the data from our supply chain to accurately size and understand our indirect emissions. This is a huge project and means working with printers, typesetters but also our cloud servers to gather an accurate picture. We are really at the early stages of carbon reporting across the sector.

My prediction will be that within 5 years, we will have a clear international goal to reach net zero before the Paris Agreement and that we will have some standards and certifications to enable accurate reporting of carbon emissions across the supply chains on both a national and global level. But the key to success will be about working collaboratively across sectors. Everyone can do something, and we need to ensure no one is left behind as we start accelerating towards our sustainable future.

 — — — 

Thanks so much to Rachel for her valuable insights! 💡

If you have any questions about the COP26 Virtual Book Showcase project, please contact the team at publisher@exacteditions.com.