A chat with Thea Sherer, Springer Nature’s Director of Sustainability – PODCAST

Clarasys meets Thea Sherer, Director of Sustainability at academic publishing company Springer Nature to discuss being a sustainability lead in the industry.

A chat with Thea Sherer, Springer Nature’s Director of Sustainability – PODCAST

Clarasys meets Thea Sherer, Director of Sustainability at academic publishing company Springer Nature to discuss being a sustainability lead in the industry.


Meet the authors

Sam Maguire

Sustainability Lead

Thea Sherer is the Director of Sustainability for Springer Nature, one of the largest publishers of research and education content in the world.

In the twelfth episode of ‘Clarasys presents: Simply Sustainability’, Clarasys’ Sam Maguire chats to Thea about her role in detail, what it takes to be a sustainability lead including tips and tricks, proud moments, challenges faced in the role and industry and the progress Springer Nature Group are making on their sustainability journey.

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.

Sam Maguire: In today’s podcast, I’m absolutely delighted to be talking to Thea Sherer, the Director of Sustainability from Springer Nature Group, one of the world’s largest publishers of research and education content.

We’re gonna be hearing about Thea’s journey to the role and what she’s learned along the way, and we’ll also be digging into the progress being made at Springer Nature Group. Thea, it’s great to have you on the podcast. Would you do a little bit of an introduction to yourself and your role at Springer Nature Group? 

Thea Sherer: Sam, thanks so much for inviting me to talk to you today. I’ve been Sustainability Director at Springer Nature since last year, but have been leading on corporate sustainability strategy and communications at Springer Nature since 2017. But I’ve been working around sustainability for a lot longer than that, and maybe we’ll talk about that a bit later on. 

Springer Nature, as you’ve said, is a publisher of research and education content, one of the largest in the world. And really what we’re about is we say opening doors to discovery, so helping researchers and educators in what they do so that we can together solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

So, Sustainability is kind of really at the heart of all of that. And my role is particularly on the operational side of sustainability, but I work with colleagues who are working on the publishing side and other aspects as well. 

Sam Maguire: Amazing. And I’m really excited to dig into lots of different aspects of that, both your journey and, a bit more of what you do at Springer Nature.

So if we start off with the journey of it, how did you get to this role? Why are you passionate about sustainability and how did it lead you to here? 

How did Thea Sherer become the Director of Sustainability at Springer Nature?

Thea Sherer: Yeah, so as I said, I’ve been working in and around sustainability for quite a long time, although at Springer Nature just since 2017, so about five years. And I first had a role with sustainability in the title – I was thinking about it earlier, I think in 2005, possibly 2006, which I think makes me quite an early adopter from a sustainability profession point of view.

I spent the first part of my career working in a large energy company, an oil and gas company, as it was generally known then. Now, people are much more likely to talk about energy, but I had a number of different roles there, and they included project managing the sustainability report in, as I said, quite early days of sustainability reporting and then managing communications and engagement for one of the renewable energy businesses. So always really on that sort of side of energy transition.

But going back even further than that, the thread for me throughout my career and what’s always been the most interesting thing about what I’ve, you know, wanted to do and am motivated by is about how companies interact with society, essentially. So what their impacts are, how they manage those, how they consider a wide range of stakeholders beyond kind of commercial interests. That was always what interested me and what I wanted to do. And actually, that’s how I ended up working in the energy sector because it was pretty evident to me at the outset that that’s, you know, it’s highly complex, has always had to manage social and environmental impacts, health and safety issues, that sort of thing.

After a few sort of initial entry roles in energy, which gave me a really interesting insight into things like gas markets, which these days is fascinating dinner party conversation genuinely, I found myself getting involved in sustainability reporting and really understanding some of the technicalities of that as they were emerging. The frameworks and things that those of us who work in sustainability are now a lot more familiar with, but really for me about listening to what stakeholders were saying, to organizations that are often very, very embedded in local communities. What that means, what this kinda business meant to them, and how those risks were managed was a big part of what I learned in those early roles.

So I’m a really firm believer in the ability of companies to make a positive difference to society and to the environment, but that, that has to be done purposefully and with a really solid understanding that there are obviously risks and those are very evident in, in the energy sector, but not always so evident in every other sector. But you’ve got to understand those risks and then, How you kind of turn that around into positive opportunities. So I’ve been really lucky to do that in the energy industry as I mentioned.

