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From the RSA Chief Executive - Publishing, the Pandemic and going Naked and Plastic Free

Journals News
Journals News RSA Blog

The RSA is going naked and plastic free with its journals. What does this mean? Well in short, it means we are removing all plastic lamination from the covers of our journals and will begin sending our journals to members still receiving the printed copy without a plastic covering.

The Regional Studies Association’s values are to be a “Leading” and “Impactful” “Community” and as such we have long supported drives to improve our sustainability performance and decrease our environmental impact.

To reduce our own carbon footprint, the RSA team have reduced physical materials shipped to conferences and only essential staff members attend. At our events, we aim to reduce single-use plastic, where possible using paper badges which can easily be recycled, and we have actively been reducing the amount of printed paper used at conferences for a number of years. We ran our first fully paper-free conference in 2019.

For a number of years, RSA members have been offered the choice to opt out of receiving printed journal copies of three of our hybrid titles, receiving access instead to the content online. But we are aware that for some members, access to the printed journal is important, so we have been seeking ways to make this option as environmentally sound as possible.


What is the current position?

All RSA members will retain the choice of receiving both print and online copies of three of our hybrid journals. Regional Studies, Regional Science is gold open access and only available online. Area Development and Policy is currently sent in a single annual volume to all members. This is because it’s still a relatively young journal and we are seeking to raise the profile of the work that it publishes. ADP’s focus is on the wider BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and allows researchers to write in their own territorial research and writing tradition. By sending this journal in print to all our members we hope to expose these legitimate but sometimes non-Western ways of working to a wider and accepting audience.


Pandemic Effects

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we rapidly became aware that many members were separated from their journals which were posted to their offices. We made it possible to easily change delivery addresses but also to access the content online with all the advantages of searchability. As a result, many members took the decision to stop receiving print copies altogether.

Although this is great for the environment, it runs the risk that members become out of touch with the journals and for this reason the RSA Board has decided to send journal alerts to all members. These are short click through emails produced by the publisher to alert readers to new content.  Because we publish five journals, in 25 issues and articles for RSRS stream online when ready, this could mean 30 or so emails a year and so we’ve ensured that members will be able to easily unsubscribe to this service. The advantage of it is that our members won’t miss a key article in their field and will receive prompts rather than needing to remember to check the portal.


What to expect going forward?

Working alongside our Publisher, Taylor and Francis (owners of the imprint Routledge), the RSA have tested the possibility of removing all plastics from the manufacture and despatch of journal copies This is a genuinely world leading initiative as Taylor and Francis are amongst the first academic publishers to remove plastic from their print supply chain.

Plastics have become a dirty word and with good reason. They’re detrimental to the environment, not a sustainable resource, and are used extensively in journals production when laminating covers and mailing to customers. To go plastic free, we needed to remove the lamination from our journal covers and use a non-plastic packaging to send copies. The best and most sustainable solution is to mail without any packaging at all: naked mailing.

All our print journals are switching as fast as possible to unlaminated plastic free covers. The high gloss finish will go, the covers still have a sheen but may scratch more easily.

The journal will ship as it is – naked. There will be no wrapping on it at all and the back cover will be used to carry the shipping information such as name and address. The information formerly on the back cover moves to the inside of the journal.

What else are we doing to be more sustainable in our publishing?

Working with Taylor and Francis, we have been involved in many initiatives to make the print and supply of our journals sustainable. By working with our publishers, the Association is working with an organisation that is itself seeking to reduce its impact on the environment.  Across their portfolio, Taylor and Francis have been using biodegradeable polywrap for some time, alongside initiatives to actively manage print runs to reduce overstock that must be recycled. In 2015 they introduced an innovative print on demand process meaning that most journal copies are only printed when ordered. All ink used in print journals is from vegetable sources and is responsibly disposed of. 100% FSC certified paper is used. In 2020, their parent company, Informa, was recognised by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) when it ranked in the 99th percentile of the publishing, media and entertainment sector and as the second most sustainable company in the sector. Taylor and Francis are also exploring eliminating the carbon impact of journals by making their supply chain carbon neutral.

By the end of 2020, Taylor and Francis had removed plastic from over 900 journals (around 50% of printed journals), eliminating around 1,000,000 plastic laminations and 1.5 million plastic wrappers – the equivalent weight of about three cars. Their aim is to hit 90% uptake in 2021, and 100% by the end of 2022. Stewart Gardiner, Taylor and Francis’ Journals Global Production Director, has led this initiative: “According to The Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean every year, turning into microplastics which have a significant negative impact on the health of living beings, both on land and at sea. Taylor & Francis is excited to lead the publishing field and influence others to help reduce unnecessary plastic”.

We thank our publishers, Taylor and Francis, for instigating changes to their production and dispatch systems that allow us to benefit from this. The Association has long had a policy addressing our own sustainability and climate change impacts.  Even small changes cumulatively add up and the removal of plastic from publishing processes will have a substantial impact in the round.



Sally Hardy, CEO, Regional Studies Association, began her career at the Economic and Social Research Council where she worked as a Scientific Officer in the Industry and Employment Committee dispensing funding to UK based social science academics. Sally moved to the Regional Studies Association where she has been CEO for just over 30 years. She has developed the organisation from a small, UK focused organisation into a global Association with an international footprint. Sally has become an advocate on publishing issues for the learned society sector speaking regularly at national conferences and events.


Sarah Bird, Portfolio Manager, Geography, Urban and Regional Studies Journals, Routledge, Taylor and Francis


With acknowledgement to the T&F teams, including the Journals Supplier Management team, Informa Sustainability team and Journals Production teams who have made this important and welcome change possible – thank you!


Are you currently involved with regional research, policy, and development? The Regional Studies Association is accepting articles for their online blog. For more information, contact the Blog Editor at

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