Corporate Social Responsibility: Not just for hippies

Self-employed in publishing

This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride

(for further discussion on how CSR adds value to your business, you might like to attend the OPG Summer Conference in Oxford)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become an increasingly important part of corporate identities during the last decade. Environmental and social concerns have become core, not just to forerunners such as The Body Shop and Timberland, but even huge corporations such as Starbucks, Unilever, and Walt Disney. The question remains, however: will a commitment to CSR add value to your business as a Publisher?

Defining CSR

In its simplest form, CSR focuses on a triple bottom line of social, environmental and financial responsibility. In an increasing number of countries there are laws stating that, to a greater or lesser degree, each business should be responsible for its actions. Many businesses are choosing to go beyond simple compliance, though, and are creating CSR guidelines and commitments of their own.

This leaves an enormous scope for discussion, but for this article I’m going to look at environmental responsibility, as the figures for Publishing in this area are pretty astonishing.

How irresponsible are we?

Human beings have a phenomenal capacity to ignore the overarching effects of their actions particularly, we are discovering, when it comes to the environment. This is no less true of Publishing than any other industry. In fact, we’re arguably worse than most

Book production has serious environmental impacts, the most obvious of which is the consumption of trees. In 2010, the total paper consumption of the US publishing industry alone was well over 1,000,000 tonnes, of which a mere 24% was recycled. While this was up on 2008’s 6% recycled content, it’s still a shocking statistic.

What’s worse, of that 76% of virgin paper, only 16% was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. The trees cut to make the non-FSC certified paper was mainly sourced from non-renewable eco-systems such as rainforests and natural woodlands, killing off swathes of biodiversity and rare habitats. Further, if we take trees down and fail to replace them, we increase our carbon footprint almost twice over. [1]

Yet, the environmental impacts of producing books aren’t limited to where and how we source our paper. During the process of creating paper, many companies bleach the pages with chlorine. This uses and permanently pollutes an entire coke-can of clean water for each page produced. Using chlorine-free bleaching processes instead seriously reduces the amount of water-pollution we create, helping everything from birds to bees to us human beings.

Moreover, using vegetable-based inks in the printing process vastly reduces its toxic emissions. Not only does this keep the air clear in general, it can significantly impact on the life expectancies of those working in the printing houses themselves. [2]

When eBooks first came out, there was a great furor over how much better they were environmentally, however that is actually quite hard to scientifically quantify, so the most I will say on that front is that we should all be recycling our eReaders when we’re done with them. [3]

Adding value to your business with CSR

So CSR is a useful tool to show up the places where we’re doing badly ethically, but it’s also good for your profits and sales.

In most cases companies actually save money and increase profits by engaging in CSR practices. In order to draw attention to this, perhaps, an emphasis has been put on Creating Shard Value (CSV), that is, creating value for shareholder, consumer and employee alike. While this may seem like a focus on financial benefit to the exclusion of more idealistic concerns, such as the environment, it has actually lead to more pragmatic approaches to going green.

Additionally, while in the past convenience and profit in the short term overcome long term environmental and social concerns, nowadays there isn’t the need to make this choice, especially in Publishing. For some years, recycled and FSC certified papers have both been available at the same price as non-recycled materials. Though vegetable-based inks for printing may still be more than others, this will similarly change as the technology becomes cheaper to produce and as we invest more in it. Production cost is no longer an excuse to ignore our environmental responsibilities. [4 & 5]

Lastly, the consumer likes CSR: people are more likely to buy from a brand they believe is doing good work. CSR has even been used by some businesses to obfuscate poor practice in other areas! Workers are more likely to feel professionally fulfilled and work harder for a company whose ethics they can believe in. People don’t just want to build and buy for themselves anymore, they want to provide for the future as well. [5, 6 & 7]

Making good books

Maybe you’ll take it further and decide to instigate CSR guidelines on diversity of content and employment, on paying interns, printing off emails, turning the lights off, buying Fairtrade coffee for the office kitchen, or volunteering to teach reading at the local school. That’s all completely fantastic.

But please, everyone, can we help make books as good for the planet as they are for the reader.

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