I then spent a few years actually working in one of the largest universities in the UK and my role there was about building relationships with companies who, through their social impact programs and corporate philanthropy, wanted to make a positive difference supporting research and students. And so then those two things together sort of fortuitously became a really good stepping stone into Springer Nature, which as I’ve said, is a research publisher, and those experiences kind of very, very neatly gave me something when I came to talk to Springer Nature, which the organization was just looking for at the time. You know, what do we do? What does sustainability mean for us, and how do we build something on that within the company? 

Sam Maguire: With that in mind, you kind of mentioned Springer Nature were sort of exploring what, what they should be doing around sustainability, where have you guys got to? What’s kind of, I guess, the areas that are material to you?

What’s the out level of ambition as an organisation?

Where has Springer Nature gotten to on its sustainability journey?

Thea Sherer: Sure. So just to say a little bit about who we are and what we do, because it’s all very, very closely linked. So research and education content. What does that mean In practice, we publish 3000 journals and 13,000 academic books a year. We’re one of those organizations, you’ve almost certainly not heard the name of, but you may well have come across some of our brands and impact prints maybe when you were a student or if not, you’ll certainly have come across content that we’ve published when you read science stories in the newspapers. And we’ve also got an education division that publishes curriculum textbooks in countries all around the world.

So brands, you might know the Journal Nature and the wider Nature portfolio. Nature’s been around for 150 years. Macmillan Education is almost 180 years old. But as I said earlier, this idea really for us about opening doors to discovery, helping to solve, or those who are working to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges and increasingly for us using cutting-edge technologies to make the processes of learning and discovery easier, faster, smoother, more sustainable as well. So from a sustainability point of view, that means, you know, we are publishing research that is integral to the understanding of sustainability topics, climate change. One example of that, the very first research paper that was able to show the evidence to attribute a major extreme weather event. With human caused climate change was published in Nature in 2004, all about the extreme heat waves in Europe in 2003, which killed I think 30,000, people. That research was published in Nature.

We’ve got Nature Climate Change, which has been publishing research in that area specifically for over 10 years. And between 2015 and 2021, we published around 400,000 articles relating to topics covered by the sustainable development goals. So it’s absolutely integral to what we do as a business and as a publisher, but we then have to hold ourselves to account and reflect that in how we do business. So what are the social environmental aspects? For us and how we take account of what the science is telling us. And really for me and for my team, it’s making sure that we are evidence-based in what we do. We are kind of listening to that science and research and taking account of it in, in the choices that we make.

And being able to say to our stakeholders, you know, on an ongoing basis how we’re doing that and how we’re also supporting them as they try to do the same sorts of things. 

Sam Maguire: That makes total sense. And it’s actually a similar conversation we had with, Emily from The Economist. Obviously, they’re coming at it from more of a journalistic standpoint than an academic standpoint, but it was the same piece around if we want to stand by the amazing kinda research or journalism that we’re doing, we need to also be kind of showing that we, we are committed to, to change in that space as well.

Thea Sherer: Absolutely yeah. 

Sam Maguire: Are there particular kinda areas that you’re going: ‘we’ve got particular plans to address our environmental and social impact in these pockets’ or where are your priorities? 

What is Thea prioritising for Springer Nature?

Thea Sherer: So I’m very focused at the moment on the environmental side, and I had a little addendum to my job title I did last year, Climate Action Officer for the group. It’s not all of what I do. An increasingly significant part as it is for many sustainability people at the moment. And it’s also the area which sits most firmly within our team. Whereas there are other aspects of sustainability where we work very closely with colleagues in other parts of the business.

