The United Nations Publishers’ Compact was introduced a couple of years ago, since when it has attracted hundreds of signatories from all over the world. Publishers from industry associations, through to research institutes and trade publishing have committed to fulfil 10 action points. The idea is to jumpstart progress within the publishing industry so that the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) are met by 2030. Organisations are being asked to champion the UNSDGs and to develop and promote their own sustainability initiatives.

The Compact starts with a commitment to the UNSDGs which means companies must publish their sustainability targets and policies. Signatories to the SDG Publishers’ Compact also commit to taking action on a minimum of one of the SDG goals. This can be as an individual publishing company or as part of a national industry association. The only requirement is that annual progress towards the goal or goals is shared.

Signatories must also actively promote and acquire content that pushes equality, sustainability, justice, environmental protection and other SDGs. They must report annually on progress towards reaching the SDGs. This involves contributing to benchmarking activities (it’s unclear quite what that means), sharing data best practices and identifying gaps that need to be addressed. This too is vague, perhaps because it is an ‘unknown unknown’.

A nominated individual must be made responsible for coordinating SDG themes within the organisation and for promoting SDG progress within the company. This includes increasing staff awareness and getting behind projects that will help the business reach the SDGs by 2030. It also includes working with suppliers to encourage SDG advocacy and innovation to support the goals. There are plenty of possibilities for this, from including the SDGs in marketing projects and promotion as well as the easy and obvious like putting the SDGs on the company’s website. Service providers’ support for the Compact might also form part of the tendering process

Collaboration within the group of supporters is central to the Publishers’ Compact, if a little idealistic. Collectively, organisations are expected to share best practice and work together, which might be a tad delusional in a commercial environment. Beyond unilateral agreements across non-competing sectors this will certainly be hard to achieve, but it is vital if tangible progress is to be made.

Crucial to the Publishers’ Compact is the commitment of those who sign up to it to provide fully budgeted resources. Our industry’s sustainability history is littered with worthy efforts to raise environmental knowledge and innovation, but without money not a lot happens, so not a lot changes. Hopefully the many hundreds of companies who have signed up to the United Nations Publishers’ Compact will stump up the funds to make a real difference. The sooner they do so, the better.

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa GraphicsEFIFespaFujifilmHPKodakMiraclonRicohUnity Publishing and Xeikon.