Shrinking Our Carbon Footprint: Update One

carbon footprint 2020 Feb 17, 2020

In December, we announced our intention to reduce our carbon footprint in 2020. This post includes more detail about our plans and an update about what we’ve achieved thus far.

We have looked at a number of carbon calculators, not yet with the purpose of producing a number to describe our carbon footprint (since the accuracy and reliability of these calculators appears to vary) but to understand the categories we need to be considering, and the various energy-consuming elements within these. The three key categories we have identified are: our office activities, our travel, and the printing and delivery of the physical editions of our books.


Heating and cooling homes and offices account for a significant proportion of overall carbon emissions. We have negotiated with King’s College (where we have our office space) to install more energy-efficient radiators, which have significantly improved our ability to control the temperature—thus preventing overheating (and making us all more comfortable!) and reducing wasted energy.

The old (and old-school!) radiators.
The new and more energy-efficient model.

We have also spoken with King’s about installing LED lights, which use considerably less electricity—but this is something the college is already doing across all of its buildings over a period of time, and we are not able to accelerate the process in our office. This is one of the challenges of making changes in a space we don’t own: we don’t have complete autonomy and we therefore have to do what we can within certain constraints. With that in mind we are making smaller changes, such as being mindful of switching lights off in rarely-used areas.


We have made the decision not to fly at all this year, and we have been exploring remote participation at events to cut down on this and other types of travel. For example, in January at the kickoff meeting for the COPIM project, one of us stayed in the office rather than travelling to Coventry and participated remotely via Skype. The success of this attempt (after hurdling a couple of technological obstacles) demonstrated to us that such participation is workable, and it will now be a viable option as the project progresses—which is particularly significant given that the COPIM partners are located in America and in continental Europe, as well as in the UK.

We are also giving more webinars and remote presentations at universities and university libraries rather than travelling to speak, where this is appropriate. So far, this has met with mixed success—sometimes it has worked well, but on other occasions the opportunity for discussion has been limited by patchy audio or by other technical issues inhibiting interaction. Success has depended to a large degree on the technical infrastructure of the ‘host’ institution, and the extent to which they are practiced in facilitating remote participation.

How our members of staff get to work is also worth mentioning when discussing travel. The mode of transport each individual uses is, of course, a personal choice, but we are fortunate that Cambridge is a very friendly city for cyclists and the majority of our staff already commute by bicycle, with the remainder using public transport. Had this not been the case, we might have had conversations about car-pooling or other ways OBP could facilitate a greener commute for any staff members who might have wanted to try this.

Next Steps

We have thus had some success with our initial steps in attempting to reduce our carbon footprint, concentrating on our office environment and our work-related travel. The next post in this series will examine the environmental impact of the production and shipping of the printed editions of our books, and the trade-offs involved when making choices about this aspect of our business.

Lucy Barnes

Lucy Barnes is Senior Editor and Outreach Coordinator at Open Book Publishers.