So like many others, we’ve been managing our carbon footprint for a few years now and looking at ways to reduce it. We’ve been carbon neutral for our direct emissions, so for those who follow the technicalities, that’s scope one, scope two, plus business flights since 2020, and we use offsets to do that. We’ve got a really fantastic program that we work with that’s based in Nicaragua. But what we’ve been doing for the last two years or 18 months is baselining our Scope three. So the full value chain emissions, all of those emissions that we are responsible for or are through delivering the products and services that we offer so that we can really understand that full set of impact and how and where we need to drive change, some of which is through our supply chain. It’s not those things that we most directly control. So that’s been a really huge undertaking. We want to be very evidence-based, as I hope others do too. So we’re just in the process right now – on the verge of submitting to the Science Based Targets initiative, those targets for validation, which we hope we’ll get before too long, but the process has been fascinating because it’s really helped us think about how we prioritize. So we’ve had lots and lots of great stuff going on that’s about reducing our carbon footprint. For a number of years, we’ve been purchasing renewable energy. We’ve been thinking about efficiencies in our offices, all that sort of stuff.

But going through this exercise has really focused our minds on some areas that we need to think about a bit differently. So, as a publisher, I think research publishers typically are further along print to digital transition than trade publishers because, you know, we, researchers read a lot digitally in a way that perhaps we’re not quite ready to for our kind of novels or kids books at home. So we’re quite far along that journey.

However, we still are finding that the physical product component for us is a very large part of our footprint. So understanding the intricacies of that, how we tackle it, you know, where are the areas we’re just not ready to go yet because, you know, perhaps in some education markets we’re not so far along the journey towards digital and may not be for quite a while. So how we prioritize that, think about it alongside points around obviously, how we serve our customers, but also equity of access in different ways. So that’s a big part of what we’re doing at the moment. 

Sam Maguire: Got it. And that makes sense. It’s so exciting that you are thinking about these things in such holistic ways.

It’s not just about pure carbon reduction, it’s also, as you said, about some of the social elements – equity, diversity, inclusion pieces, and accessibility. That’s really exciting. I wanted to ask about the particular remit of sustainability lead at your organization. What does your job mean?

What’s the day to day? 

What does Thea Sherer’s day-to-day role as Director of Sustainability look like? 

Thea Sherer: Yeah, it’s a really good question. So fundamentally it started about being sustainability reporting. What does that mean for an organization? How do you produce a sustainability report and what do you put in it and how do you keep that going year on, year out? So understanding the material topics for the company, prioritizing them, collating data, and determining which areas we can do better in coordinating the people. Both at a senior level, that can make decisions around that, but then throughout other parts of the organization, who day-to-day are making other decisions or choices that might impact on that. So that’s a large part of it.

I also work really closely, as I’ve alluded to, with colleagues in other areas that are very, very relevant to sustainability or, know part of our sustainability approach. So we have a VP for Diversity and Equity and Inclusion. I’ve mentioned we have a publishing program that’s dedicated to the SDG, so the person who leads on that, is our Compliance Officer. So a lot of what I do is also around talking to them, understanding how they’re working and how we communicate that and tell a consistent story. Not just in our sustainability reporting, but in other ways that we share information with our customers, with researchers who we work with, and obviously, you know, other stakeholders through our value change suppliers, as well. 

Sam Maguire: So that stakeholder management piece seems incredibly complex. What are the key skills that you think are required to be a sustainability lead in that stakeholder management exercise, but also the wider skills that you need to have?

What skills are required to be a leader in sustainability? 

Thea Sherer: Yeah. A large part of the job is about stakeholder management and thinking about stakeholders, whether internal or external, as individuals. Fundamentally, what are the things that they care about and how do we get the messages across to them? For us, especially with some of our senior internal stakeholders who are so important to getting things done, we are quite a data-driven business. We’re very evidence, sort of science-driven business as you would probably expect. And so I always say, we’ll always be asked internally the hardest questions, the questions that you hope not to be asked. And being able to build a really credible picture of what we’re doing and the level of detail, frankly, that we’ve been able to go into really helps give people the reassurance that what we’re doing, what we’re proposing, you know, the direction of travel is in line with our credibility as an organization and a publisher of science and research. 

So there are two kinds of components I guess, in terms of skills in that. One is some of the sort of, again, fundamentals of sustainability reporting, understanding the regulatory environment that we’re in, the frameworks and metrics and that kinda crunchy, detailed data side of things. I do think those are really important skills in sustainability. 

