World of Books is a website that sells mostly second-hand books. While this review focuses on their UK operations, the company also runs in the US, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and France. They also have an impact report on their website, that provides an overview of how the company is performing on sustainability (i.e.: how their carbon footprint has changed, the gender pay gap at their company). This is not universal, given that Waterstones and Bookshop.org*, do not have publicly available impact reports on their websites. What I appreciate about World of Books is that they have made sustainability a priority in their business model and their culture, but it doesn’t appear to be tacked onto their business. Instead it seems to be something they have considered since starting the business. The books are second-hand, but they also have met commitments to reduce the carbon footprints of each book sold by 30%, and have supported charities. One way they support charities is by donating leftover books to educational charities. The other way is by buying books donated to charity shops that would otherwise not be sold. However, I also felt that World of Books could give more detail on how they are benefitting people, including their staff, so they could set an example in the bookselling sector in pioneering positive change.
The World of Books origin story is that their founders wanted to avoids books that are unsold by charity stores going to landfill. They buy books from second-hand stores, or charity shops, and through an online platform they own called Ziffit. These two sources means organisations with lots of unsold used books sell them to World of Books. Because a large number of items in charity stores are unsold, many donated items end up in landfills. So World of Books could potentially reduce waste, by advertising these books to a larger audience than small charity stores would. The carbon emitted from a book decomposing in landfill can be twice as much as the amount that is produced when books are first manufactured. So preventing waste reduces carbon emissions, and slightly reduces the amount of waste negatively impacting on the health of communities near landfills. Books can last a long time, so if they’re not too damaged it makes sense to encourage their reuse. The alternative to reuse is buying new books or online books. An obvious environmental impact of printed books is that they require paper. The amount of wood needed for a book varies greatly between different types of paper, tree species, production processes, and the design of the books themselves. A Sierra Club post estimated that there is about 10-20k sheets of paper in a hardwood tree. However, there are not any reliable estimates of how much exactly would be used. But it is important to keep in mind that paper production is a major source of deforestation, even if books are a tiny fraction of this. In relation to carbon emissions, generally the production is a small part of the emissions. Instead, transporting the book and it’s decomposition contribute more. So, re-selling doesn’t necessarily address the carbon footprint of transport. Similarly, the New York Times also estimated that most of the mineral use for books was from the gravel in deliveries, not the book production. Therefore, how World of Books approach their logistics is a big part of a books environmental impact. One downside to buying old books is that royalties are usually not sent to the publishers, and therefore that authors, illustrators and people who made the book. World of Books are piloting a scheme that uses a fund that gives similar payments based off the second-hand books sold on their site. They do also sell new books, since 2020, to provide a better catalogue. Still, 70% of people purchasing a new book also bought a used book. In conclusion, the main benefits of buying books on World of Books is that it reduces waste, and the need for new books. I think that World of Books materials are good- in that it reduces waste as part of its business model.
World of Books openly brands itself as dedicated to reducing their carbon footprint, particularly in their focus on a circular economy and in reducing its environmental impacts. They have reduced their carbon emissions as a business overall and met a target of reducing carbon emissions per book sold by 30% by 2020. Their future goals include carbon neutrality by 2022, and net-zero by 2030. This suggests they have recognised the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions outside their own business and in their communities. They have also stated that their focus is on reducing emissions rather than offsetting them. Overall, their efforts seem commendable and involve different aspects of the business, from retrofitting their headquarters, to reducing mileage in book collections. That said, the working conditions for warehouse staff is an important issue, and many reports being underpaid for working long shifts and in unsafe conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this. There are mixed first-hand reviews about their warehouse on Indeed (a job search site). World of Books say they responded to the COVID pandemic with social distancing measures earlier than mandated by the government. They also report on gender equity and state that they care about their workers. Although, I am not sure how exceptional any of this is - this is a bare minimum that a lot of companies claim to be doing. There has been a lot of reports of unsafe working conditions in different companies warehouses in the UK, so I would be skeptical about any claims. It is a serious issue that needs to be thoroughly addressed. To be fair though, there aren’t any negative news reports about World of Books’ warehouses and hopefully these workplaces are safe and fair. Overall, World of Books has taken steps to make their operations have lower carbon footprints, reduce waste and have good work environments. But, there still needs to be more emissions reductions, rather than offsets, and evidence of accountability to benefitting people.
World of Books was founded in 2002 in the UK, and has since become a global reselling or ‘re-commerce’ business. Their purpose is to be “a circular economy, for-profit company that protects the planet and supports charities by helping people reuse.” Alongside the book reselling site, they own ziffit.com, an app to sell books, electronics, and video games, and they run Shopiago, a sales software that charities use to raise revenue through selling products themselves. All of their services run in tandem and seem to fit their mission around circular economies and benefitting people via books. There was a focus on book collection during lockdown, and because charity shops were not able to open, this reduced the charity stores’ losses. Their values are responsibility (to each other + the planet), action (to improve the business for stakeholders). In terms of positive social impacts, World of Books runs a number of initiatives to support charities and support social causes. They highlight the 4th SDG, Quality Education, as one where they significantly contribute, as they donate to schools in the UK and internationally via charities like OwnBooks and Books2Africa. Their donation programme, however, was paused in the pandemic, and it missed their target significantly. So there’s definitely more that can be done in this area. Overall, World of Books does seem to be committed to its values. However, I think they definitely could be more ‘pioneering’ in their aims. A lot of their targets are good, but they’re nothing groundbreaking.