One of our Production Editors unpacks some of the vocabulary around sustainability initiatives, and looks at how we are working to reduce our carbon footprint.

ICE Publishing at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Sustainable partners
  • Updated: 28 Apr 2022
  • Author: Dr Madhubanti Bhattacharyya

ICE Publishing is a signatory to the SDG Publishers Compact, and staff members are actively involved in projects that aim to put the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) front and centre in the work that we do. 

This has necessarily meant familiarising ourselves with terms that crop up again and again such as carbon offset, carbon neutral, net zero etc., and which are often seen being used interchangeably.  

One of the fundamental issues facing anyone trying to gain clarity on these topics is that there are countless certifications and programmes, each counting something slightly different, and in slightly different ways. For example, the UK Government’s fifth carbon budget intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to less than half of 1990 levels by 2032. Note here that the formal name of this document refers to carbon (carbon dioxide), which while being, by quite some way, the most significant compound, is not the only component of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which include, among other gases, methane (rather more efficient than CO2 at contributing to global warming), nitrous oxide, as well as fluorinated gases created and released during industrial activities, including the manufacturing processes at the heart of publishing.   

But what do some of these most common terms really mean? 

  • Carbon negative =  the ideal situation where an organisation has reduced their carbon footprint to the point where their activities have a net effect of removing carbon from the environment. 
  • Carbon neutral = an organisation is, through a combination of reduction and offset, removing from the environment carbon emissions equal to those emitted by their operations.  
  • Carbon offset = the Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘the action or process of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions arising from industrial or other human activity, by participating in schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere’, but it should not be a sole focus of a business truly aiming for being carbon neutral, as it doesn’t really work in isolation.  
  • Carbon reduction =  a real lowering of an organisation’s emissions. The UK government, for example, has since 2016 required a formal Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) from any suppliers bidding for work, while Science Based Targets only accepts reduction, not offsetting as part of its target-setting for organisations.  
  • Net zero = similar to carbon neutral, but with a wider scope in that the targets include all GHGs. 
  • Zero carbon = a model situation, more stringent than net zero in that the target is to produce no carbon (and ideally GHG) emissions at all. 

Within such a densely interlinked and complex industry, it is easy to get completely overwhelmed when trying to work out where to even start with making or requesting changes to existing manufacturing, logistics and waste management processes and chains. One way of trusting that progress is being made is by looking at the ways in which ICE Publishing’s suppliers are either achieving or maintaining recognisable and measurable accreditations. 

ISO 14001:2015: Environmental Management Systems. All of ICE Publishing’s UK printers hold and maintain this accreditation, which lists among its intended outcomes  

  • enhancement of environmental performance; 
  • fulfilment of compliance obligations; 
  • achievement of environmental objectives. 

This standard feeds into the following UN SDGs: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, which fits nicely into ICE Publishing’s own focus on 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and 13 (Climate Action) in 2022.  

All of our printers also hold Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for the paper they use to manufacture ICE Publishing books and journals, while the larger organisations also have dedicated Environmental Compliance personnel in place.  

There is a lot of work ahead – trials for making other parts of the manufacture, logistics, and waste management processes more sustainable are ongoing, and progress is far from linear as it is a difficult balancing act between environmental requirements and quality standards. But it is heartening to realise that the entire industry is aware of the scale of the problem and of the necessity to work together to make a difference. 


Find out more about the UNSDGs in our SDG Resource Centre