But then the reverse of that or the other side of the coin is the storytelling piece. And it’s definitely something that I can always do better in. So how you build that picture of what the data’s telling you or, and what you need to do that has those really strong fundamentals, but actually is interesting and engaging and, and brings people along with you. As an example, I don’t care too much whether people make a big business decision that supports our sustainability progress and our climate process, I don’t care so much if it’s because they care about sustainability. I care that it happens. And if for that person, the thing that matters to them is addressing a recruitment challenge, for example, or it’s about saving costs quite simply, that’s absolutely fine. So understanding what the buttons are to push for individuals and how to explain the narrative of what we want to achieve in a way that works for them. That’s a key skill I think for sustainability leads. 

Sam Maguire: I would hundred per cent agree. One of the things that we look at with clients all the time is how to put in place those interventions and support the learning and development of those people. So maybe the first time it’s because they’ve had support to make a certain decision, but then as they go on, it becomes inherent to what they do. I guess have you cracked that code yet in terms of moving on from supporting people with their decision-making to them doing it naturally? Do you think you’re there yet? Have you got any tips or tricks? 

Have you got any tips or tricks for enabling second-nature sustainability? 

Thea Sherer: We definitely are there in some areas, and again, I think I’m very, very fortunate to work in an organization where sustainability in its kind of broader sense is a passion for a great many of the people that I work with. It’s not very often really that we have to start at first principles about why people should care about this. You know, people do have other priorities in their day-to-day work, and it’s not always top of mind, and I think that’s where we need to do a bit more. So for us, a challenge at the moment is really making sure that the unintended consequences of some business decisions that could, you know, increase carbon emissions, for example, that those are really being built in and thought about at every point, particularly when we’re looking at strategy or, or big business changes.

We definitely haven’t cracked it, but one of the ways that we’re trying to do that more is just by talking about what we’re doing and getting people to ask us questions as a sustainability team and come to us. So that we can sort of give a bit of a sense check of, yes, this is something that we should do some more analysis of, we should think about versus actually, this may have an impact on carbon, but it’s probably pretty small. It may not be material, so don’t worry too much about it in this instance. But yeah, in general, we don’t have an issue of people not thinking about sustainability at all. 

Sam Maguire: I’m sure there are sustainability leads in other industries, going well I wish that was my case too. Brilliant.

I wanna ask you a bit about kinda what you enjoy most about being a sustainability lead. What are the areas of it that you just love? 

What areas do you love about being a Director of Sustainability? 

Thea Sherer: It’s probably a cliche, but the variety of what we can get involved with is something that I really enjoy about what I get to do day to day. As I’ve said, I’ve got a big focus on climate and I’m very privileged to work with solid colleagues who are very close to the diversity, equity and inclusion discussion are really expert on that. And thinking about the role that we as publishers have. So I get to kind of participate in some of those things alongside experts rather than having to kind of lead on them. But this week, just as an example, along with our partners, Estee Lauder and one of our imprints, Nature Research, they announced the winners of the Inspiring Women in Science Awards, which is really about showcasing and celebrating people who are making a difference to address the gender gap in science. So just being involved in that sort of thing in the smallest way and being part of some of those conversations. I went along to talk in a networking session about the SDGs and again, how we as, as a combined group of organizations are, are working to elements of that. And amplifying people who are doing the work of building equity in science is just really inspiring. So yeah, I feel very lucky about getting to do that sort of thing. Being able to talk directly to some of the climate scientists who publish in our journals, hear what they’re working on and how that might impact us as a business and, and give us a bit of hope about some of the things that we can be quite doom and gloomy about when we read it in the papers. You know, having the opportunity to do that is a real privilege. 

Sam Maguire: One of the challenges, when I talk to sustainability leads, is exactly what you’ve just talked to in terms of remaining positive, being able to see the optimism as well as the more outrage elements. For you, what are the big challenges? What about your job or your role do you go, this is tricky, this is something that I need to be really resilient to, or work to overcome? 

What are the big challenges of being a Director of Sustainability?

Thea Sherer: Yeah, so I’ve mentioned data a few times and I’m gonna mention it again because, when I walked into this role five years ago, it was real kind of blank piece of paper. There was lots of stuff going on, but it hadn’t been centralized in any way. And we had to pull together all of this data and figure out how to do that for the first time. And that was a huge challenge. We’ve done that now, but managing that on an ongoing basis continues to be really difficult.

