Sustainability in Digital Publishing
***Note: This is Part 3 of a three-part series as we take a look at the state of publishing and sustainability. As the only Gold Microsoft Partner in the publishing space, sustainability is core to knk Software as Microsoft strives to be carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon negative by 2050. This blog series explores the issues facing publishers attempting to navigate print and digital sustainability goals.
An oft touted solution to the heavy foot print of print book publication is going digital, but digital sustainability has its own set of concerns. Data centers can be huge polluters. Let’s explore balancing the benefits and consequences of digital publishing.
DIGITALIZATION – SOLUTIONS AND DRAWBACKS
In our previous posts, we discussed the impact of the biggest single contributor to pollution in the print business – that of transportation and the problem of “book miles.” On cursory examination, one can say that digital delivery solves many of these problems.
By switching to digital, the industry can continue to reduce emissions and deforestation caused by the consumption of paper and global transportation resources. However, digital delivery has led in turn to the large-scale adoption of “cloud” information processing, and to data centers operated at massive scale by global corporations such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
In studies conducted by Kortext, a British company that provides an online learning platform with access to over 2m. digital textbooks, they concluded that data centers will be responsible for 3.2% of all global carbon emissions by 2025, consuming no less than 20% of global electric capacity.
As such, the communications industry is on track to generate more carbon emissions than the automotive, aviation and energy sectors combined, and is likely to generate 14% of the world’s emissions by 2040. It’s the cooling of IT equipment in these data centers that accounts for about 40% of the energy they consume – not exactly the ideal solution to carbon emissions that we might have envisaged when digital delivery first became available!
In mitigation, Microsoft’s Azure, one of the world’s largest cloud infrastructure providers, has committed to several key areas of environmental impact. These include the use of 100% renewable energy by 2025 (one of the most assertive strategies in the sector), zero waste certification by 2030, and net-zero deforestation from new construction.
With over 100 data centers in over 140 countries, and with each data center hosting about 140 generators, each with the ability to power about 3,000 homes, one can see the impact Microsoft’s commitment will have on reducing emissions. In fact, Microsoft claims that it has already reduced its carbon footprint by 6% in one year with these methods.
As further evidence, Microsoft turned on a series of data centers at three sites in Sweden in November 2021, that run entirely on green energy through a partnership with state-owned utility Vattenfall AB. “We really focus on the way we can build data centers in a way that meets our carbon negative goal,” said Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer Lucas Joppa.
Other large companies like Google and Amazon Web Services are trying to reduce data center emissions by innovative strategies such as building data centers in cold climates, by using AI and renewable energy. All of these efforts indeed are driving digital sustainability in the right direction.
The concept of sustainability in the publishing industries is a complex managerial exercise that can ultimately be solved only with the thoughtful use of technology. It is far too complex for spreadsheets and manual calculations. How well the industry can adapt and adopt new technologies will largely determine how successful we will be in achieving life-saving sustainability goals.
Publishers must develop new strategies and business models that embrace new KPI’s to measure and track results to be successful. This was summarized in a 2021 paper published by FIPP stating “businesses need to set up in a way that they can measure and respond to their environmental impacts, and only after this concrete action can the second level of successful mitigation be achieved.”
The industry is already doing much by itself to reduce its carbon footprint but we need to do much more, including re-educating consumers to demand less, not more. Industry bodies such as BISG, BIC, and BookNet Canada play an important role in coordinating and publishing industry commitments towards sustainability goals, and to that end have formed the international Green Book Supply Chain Alliance to publish and encourage their joint efforts.
The UN’s SDG program has received overwhelming support from large and small publishers to the achievement of its well-publicized Goals, and we need Government to develop policy and global regulations to support the mission. Together we can and must succeed.