Most departments looked pretty much the same -- people sitting at computers. OK, you could spot the designers because they had Macs and big monitors, but otherwise the differences were subtle -- a bit more phone chatter in ad sales, more arguments in editorial, more gossip in circulation.
As an environmentalist, I noticed that every department had recycling bins. And whether people worked mostly in old media or new media, they used those bins the same: as garbage cans.
Then I rounded a corner and saw it -- a recycling bin with a cover that had two holes, indicating it was for bottles and cans. And it actually contained only bottles and cans!
"For paper only"
Nearby was another recycling bin with a sign saying, "For paper only." And people were actually obeying the sign!
I knew right away I was in the production department. (Some of my colleagues in the industry like to call it the operations department because these days they're also doing things like preparing mailings, building web pages, or selling reprints. And some like to call it the manufacturing department, which really throws off the people who cold-call on behalf of factory consultants, only to find that American magazine publishers outsource all of their manufacturing.)
Anyway, this was not an isolated incident. I consistently find that the people in the industry who really care about environmental issues are the ones who buy paper or put ink on it.
They're the only ones you'll hear talking about sustainable forestry, carbon footprint, and the differences between pre-consumer and post-consumer waste (a distinction unique to North America). They understand that forestry industries can benefit the environment, or harm it, and they often wrestle with how to make their companies' paper purchases and other practices more sustainable.
The "print is dead" gang
Meanwhile, the "print is dead" types ignorantly assume they're saving trees, oblivious to the environmental footprints of the web and digital devices. And they rarely lift a finger to make their work any greener.
A similar dichotomy shows up in government. It's no accident that the U.S. Postal Service, the nation's primary distributor of printed pieces, has been far more active on the sustainability front than any other federal agency. There's something about handling printed products that makes people and organizations more environmentally aware and inspires them to take responsibility
As I noted last week, the dichotomy occurs even at Hearst Corporation, arguably one of the world's greenest large companies. (See Killah in Manilla: Hearst's Green Reputation Tarnished by Subsidiary.)
Hearst's traditional publishing people have meticulously documented the fiber sourcing of the company's magazine paper, pressured paper suppliers to use more sustainable forestry, led industry efforts to make the supply chain greener, and even installed a worm farm at one office. But then an all-digital subsidiary called Manilla ignorantly claimed that its involvement in the "Paperless 2013" campaign will "help improve the environment."
You wanna bet which part of Hearst -- the production department or Manilla -- makes the best use of its recycling bins?
- The Takeover of Paperless 2013: How a grassroots guerrilla army is fighting back against the greenwashing sponsored by Manilla, Google and other companies.
- Who is Really Behind #Paperless2013?: Can the anti-greenwashing forces claim partial victory?
- OK, Johnny, Now Greenwash Your Hands: Another anti-paper effort based on false premises. And speaking of drying your hands, don't miss this gem: Increased Incidence of Gastroenteritis and The Flu - Could the Solution be Hand Drying With Paper Towels?