Publishing with responsibility

Daniel Ropers
Opinion - Academic Wednesday, 09 May 2018

Springer Nature is issuing its first Responsible Report. Daniel Ropers introduces it

Springer Nature's ambition is to be the most progressive and respected publisher of research and education materials. As publisher of Nature and many other academic journals and books, we are known for publishing important work from the research community addressing the world's biggest challenges, such as climate change, food and energy security, global health, the digital transformation and countless more. Our business exists to serve the needs of the communities who are undertaking this important work. Research investment and output is growing rapidly worldwide - with spend outpacing global GDP and hitting $1,520 billion in 2015.

Expenditure on scientific content is a tiny proportion of this, and yet academic publishers play a crucial role in the research process. That's why it is so important to us to ensure that we add as much value while being as efficient as we can, to take all the measures necessary to assure the integrity and soundness of the academic record, and to make it freely available as quickly as possible. Our business is rooted in this responsibility and, as a new ceo who joined Springer Nature in 2017, I have enjoyed meeting some of our 13,000 staff in recent months and finding that, like me, many are also motivated by this and by the greater, worldwide purpose that we serve every day.

Showing respect
Our employees and our authors expect us to show respect for the environment and for the communities where we operate, and to stand up for science and for robust research, especially where they are threatened. This has led Springer Nature to publish its first Responsible Business report. Following the creation of the company through merger in 2015, this is the first time we have collated data and case studies from across the business about both our own operational impacts - including energy use in our offices and warehouses, paper used in our publications, and contributions made by our local operations around the world - and our place as a publisher working with the research, education and professional development communities.

For 2017, we report on our responsibility in what we do as a publisher, and also how we work - that is, the codes of conduct expected from all our employees and business partners, governance processes, and our environmental and social impacts.

As one example, diversity and inclusion have been a strong focus over the past year. We are a truly global company, with colleagues from all around the world - different cultures, backgrounds, genders, skills and competencies. For me and for all of us at Springer Nature, building an inclusive, safe and positive work environment so that we can all optimally benefit from this diversity is a non-negotiable. That's why we set out to consider how we can make our leadership teams more representative of our whole workforce. This has culminated in the recruitment of a global director of diversity and inclusion to take this forward.

The level of interest that our people around the world have taken in this issue clearly demonstrates that it is extremely important for us to get this right. Fifty-six percent of our staff is female - which compares well with our benchmark companies - and we have colleagues from 50 countries. But, like our benchmark group, the gender and cultural balance decreases with seniority and varies by region: for example 41% of those in the three tiers of the organisation that include the management board and the next two levels (around 300 of our approximately 13,000 staff) are women. Of this group, 68% are of European nationality, which doesn't reflect our spread of revenues or staff numbers around the world. These are areas we plan to work on.

Let me share another example. In 2017, the Springer journal Sustainability Science celebrated its 10th anniversary and Nature Climate Change its sixth. We also launched both Nature Sustainability and the fully open-access Sustainable Earth. Through publications like these we contribute to public debate by presenting facts on issues relevant to wider society in an impartial and accessible way. However, we don't ignore our own impacts. As part of the reporting process we undertook a detailed exercise to identify and understand Springer Nature's main environmental impacts.

Environmental impacts
Today, the vast majority of our output is digital - and there has been a 30% reduction in the number of printed copies of our research publications over the past five years. However, we recognise that the sourcing of paper used for our products is a significant potential impact of our business, including when books and journals are printed by third-party suppliers. The monitoring of paper sourcing is an area we plan to improve on.

We report on our carbon footprint for the first time too, as well as water use and waste produced from our core sites. While we believe we compare reasonably well with our benchmark companies, we understand that reducing our footprint will require the active participation of employees in using our buildings wisely and looking for ways to reduce our use of paper and other raw materials or identifying sustainable alternatives. We are planning ways to engage our employees in this effort.

The report is a starting point, and we are still developing our internal processes for gathering information from our wide ranging business. I have been impressed with the positive responses from colleagues who have taken part in the exercise - working together, we will create a more responsible business.

Daniel Ropers is ceo of Springer Nature. Springer Nature's 2017 Responsible Business report, Discover More, can be downloaded at

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.

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