As students of the Edinburgh Napier University MSc Publishing degree, we were given the opportunity to attend The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference on Friday, which took place as a hybrid event this year. The conference was packed full of amazing speakers and topics, all geared towards what the future of the book industry will look like.

As expected, especially after COP26, sustainability was a common theme throughout the conference. It opened with Mark Maslin, author of How to Save Our Planet: the Facts, who highlighted that books are instrumental in providing influential people with the right data, but he also focused on publishing books on climate change for a new audience – not simply preaching to the converted.

Later, we heard from Siena Parker, Penguin Random House’s social impact director and Molly Hawes, Springer Nature’s senior climate action and engagement manager. Parker highlighted that much of publishing’s carbon footprint is ‘hidden’ from view and reminded everyone that we need to investigate every stage of the publishing process to see where we can do better. While larger publishers might be the publishing force behind prominent climate activists, Parker reminded delegates that the publishing process needs to reflect this ethos. Hawes spoke of the need for larger publishers to be more collaborative in their approach and was positive when speaking about the potential for these bigger companies to set the standard for the industry.

If we are publishing some of the most incredible activists…we need to make sure the process of producing those books is not a greenwashing one. 

Siena Parker, Social Impact Director at Penguin Random House

Sustainability within the supply chain remained a key focus in later sessions, and speakers offered up some key advice. There is the risk of getting overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and not make the smaller, necessary changes. Zoe Cokeliss Barsley, director of sustainability at Oxford University Press, spoke of smaller, more gradual changes that are vital at every stage. Kate Stillborn, director of operations at Blackwells, spoke of how simple changes to packaging were a great example of these smaller solutions. Making similar small changes to books themselves seems like an easy option but Georgia Amson-Bradshaw, publisher at Wide Eyed Editions and Ivy Kids, pointed out that sustainable production practices might result in a less aesthetically appealing product. The appearance of books is particularly important in the children’s market, but whether this is a necessary sacrifice remains to be seen. 

Finally, the afternoon session: ‘Hearts and minds: our role in engaging readers’ considered what obligation publishers have to communicate the severity and urgency of the climate crisis and find new and innovative ways to do this. While there needs to be more government transparency and urgency, everyone must play their part, and in publishing, the books we publish and how we reach and inform new markets is vital.