An abbreviated version of this article appears in the December issue of Publishing Executive magazine under the title “Looking to Make Your Magazines ‘Greener’? – Take This Quiz First”. Yeah, that’s right, I’ve actually written something for a real dead tree edition of a magazine, though you can also check it out on PubExec’s dead dinosaur edition. Although geared to magazines, the quiz is relevant to other printed materials, especially catalogs.
I started trying some years ago to make the magazines on which I work more environmentally friendly, but there was a big problem: Me.
It took me a long time to realize that much of what I believed regarding the environmental impact of magazine publishing was misguided or just plain wrong. The realization that I'm "an environmental idiot" has inspired me to devote many of the articles at Dead Tree Edition to publishing-related environmental issues.
Rather than subjecting you to another let’s-all-go-green pep talk, I compiled the following quiz to help you recognize gaps in your knowledge. I hope it provides you useful information you can use to make informed decisions about the environment.
Q: Which of the following constitutes the largest portion of the typical American magazine’s carbon footprint?
b) Distributing the magazine, including freight and postal services
c) Paper manufacturing
d) Cutting the trees to produce the paper
e) The hot air generated by loquacious writers and pompous editors.
A: (C), paper manufacturing. A study commissioned by Time Inc. found that 77% of one magazine’s carbon footprint and 61% of another’s occurred in the manufacturing of pulp and paper. Subsequent studies by others have reached similar conclusions. Making paper is an energy-intensive process, with some mills generating more than a ton of carbon dioxide and equivalents for every ton of paper they produce.
Q: True or false, anything you do to make your publication greener will cost you money.
A: False. Here are some things you can do that won’t cost you a dime or that might even save you money:
• Display a “Please Recycle This Magazine” logo prominently in your publication. Magazine Publishers of America offers free downloads of the logo, even to non-members, as well as several public service announcements.
• Have the paper you purchase shipped in full railcars. See Use Rail to Lower Your Carbon Footprint for more on this potentially money-saving tactic.
• Use Gray Component Replacement (GCR) to reduce ink consumption. Money-Saving Trend: Using GCR to Reduce Ink Consumption explains how.
• Check whether you are using the optimal roll sizes of paper. It’s amazing how often printers quote, and publishers use, roll sizes that are wider than necessary.
• Ask your paper suppliers what they are doing to minimize their carbon footprint. The more they hear that customers are concerned about this, the more they will focus on reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases.
• An obvious one: Print as little as you need. Clean up mailing lists. Reduce newsstand shipments to underperforming locations. Eliminate unnecessary office and inventory copies.
Q: Which has a lower carbon footprint:
a) Paper made nearby at a mill with a high carbon footprint, or
b) Paper shipped halfway across the continent from a low-carbon mill?
A: While generalizations are always dangerous (How’s that for a generalization?), the answer is almost always (b). Transport of paper to printing plants is a tiny portion of the typical magazine’s carbon footprint, while paper manufacturing usually accounts for the majority. The variation in carbon footprint from one mill to another is much greater than the total footprint of the freight. The Time Inc.-commissioned study put transport to the printer at only about 1% to 2% of the total footprint.
Q: Is it easy to compare the carbon footprints of two competing paper mills?
A: Not at all. For example, if you include the carbon footprint of electricity used by mills, you will penalize those that are located in areas where the utilities happen to rely on coal. But if you don’t, you will fail to recognize those that generate green power on site through hydroelectric dams or other means. Rather than looking for a single number from a paper supplier, you should discuss what comprises that footprint, what the mill is doing to reduce its environmental impact, and what you as a customer can do to help.
Q: True or false, environmentally preferable paper always has high PCW (post-consumer waste) content.
A: False. Using PCW in North America to make magazine-quality paper can actually be bad for the environment if it involves “up-cycling”, as explained in I'm an environmental idiot!. Using large amounts of recycled pulp is especially challenging in lightweight papers, which can still be a good choice environmentally because of their efficient use of pulp. By the way, the U.S. is one of the few countries that distinguishes between PCW and other waste; in most of the world, recycled paper is recycled paper.
Q: When you buy paper that has virgin content, you should favor suppliers who promise to plant one tree for every one they harvest, right?
A: Wrong. Generally speaking, there is no need to plant trees in a sustainably managed forest, as Cutting some trees but saving the forest explains. And Illegal Logging in Indonesia: Not Funny shows that tree-planting programs can indicate unsustainable forestry.
Q: Does all sustainably harvested fiber have a certification from an organization like the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative?
A: No. There is plenty of sustainable forestry that is not certified. That’s especially true in places like Maine and Finland where much of the forest is in the hands of small landowners because the FSC and SFI guidelines are more suited to large corporate and government land owners. There has also been criticism of the forestry practices of some certified logging operations, though it’s hard to separate fact from fiction because the certification organizations seem to be putting more resources into fighting each other than into promoting sustainable forestry. Still, using paper with certified fiber is the easiest way to ensure it comes from sustainable forestry.
Q: Are printers and paper mills that have chain-of-custody certification more environmentally friendly than those that don’t?
A: Not necessarily. CoC certification has nothing to do with an organization’s environmental practices, just its ability to track which fiber or paper was used on a particular job. Only certification of specific paper -- not of a mill or printing plant -- matters.
Q: Does the harvesting of trees in North America cause or prevent deforestation?
A: Both. Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund, explains how logging can prevent deforestation: “We know that forests offering value economically and socially are more likely to continue offering value environmentally. And the economic value is an added incentive for owners to manage their forests with care, and to maintain them as forest rather than selling them for profit -- which often results in the forests being turned into malls or subdivisions.” Logging can cause environmental damage but rarely leads to true deforestation, which is the permanent loss of forest. Agriculture and development are more common causes of deforestation.
Q: Does delivering content electronically rather than in printed products save trees and help the environment?
A: Not necessarily. Data centers and electronic gadgets are huge consumers of electricity. While paper mills often rely heavily on renewable resources for their power, conventional electricity typically comes from coal or petroleum. That’s why I refer to digital content as “dead dinosaur editions” (as opposed to ink-on-paper “dead tree editions”). The mountaintop-removal method of coal mining and the processing of oil sands for petroleum are both significant sources of deforestation in North America. See Smackdown: Printed Editions vs. Digital Editions for more on how the environmental footprint of dead-dinosaur editions compares with that of printed editions.
Q: Will publishers that make their products more environmentally sustainable be more profitable as a result?
A: Some people take it as an act of faith that “Green business is good business”, but they don’t seem to be the ones actually making the magazine industry greener. Guy Gleysteen, who heads up production for North America’s largest magazine publisher, Time Inc., says going green is “about doing the right thing” because a publisher’s sustainability efforts “are not readily described in one or two lines that would appeal to a consumer.”
And just because some advertisers are touting their green efforts, don’t expect that to influence how they advertise. For the most part, the decisions about where to advertise are still placed in the hands of 23-year-old media buyers who have only been told to compare CPMs (cost per thousand), not carbon footprints.
Let's hope some day our customers demand that we be green. And let's be ready for that day.