Can we save the planet before dinner? It was around this question, inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s homonymous novel, that the meeting on environmental sustainability organised by the Salone Internazionale del Libro di Torino in collaboration with the Italian Publishers’ Association (AIE) was held. In the days of the flooding in Emilia Romagna, which many media sources still refer to as a “bad weather emergency”, but which should be correctly identified as a climate crisis, the publishing industry is reflecting on its relationship with the themes and practices of environmental sustainability.
“For publishers, this is a relatively new topic, which emerged in 2015 with the Paris Agreement on climate change and then made a more complete comeback among the goals set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” says Antonio Monaco, publisher of Edizioni Sonda and promoter, through AIE, of the meeting. “Sustainability in publishing should be addressed in two ways: as a topic to be treated in the books we publish and as a practice to be introduced in publishing houses as a professional community, and along the entire book supply chain and its workflows”.
Thus, on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Turin Book Fair, the publishing industry wanted to ask the under-35s for support in addressing a discourse that can no longer be postponed: how to slow down the race towards environmental destruction? How to develop an awareness of the moment and the situation we are in? How can we change paths and processes to reduce the impact of our actions and activities on the planet’s balance?
They are Millennials and they are, above all, Gen Z. Born in the late 1980s and early 2000s, they are increasingly involved in activism and climate justice claims. They are the youngest part – or are close to entering – the workforce. But they are also teenagers who are beginning to outline their life paths and structure their value system.
“We have called them Generation S,” continues Monaco. “S” as Salone, “S” as sustainability. Considering today’s date as a starting point, we still have 7.5 years to align ourselves with the goals of the Agenda 2030: are we in a position to make a real impact in that time? Creating an alliance with Generation S is the only chance we have to try to answer this question in an affirmative way, striving to slow down destructive phenomena for which – as previous generations – we are directly responsible”.
“Until now, we have tried to postpone the time of this dinner, but now there is no more time,” warns Danilo Zagaria, biologist, science populariser and freelance editor. “When I started working, ten years ago, there was very little offer of books on the subject of environmental sustainability. Today we are in a transitional phase: from books that tell the problem in a descriptive way, we are moving towards a problematising approach”. From manuals that explain how to interact with environmental phenomena – sustainable travels, respect for natural environments, good daily practices – to popular science books exploring the topic through the lens of science. Finally, to the route of “hybrid books, in my opinion the most effective. If we want to give a comprehensive narrative of climate change and the environmental crisis, in fact, we need different perspectives, points of view and approaches to interact and compose with each other”.
But what part do readers play in the awareness-raising process undertaken by publishers? To try to answer this question, Giulia Ottoni, a student on the master’s degree course in publishing at the University of Pavia, conducted a survey on the relationship between readers and green publishing as part of her studies. She found that 72% of those interviewed would spend “from 2 to 5 euros more” for a book made with more sustainable materials and processes, compared to 19% who are not willing to see the price rise on the cover. At the same time, the survey – conducted for the most part on a panel of strong and very strong readers – shows that only 11% have bought a green-themed book in the last six months, and they did so in the vast majority of cases because of a previous affinity with these themes.
This raises the question: is there something Generation S readers are looking for and not finding in the publishing offer dedicated to environmental issues? An answer comes indirectly from Martina Miccichè – @alwaysithaka on social media -, a political scientist and activist, when she recalls the “universally recognised social power” of books and the consequent responsibility of publishers who, “if conscious and honest in choosing what to publish, can make a difference”. In Miccichè’s approach, on the other hand, it is the entire environmental issue that needs to be placed in an intersectional perspective: “If we reason about sustainability without reasoning about social inequalities, we can perhaps build a more sustainable society, but it will still not be a fairer society”.
“More space for young people and more space for complexity” is the invitation addressed to publishers by Giorgio Brizio, green activist and author for Slow Food Editore of the essay Non siamo tutti sulla stessa barca.Le sfide del nostro tempo agli occhi di un ragazzo. “We need the environmental crisis to enter all the spaces of debate in the media, on the front page, not in the special issue”. His reference is to newspapers, but it is a request that book publishers can also address. But let us never forget, Brizio recalls, the systemic dimension of the environmental crisis, and the need for a collective approach to fight it. “We are 8 billion people in the world and 100 companies are responsible for 70 per cent of the environmental devastation. The most impactful action we can take, as single people, is to be less single, to coordinate our actions, to embrace activism and get out into the streets. Everyone is needed, everyone is useful”.
Coming back to the specificity of the publishing industry and its relationship with sustainability, writer Fabio Gedapauses to consider how the book market is “bulimic” and therefore characterised by a perpetual “background noise” that makes it difficult to discover valuable books. Nevertheless, Geda reassures, “there are many beautiful books”, and literature – not only non-fiction – has always helped people interpret reality. “In the 20th century science fiction was born, dystopias were born, which are an extraordinary exercise in imagining the future. Literature makes people imagine worlds to come”. It did so, prophetically, even with the environmental crisis.
The round table, hosted by Federico Taddia, ends with Silvia Moroni, aka @parlasostenibile, an expert in sustainable development and digital creator dedicated to the green practices of everyday life. As a person who deals with sustainability from an individual perspective, Moroni believes that one of the most significant actions one can take in the collective sphere of work is to talk. “Talking about what is going on, setting aside moments in the company to discuss social and environmental issues. Sharing books, inviting people, dedicating the coffee break to raising awareness on climate, or related topics. Our small actions may not change anything, but united in a collectivity of which companies are part, they can make a difference”.