The RISE Bookselling Conference, held in Lisbon March 17-18, drew more than 350 participants from 25 different countries, with the aim of providing a comprehensive overview of the environmental challenges faced by the bookselling sector and offering practical solutions for bookshops to reduce their environmental impact. To that end, in conjunction with the conference, its organizers, Resilience, Innovation, and Sustainability for the Enhancement of Bookselling (RISE Bookselling) and the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), released a new report covering six areas in which bookstores can implement changes to best mitigate their impact on the environment.

The report, entitled Study on the Sustainability of the Bookselling Sector: State of Play, Challenges and Sector Improvements, is RISE and EIBF's second study to go public in a month, following another report that looked at "bookshops and book procurement." The latest report was written by researchers Fanny Valembois, a principle of the French think tank The Shift Project, and David Piovesan, associate professor at Jean Moulin University Lyon 3 in France, and presents research derived from focus groups from Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as site visits in various European countries.

Valembois and Piovesan emphasize the importance of a systemic approach to changing business best practices at bookstores in order to to support the environment. "A genuine ecological transition cannot be achieved through environmental gestures alone," the report states. "It must be implemented across a whole production and consumption system." The researchers underscore that the most environmentally impactful phase in a book's life cycle is its manufacture and says, plainly, that the most effective means of mitigating publishing's harmful impact on the environment "is therefore to manufacture less, and better."

While the authors note that publishers play a crucial role in putting books onto the market, and therefore are responsible for their own environmental impact, the report points out that "booksellers are part of this ecosystem made up of interdependences, and that they are free agents capable of taking action themselves." The report proceeds to offer examples of actions bookstores can take to reduce their environmental impact, ranging from small, everyday actions to collective efforts within professional networks and in cooperation with suppliers and other parts of the supply chain.

The report offers six main areas where bookshops can make a difference:

  • Energy: Bookshops can reduce energy consumption by reducing light intensity, replacing older lightbulbs with LEDs, tracking electricity consumption, turning down the thermostat, and installing solar panels.
  • Waste and Circular Economy: Bookshops can reduce waste by applying the "5 Rs" principle—"reject, reduce, reuse, recycle, restore to the earth"—including reusing and recycling cardboard boxes, offering eco-friendly gift wrapping options, reducing plastic bag use, installing pre-used furniture, reducing damaged and destroyed books, and incorporating more secondhand books.
  • Shipping and Ordering: Bookshops can reduce the environmental impact of shipping by using bicycle deliveries, rail freight (for chains or associations), reducing the frequency of orders and deliveries, grouping deliveries, encouraging staff and customers to decarbonize their bookshop journeys, and developing short supply chains.
  • Digital Sector: Bookshops can reduce the impact of their digital activities by limiting purchases and replacement of equipment, reducing the impact of digital communication, cleaning out inactive contacts from mailing lists, deleting irrelevant content on social media, and clearing up cloud storage and computers.
  • Management: Integrating environmental changes into the bookshop's wider development strategy is crucial, and involves team training, designating a "champion" to coordinate the initiative, carrying out an initial analysis, working with stakeholders, adopting a charter, and taking advantage of quality certifications.
  • Customer Awareness: Bookshops can raise customer awareness of environmental issues by developing thematic sections on environmental topics, creating environment-focused displays, communicating commitments and actions to customers, and engaging with customers on environmental subjects..

The report concludes by emphasizing that, while booksellers cannot resolve all the problems in the book sector, they can influence change at their own level. The full version of the report and a self-assessment table can be found on the RISE project website.

Next year's RISE Conference will take place March 23-24 in Riga, Latvia.