RELX Group: Engaging Suppliers on Sustainable Paper

Name of Company

RELX Group

Country of Origin

United Kingdom





Issue Covered

Labour, Environment, General


Engagement with Suppliers

Sub Categories

Climate Change, Energy, Biodiversity, Sustainable Agriculture


Production paper has decreased by 34% between 2008-2014 as we deliver more products and services online. However in 2014, production paper increased by 6% over 2013, due to increased customer demand in some markets for print products. It remains important that we understand the sustainability of the paper we purchase.

Description of Program or Activity

To ensure suppliers meet the ethical standards we set for our own behaviour, we began the Reed Elsevier (RE) Socially Responsible Supplier (SRS) programme in 2003. The cornerstone is the Reed Elsevier Supplier Code of Conduct incorporating the ten principles of the UNGC, which we ask suppliers to sign and post prominently in their workplace.The Supplier Code helps suppliers spread best practice through their own supply chain by requiring subcontractors to enter into a written commitment that they will uphold the Supplier Code. The programme also includes internal and external audits – with remediation of any issues identified, supplier training, and surveys.  

The first step in trying to understand the sustainability of the paper we buy (and provide to those who print on our behalf) was asking paper suppliers to sign the Supplier Code and including them in our internal and external auditing process.  We also launched an annual paper survey.  We began by concentrating on environmental questions about things like mill standards, forest certification, recycled content, bleaching, resource reduction efforts, and environmental targets.  However starting in 2008, we broadened the survey to engage with paper suppliers on all elements of the Supplier Code and the ten principles.  For example, each year we ask them to tell us how they ensure they do not use child and involuntary labour, how they avoid workplace discrimination, and promote freedom of association.

Since 2006, we have been able to build on the environmental information paper suppliers give us as founding members of Publishers Database for Responsible Environmental Paper Sourcing (PREPS). This collaboration with peers facing similar supply chain paper risks, features a database outlining the technical specifications of pulps and forest sources of our papers. Each paper is given one (lowest) to five (highest) stars according to sustainability criteria in the Egmont© grading system, encompassing recognised forest certification standards like FSC. The grading system was initially developed by PREPS member Egmont UK Ltd, with UK sustainability consultants Acona, along with input from Greenpeace and WWF.  Papers graded three and above are considered as deriving from known and legal sources. 

PREPS has become the largest paper database with over 4,000 papers. With help from our paper suppliers, by the close of 2009 95% of RE papers by weight were on PREPS, of which 70% has been graded, all achieving three, four, or five stars. We have now developed an RE Paper Policy that indicates we should buy paper starred three or above wherever possible.

We are continuing to find ways to meaningfully engage paper suppliers and have been providing training on calculating and reporting carbon emissions according to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

Lessons Learned

RE have learned that when facing a big supply chain task, like determining the sustainability of their paper, it is best to get started and gain experience, and then to expand the effort.


The SRS programme allows RE to manage their supply chain risks and opportunities, thereby contributing to the strength of their reputation. It engenders good relations with stakeholders, including investors and employees. For example, in 2014 RELX Group was ranked third of top 20 media companies in InCompany’s corporate reputation poll based on brand awareness among Dutch employees, business partners and investors. And in their last global Employee Opinion Survey, 88% of staff said that RE is a company that supports community engagement.

Through the SRS programme and by taking part in the PREPs initiative, RE now have a far greater understanding of paper sustainability in their supply chain. It contributes to a common approach to paper sustainability among peers and has allowed RE to make more sustainable paper procurement choices.