So the value chain emissions piece that I talked about, we think we’ve got about a million lines of data that’s come from over 30 systems, um, in order for us to be able to do that. So that’s been a hugely challenging exercise. And then distilling that into something that we can give our leadership confidence that we can, on an ongoing basis, do something weird and demonstrate progress isn’t easy. So, yeah, and, and you know, again, that stakeholder engagement piece and really understanding how we tackle problems that are very integral to our business processes and that we as a sustainability team don’t always have full visibility of.

So what we don’t want to do is create problems for people. We want to make progress on our climate ambitions, but in a way that is clearly, you know, not impacting or not impacting in a way that people haven’t really considered carefully what the wider implications of that might be for different parts of the business or how we service our customers. And, you know, those are complicated conversations and they need lots and lots of time to do well. 

Sam Maguire: Yeah, completely agree with it. Firstly, the data piece, and we are saying, the reworking of value chains of supply chains to share data between them kind of causing mass disruption, it’s necessary, it’s needed, but it is a huge challenge. It means reworking relationships. It means setting up different data sharing practices. It means putting process in place to actually collect and then visualize things effectively. It’s just a whole world of a new way of doing things, which is a challenge. And the second aspect you mentioned there in terms of not disrupting the way that things are done today in ways that are not positive in terms of changing the user experience is massive. That’s why we’ve put such a big emphasis on user-centred design in our sustainability practice because, We know that unless people adopt things, it’s just not going to work. But anyway. And the more positive side of things, I wanted to ask you about what are you most proud of achieving in your role as sustainability lead? 

What are you most proud of achieving as a Director of Sustainability?

Thea Sherer: Great question and it changes all the time. But this week my answer to that actually is the team that I work with, the team that I brought in. So I was really lucky last year to have the opportunity to build a new team of colleagues fully focused on sustainability. Their roles vary so one who’s focused really on our net zero plans and our climate action activity. Another who’s working on our communications around sustainability, our partnerships that we’re building particularly externally. And another who’s got a broad role but focuses a lot on our internal engagement. And I was very lucky, I think, to do that in an environment when so many people are really switching on to this area as being an interesting one that we want to work in. And despite the fact that, you know, recruitment has been challenging over the last year or two for lots of people, somehow you know, I hit a real sweet spot because they’re a really fantastic team and have been able to kinda really build the capacity of what we can deliver in a very, very positive way and get us to think about things differently.

So yeah, I just came out of an event that’s organized by one of my team, moderated by another of the team, and that was attended by lots of people across the company who just come to hear about sustainability in fashion, which isn’t something that we would normally talk about in inside our or organization, but the reason we’re doing it is we just want to provide our 9,000 colleagues with as many different ways possible to hear about sustainability and get them switched onto why it’s of interest to them personally and also different aspects of their roles so that we, we are really kind of building that culture and we think that will really help us in how people will make decisions in their work that help us on the same kind of direction that we’re in and what we need to do about our overall impacts as an organisation.

Sam Maguire: Listeners to this podcast, we don’t do video as part of it, but Thea was beaming the whole way through talking about her colleagues there and the impact that they’re having. 

Well, it’s actually a final question about the area of sustainability lead. For those who are new to the role or who are thinking about their ongoing development, are there any books, training or other resources that you find particularly helpful that you’d recommend?

Which resources would you recommend to sustainability leaders or those who want to learn more? 

Thea Sherer: I gave this a bit of thought earlier. So when I was early in my career, a couple of books that really engaged and inspired me and are still around, and I think worth reading, John Elkington, The Power of Unreasonable People, Peter Senge, Necessary Revolution, are the two books that I remember picking up and thinking ‘yeah, this is an area I want to work in and I want to be involved and connected with’. They’ve written other books more recently, but those are the ones that really switched me on.

More recently, the book that I have read and really loved, Katharine Hayhoe, who is a climate scientist. She’s the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy in the US, wrote a book called Saving Us. Which is all about communication on climate change and how not, again, to be too pessimistic about things essentially. Find the ways of connecting people on a values level. So, slightly counter to some of what I said, it’s not just about facts, facts, facts, data, data, data, it’s about, you know, what is it that people individually really care about and what’s the impact of the climate crisis gonna have? And how can you sort of together find a way to unpick that and, and sort of small steps. So I absolutely loved that book. Just really made me again motivated to keep going with some of the harder stuff. 

