Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is an essential element of how we operate responsibly. As a publisher, we are conscious of our direct reliance on natural resources, most notably forests, to make our products, and it is our responsibility to use these resources responsibly.

In 2020/21 we developed a new environmental sustainability strategy that aims to reduce our footprint in four main impact areas, aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are:

  • Reducing the carbon emissions associated with our products and operations to limit our impact on the climate
  • Sourcing paper sustainably to help avoid deforestation and biodiversity loss
  • Reducing and recycling waste from our global operations, including book waste
  • Working with our suppliers and others in our industry to ensure responsible use of chemicals in paper making and book manufacturing

We are working alongside others in our industry to tackle the environmental impacts of publishing through two collaborative initiatives. Oxford University Press is a member of the Publishers Association and sits on its Sustainability Taskforce, a multidisciplinary working group of professionals from across the publishing sector.

We also participate in the Book Chain Project, which focuses on building better supply chains for books by providing publishers with tools to help them make informed buying decisions.

In 2020/21, we recorded our carbon footprint for the first time, gathering data for both the 2019 and 2020 calendar years. The footprint includes emissions from our own operations and an estimate of emissions associated with paper-making, manufacturing, and our supply chain.

We estimate that our carbon footprint came to around 57,000 tonnes of CO₂ in 2020, down from 90,000 tonnes the previous year. This reduction is largely due to the impact of the pandemic on our operations.

In both years, over three-quarters of our footprint was due to emissions from the upstream activities required to make and transport books.

In 2020, we used 28,000 tonnes of paper to make our products, nearly a third less than the previous year. The reduction in paper volume is due largely to the impact of the pandemic, as well as the increasing transition to digital publications.

57,000

estimated tonnes of carbon emissions in 2020

28,000

tonnes of paper was used to make our products in 2020

83%

of our office and warehouse waste was recycled

2020 CO₂ emissions by source

2020 sustainable paper procurement (core sourcing)

2020 waste recycling rate (own operations)

We have long been committed to sourcing paper responsibly. As a minimum we require suppliers to provide us with paper that meets the publishing industry’s PREPS3 standard. This provides us with assurances that the forest source is known and responsible. In 2020, 53 per cent of the paper we used met the even more stringent PREPS5 standard, and was certified as coming from sustainable sources by either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

In 2020, we generated an estimated 3,900 tonnes of waste from our offices and warehouses.

Book waste, comprising over-orders and unsaleable aged stock, accounted for 43 per cent of the total. The total waste generated was 21 per cent lower than the previous year, due to a combination of reduced general waste from offices during the pandemic, and a reduction in book waste tonnage.

Around 83 per cent of waste from our own offices and warehouses was recycled in 2020, with a further four per cent being incinerated for energy generation. As a result, we estimate that just 13 per cent of our waste went to landfill during the year.