Will Your Sustainability Efforts Stack Up?
Most publishers are relatively tone deaf to adversarial activist campaigns. And so far, large, mainstream publishers have been only lukewarm in their response to voluntary multi-stakeholder collations like the Green Press Initiative/EPA Resource Conservation Challenge, which is calling on publishers to improve their ecological footprint. But, it will be increasingly difficult to ignore the growing number of institutional investors that are calling for big business to address the sustainability challenge.
Socially responsible investment funds and indexes that employ sustainability performance ratings now represent in excess of $2 trillion in holdings. The influence of these funds is rising as they are rapidly moving from the margins to the mainstream, with the advent of funds like the Vanguard Calvert Social Index (VCSIX) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI).
Institutional investors and other stakeholders will increasing call on publishers to adopt voluntary codes of sustainability conduct, such as the:
• United Nations' Global Compact,
• Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES),
• Global Reporting Initiative (GRI),
• Global Sullivan Principles, and
• The International Chamber of Commerce's Business Charter for Sustainable Development and its 16 principles for environmental management.
These codes of conduct encourage companies and organizations from different industrial sectors and cultures to work toward common goals in addressing environmental and social issues. Endorsing companies are asked to espouse shared values and integrate them into their internal policies, procedures, training and reporting structures. In addition, they are asked to document their progress toward sustainability and regularly report on their social, economic and environmental performance.
Given the importance of literacy and education in addressing the challenges of sustainability, publishers are by no means exempt from the call to action. Some publishers point to the number of titles that they publish on the topics of sustainability, environmental stewardship, conservation and ethics in defense of the industry's commitment to these issues. Others point to their philanthropy and their support for education.
However, while it is good news that publishers are devoting more ink to the topic of sustainability in what they publish—and it is laudable that they
are supporting education and giving back to the communities in which
they operate—the bad news is that publishing entails the purchase of paper, ink, printing and distribution services that have a significant environmental impact and are not sustainable as currently practiced.
PERCEIVING A CHANGE
This impact will be increasingly important in an organization's print-related purchasing over the next five years—this is the commonly shared perception among two-thirds of publishers, creative professionals and graphic arts professionals in North America, according to a survey of more than 2,300 industry professionals, conducted by Nima Hunter Inc.
More than 40 percent of those surveyed also perceive the business practices of book publishers as having a negative impact on the environment; 15 percent see the impact as favorable.
But, today, it doesn't necessarily matter how you view the issues or the impact you have. Adversarial attacks by environmental activists and community organizations—against what they see as business practices that have a negative impact on the environment—will continue. Most important, pressure from activist investors like CalPERS (California Public Employee's Retirement System) and TIAA-CREF ( Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund) and sustainable investment funds can be expected to increase.
Publicly traded Time Inc. and Pearson PLC are among the few that appear to be rising to the challenge. Time Inc. published its first Corporate Social Responsibility report last year and has recently appointed a director of sustainability—David Refkin, former president of Time Paper Co.
Pearson devotes a section of its annual report and Web site to its sustainability policies and performance, and even lists the name, address and phone numbers of responsible individuals. It should come as no surprise that Pearson PLC, owner of Pearson Education and the Penguin Group, was also one of the few companies singled out by the DJSI as a publishing-sector sustainability leader.
According to Pearson's annual report: "Pearson does not directly operate in industries where there is a potential for serious industrial pollution. … While most of our products are based on intellectual property, we recognize that our day-to-day operations have an effect on the world around us and that we have a responsibility to manage and measure this impact."
One way Pearson responded to these challenges was by becoming a founding signatory to the UN Global Compact (which sets worldwide sustainability standards) and by making a commitment to assess its key paper and printing suppliers against Global Compact standards. According to Allan Miller, director of Pearson's environmental programs, "Our approach will not be to cut suppliers that don't make the grade off, but rather to establish a dialogue with them and encourage them to bring their polices and business practices into alignment with the Global Compact code."
A KEY TO TOP-LINE GROWTH
For companies like Pearson PLC, Hewlett Packard, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, BP, Dow Chemical among others, addressing the challenge of sustainability means ensuring a better quality of life for everyone now and for generations to come. These companies do not see sustainability as a destination, rather they see it as a journey—a journey based on conducting business in a responsible manner that entails maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment, prudent use of natural resources, effective protection of the environment, and social progress that recognizes the rights and needs of everyone. Rather than seeing the sustainability challenge as a drain on profits, they see it as the key to top-line growth, the management of risk and the creation of value.
For many decades to come, humanity's capacity to meet the challenge of sustainability will be largely determined by the degree and manner in which books are published and used to foster literacy, systems thinking, adaptability, innovation, lifelong learning, tolerance, respect for nature, and the capacity to work and live together. Book publishers have a historic legacy of keeping the profit motive in proper perspective to their social and environmental responsibilities that many have lost sight of in recent years.
In addressing the sustainability challenge, evidence suggests that book publishers can simultaneously reduce costs and brand-image risks while increasing top-line-growth shareholder value, customer satisfaction and other key measures of business success.
For some, it will still simply be a matter of doing what's "right." But, for others, who have focused solely on the bottom line, a new era has dawned. The bottom line now hinges on a challenging marketplace rife with consumer and investor mistrust.
ACCORDING TO THE WORLD
Business Council for Sustainable Development, the commercial marketplace now faces a "value shift," which "involves recognizing that nonfinancial information is interesting to an entirely … new set of stakeholders. Behind risk minimization lies the assumption that pre-emptive programs cost less than waiting and reacting."
As one of the world's largest and most influential industries, publishing will face growing scrutiny. What will its legacy be?
Donald Carli is a professor of advertising, design and graphic arts at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York, a senior research fellow at the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Communication and author of the free "Guide to Environmentally Responsible Design for Print," published by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. He is also founder and president of the marketing research firm Nima Hunter Inc. (www.NimaHunter.com).
He can be reached at DCarli@CityTech.CUNY.edu.