Sam Maguire: Oh, I hundred per cent agree with that. And we are seeing it more and more in the conversations that we are having, that actually people want to see commercial case and kinda make sure that that decision to have logic from a kinda traditional business perspective, but they’re also looking to make sure decisions are based on values and actually prepared to make some decisions which go away from traditional business thinking because of that values element. Because they see the need for their kids to have a future, or their grandkids to have a future, or their genuine love of nature and the environment or just valuing the human race. People are starting to really change their way of thinking. So I think Katharine Hayhoe’s book is a really great recommendation. 

Thea Sherer: She also does a newsletter every week, which is like super simple and it’s kinda a good news thing to know about a good news point and something you can do. It’s like, takes two minutes to read. I would highly recommend it. 

Sam Maguire: Oh, and absolutely we need those good news stories for sure. Brilliant.

I want to talk a little bit more now about Springer Nature and some of the aspects of sustainability that you’re most interested in. I wanted to talk about the publishing and information services industry, cause it’s one that Clarasys is working with a lot and it’s obviously where you guys play. What are the main environmental and social challenges from an industry perspective that we need to be concerned with addressing? 

What environmental and social challenges are the media and information services industry experiencing?

Thea Sherer: So for us as an academic publisher, we’re slightly different, I think, from some other trade publishers, but across the whole of the publishing sector, historically, it’s certainly related to print – the production of physical product. So we have to have really sound policies about where our paper comes from. We don’t print ourselves, we work with third parties who do that. For the most part, we’re not purchasing the paper ourselves, so therefore we’ve always had to look right into our supply chain to understand the labour standards and so on, and, you know, are the sources of those paper products sustainable? We’re now understanding better the carbon impacts of that part of the supply chain. And it is very significant, even though we are shifting very, very heavily to digital. So working with our suppliers so that we can really be clear on what the carbon impacts are, what actions they are taking and how together we can drive down the carbon impacts of those physical products is key. It’s not just about the product itself either. It’s also about the logistics of shipping it around the place. So there’s been a move to do things like printing on demand so that we’re not warehousing so much stuff, potentially pulping product that doesn’t get used and so on. But again, understanding what the trade-offs there are and how you kind of demand manage in that different scenario. So I think that’s a big piece for us. 

The other thing that I just wanna mention in that space, which I’ve touched on already, is this responsibility on the content side. So topics like how we can tackle misinformation, how the research community needs to best represent the areas which research is related to or coming from. So, issues around research integrity, around publishing ethics and things like helicopter research. We have a lot of guidance policies, those sorts of things, which are intended to address those issues. And we have to do that while also being very, very sensitive to things like academic freedom, which, you know, is an absolute fundamental for us. So, you know, two very different things there, but both very, very important for us as a sector. 

Sam Maguire: That makes sense. And I guess in the areas that we work in, one of the big things that we’ve seen is something that you mentioned earlier in our conversation around the accessibility of information, be that kind of through barriers to inclusion from a financial perspective in terms of access to data, but also access from a, where are the big conferences held? Where are the big events held in the world – are people who need to be participating in the decisions that come out of research able to get there, to be able to access them? Events are one of the big focuses for Clarasys at the moment. And we are looking at, events as a travel consolidator. And for people who run events, to provide information, how actually do you make sure that the carbon footprint associated with them is reduced as much as possible? What is the new digital event landscape? How can you make that effective? How can you make that a better way for people to engage, is sort of big thing that we’re looking at.

Thea Sherer: Yeah, and I think, you know, we learned a lot during the pandemic because we were forced to about people’s willingness to engage with virtual events. And I think we’re in an interesting period now where people want to get back together physically, and I’m sure that will continue. But at the same time, it introduces other challenges, particularly around diversity and inclusion and about time, and fitting things in. So, you know, as somebody who’s very focused on carbon and hopefully people not returning to some of the, sort of, excesses of travel, I think we saw prior to the pandemic. You know, I hope we’re gonna find the right balance. And I think there’s a lot of work to be done to encourage people to keep the kind of best of both worlds. 

