Your Oxford Story: Zoë Cokeliss Barsley

31 March 2023
3 min read
Director of Sustainability – Oxford University Press

Zoë Cokeliss Barsley

“I wanted to make a difference within business, and be actively involved in managing a company’s environmental impacts.”

My Oxford story began in 1999, when I came to Somerville College—just over the road from OUP’s Oxford headquarters—to study Biological Sciences. I couldn’t have known at the time that I’d be right back in the area two decades later. 

That first period living in Oxford was a whirlwind of lectures, formal halls, and late nights in the library. When we were given our essay briefs, friends used to race to the Radcliffe Science Library on their bikes to get hold of relevant journal copies before anyone else. Nothing was online then – that wouldn’t need to happen now, with digital platforms such as Oxford Academic providing access to research. 

I left Oxford keen to pursue a career in nature conservation and spent the following year doing a Conservation MSc at University College London. That was a springboard to two fascinating biodiversity research roles, first at the Zoological Society of London and then at the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. 

Increasingly, though, I wanted to make a difference within business, and be actively involved in managing a company’s environmental impacts. After a stint in consultancy, which gave me great insights into sustainability practices in sectors ranging from mining to telecoms, I landed a job in the corporate responsibility team at Pentland, the owner of sports, outdoor, and fashion brands including Speedo and Berghaus. 

Ten years and a variety of corporate responsibility roles later, I joined OUP as Director of Sustainability in 2020. As part of our Technology and Operations senior leadership team, I work with colleagues from across the organization to better understand our environmental impacts and plan the steps we need to take to mitigate them. 

I’m really proud of the sustainability progress we’ve made across the Press over the past couple of years, from calculating our carbon footprint and setting our 2025 targets, to launching our first Responsible Publishing Report last year (the latest edition for 2022/23 is available here). We’ve made great strides in our efforts to source sustainable paper and are working with others in our industry through groups such as the Book Chain Project to get a clearer picture of the true footprint of the print supply chain, and of our online content. 

We’re also looking beyond environmental sustainability, to consider OUP’s contribution to sustainable development more broadly. We are a signatory to the UN Sustainable Development Goal Publisher’s Compact, and have made commitments to raise awareness about SDG topics through our content, marketing materials, and stakeholder engagement. On 25th April, we’ll be holding the Oxford Forum, a free, online event which will bring together OUP’s global community to explore our shared mission of building a sustainable future for education and research. I’ll be chairing a session on climate action, and I am looking forward to a lively debate on how content providers, including publishers, can best inspire positive change.