Sam Maguire: A hundred per cent. And I think the key element of that is ensuring that there are spaces to still be human in the digital world. I think that’s the big thing that people are missing from the in-person event side of things is being able to actually go and have conversations that are maybe work-related or research related, but also the more human connections that lead to future projects, but more organic rather than just being stuck on a Zoom screen for the event. 

So I’m gonna ask you, this is gonna be a bit different to the question we asked at the top, but in terms of your vision or the organization’s vision for sustainable Springer nature, what have you prioritized Thea? 

What is the organisation’s vision for a sustainable Springer Nature? 

Thea Sherer: So our priorities at the moment are really around science-based targets and our emissions, and that’s our number one priority at the moment. So that’s about all of that work that we’ve done to properly understand the full value chain emissions of the organization. Everything we do from around producing our physical products, shipping it around the place, but also the digital side of that, how we deliver our content digitally. The events that we’re running, the business travel that people are doing, and people at work, what that means. Mapping that all out, which we’ve largely done, but then building the action plans and we didn’t wanna wait until we had all of that data in place. So we published earlier this year some short-term carbon targets, which we’ve been working towards, some of which are around things like our office space.

We have something called a green building checklist for all of our offices. We have a couple of hundred around the world, and again, about engaging as many people as possible within the organization. So, you know, whether that’s we have a volunteer network or the green office network of people who are just passionate about this stuff and wanna get involved, even if it’s not to do with their day job. Three to those people for whom it is absolutely part of their day job. They’re the professionals who are thinking about our office facilities or our purchasing decisions. So yeah, really unpicking all of the different aspects, which will then help us to make progress on those science-based targets that we hope that we’ll get validated in the next few months.

Sam Maguire: I think what’s really exciting about that is the short-term target’s aspect. What we’re seeing is the carbon journey, which lots of organizations have gone through, is to set a science best target or a target, which is far in the advance, and then kind of the whole idea was, okay, well, let’s then think about how exactly we might make that happen. And a lot of that progress has been kind of delayed because we are going through a period of real worldwide disruption, be it the energy crisis, be it the impact of the war on, Ukraine. All these sorts of aspects have put a bit of a dampener on people’s ambition and plans. So it’s really exciting that you’ve gone, ‘okay, we are gonna commit to science-based target initiative, but we’re also gonna put some near-term targets in. We’re gonna make an impact relatively quickly is kind of really, really quite exciting’. Cause there are quick ones that are out there, right? There are things that you can do relatively speedily. 

From your side, what are your biggest challenges in making this happen and reaching your, science-based target? I know that’s a process that you’re going through, but what are the things that you can see challenging you along the way? 

What are your biggest challenges in reaching your science-based target?

Thea Sherer: Yeah, it’s a great question. So, for us, like lots of others, it’s now really about what are called Scope three emissions. So those that we don’t have most direct control over, they’re often sitting in our supply chain. Some of them may be with our customers as well, but supply chains are a really major piece of the puzzle for us.

We did an exercise earlier this year. We started talking to a number of our largest suppliers, and what was really gratifying about that was that we had a similar exercise a few years ago where. Some of the people that we spoke to were a bit sceptical, you know, a bit unsure about whether they ought to be sharing information with us or you know, are we being a bit over demanding? The conversation has totally shifted, so it’s still very challenging, you know, and we can’t tell other people how to run their businesses, but clearly, other organizations are having the same sorts of conversations with them as well, and so, what we found this year is that people have got much greater willingness to open up a conversation about sustainability, about what they’re doing in their organization. Some of them are now sustainability reporting, although not all. You know, clearly, the regulatory environment is changing, and that’s part of that because people are responding to that as well. But it’s really nice to see that people are responding positively to that because I think for organizations that haven’t been thinking about sustainability for so long it is quite daunting and, you know, it’s a resource and it’s time and things that still, for some of those organizations, they may not see as core, but there’s a much greater willingness because I think there has been much greater awareness for all of us over the last 2, 3, 4 years about conversations about the climate in particular. So I think it’s harder for organizations to ignore and most people want to get involved and see what they can do and take action on. So that’s a real challenge, but it’s one that I think people are responding to really positively. 

Sam Maguire: Absolutely. And the aligned challenge that we are seeing in this space is around education, right? There’s a will now. There’s sometimes a capacity challenge in terms of people having the space to do this sort of thinking alongside their existing job, which means that we’ve gotta redesign those jobs. But it’s the education piece. It’s people being able to understand the legislation, but even people being able to understand basic science elements that we are seeing as a big challenge because actually for lots of people, they’ve not had to think about carbon emissions maybe ever in their lives and it’s okay. That’s part of that capacity that we need to create. We need to think about how do we up-skill people? How do we get them to actually understand why this is important, what are the elements of it and how to do it. And there’s lots of great ways we can make that easy through great technology, through great resources from an education perspective. But we need to recognize that that’s a challenge we need to overcome. 

Thea Sherer: Yeah, absolutely, a hundred per cent. 

Sam Maguire: So from your colleagues’ and your partners’ perspectives, what do you need from them to make your vision a reality to be an organization that achieves their science-based target?

What do you need from your colleagues and partners to achieve your science-based targets?

Thea Sherer: So from a colleague’s perspective, we are very, very lucky to have an organization where people are pretty engaged. But there’s definitely still more to do to understand the carbon impacts of individual business decisions and which of those are material and which of those aren’t material. You know, we do spend quite a bit of time talking about things which are interesting. But not terribly material for us as an organization. So kind of really getting people to focus on the big, kind of hairy, difficult, challenging things and spend our time and attention on those. I think that’s an ongoing challenge, which, you know, I think people are up for. 

On the customer side, it’s really important obviously, and really interesting for us. How do people use the product? What do people really need? What does print-to-digital transition actually mean in publishing is the question I keep asking at the moment. So we know in the research sphere, as I said earlier researchers do read a lot online, but if you publish a book, you absolutely want a copy and you want a copy to give to all of your friends, and you want to make sure that when you walk into the library at your university, it’s there on a shelf, et cetera. And that’s an interesting challenge because, you know, at the same time, people’s user experience of academic literature is changing. So I think a challenge for us is what that shift to digital really means in other areas that we’ll always need to move slower and move faster. So the analogy I often give is, you know, a researcher who’s publishing amazing research from a university in North America. I think we can shift them away from paper copies of journals and books more quickly and more equitably than say, school children in parts of the world, which just are not ready for that level of a digital shift yet. So, you know, those are the sorts of choices that we need to make with our customers and explain why, you know, we might want ’em to move a bit faster.

Sam Maguire: Brilliant. So Thea, we’ve heard a lot about the great plans that you’ve got at Springer Nature. What makes you most excited about that journey that you’re going to go on? 

What are you most excited about on your sustainability journey?

Thea Sherer: So I think for us, the fact that, as I’ve mentioned, the content that we publish can really make a difference and the people that we work with in the research community are very, very committed to finding answers to problems, to kinda working together in different ways to do that sort of cross disciplines and so on. And we also know that there’s a really high regard for the worker scientists now. I think the pandemic has really driven home how important it is to understand the evidence, understand the science when you’ve got these really big challenges. So to be part of an ecosystem that’s working like that is really exciting and that’s something that means a lot to us as a business.

Another thing I would just say that makes me excited is that I think the quality of people who are coming into working in sustainability is really, really high. And, you know, just every week meeting somebody else who’s working in sustainability either at Springer Nature or somewhere else, and it’s just a kind of brilliant area to work in. That’s a consequence of some of those people. 

Sam Maguire: That makes sense. I think the thing that I’m most excited about, about Clarasys journey, about what’s going on here is seeing the journey that people going on who aren’t sustainability people, where they kind of go through, ‘this is important’, then they go away, we put them on learning programs and then you can see them getting it more and more and wanting to do more in this space and integrate it into their daily lives. And that’s just really exciting cause you can see the momentum shifting, which is really exciting. 

Brilliant. Well, listen, Thea, it’s been so lovely to talk to you today. Thank you so much for spending the time. If people wanna follow you on LinkedIn, Twitter, is that okay? Are you comfortable with that?

Thea Sherer: Of course. Yeah. Very, very happy. And connect as well. Like I said, I know there are lots of great people working in this space, so always happy to connect. 

Sam Maguire: Brilliant. Well, thanks again, and it’s been great talking to you. 

Want more?

READ: 10 key considerations for creating a sustainable operating model

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