In a victory for the environment, or maybe for marketing, two environmental groups announced today that the National Geographic Society will begin using recycled paper in its magazines.
More than two years after the society began discussions with an environmental group that targeted it with a "Practice What You Print" campaign, it has committed to using paper containing a whopping 5% post-recycled consumer content. Some magazine papers contain more than 90% recycled content.
But no one except an obscure blog called Dead Tree Edition paid any attention to that move. It's hard to rally the masses with a move that only a few paper geeks understand. Everyone knows what "recycled" means.
The 5% may be just a first step, the announcement indicated. And it could have greater reverberations if it inspires -- or pressures -- other magazine publishers to try recycled paper. Only about 3% of U.S. magazines use recycled on a regular basis, according to the Green America Better Paper Project.
Here's a look at the events leading up to today's announcement, followed by today's press release from Green America and the National Resources Defense Council:
- The Yellowing of National Geographic: Will Today's Copies Age Faster Than That Stack in Your Gramma's Attic?): This 2010 article revealed National Geographic's switch to coated groundwood and highlighted a Verso Paper study indicating that adding using more recycled and less virgin pulp in the magazine's paper would not reduce its carbon footprint.
- What Exactly Is Environmentally Preferable Paper?: The society worked with small land owners to increase the amount of environmentally certified forest lands in Maine, did a thorough life cycle assessment of its main magazine -- and saw the "Practice What You Print" campaign launched against it.
- Green Groups Turn the Heat Down on National Geographic But Up on KFC: Green America reveals "productive discussions" with NGS regarding the use of recycled paper.
- The Recycled Debate: Can We 'Get Beyond the Stereotypical Industry-Environmental Relationship'?: Frank Locantore of Green America and publishing pundit (and former production guy) BoSacks debate the environmental merits of recycled paper.
- Using Recycled Paper in Magazines Protects the Environment: Locantore discusses why the National Geographic Society "changed course on recycled fiber, walking away from its long held belief that using recovered fiber in its publications has negligible environmental benefit."
Washington, DC – July 17, 2014 –In a major step forward for the use of recycled paper in the magazine industry, the National Geographic Society (NGS) has begun incorporating recycled fiber in all the pages of National Geographic Magazine, National Geographic Kids, and National Geographic Little Kids. The shift clearly demonstrates the viability of using recycled paper for high quality photographic reproduction. This expanded use of recycled paper comes as a result of close collaboration with Green America and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
For large publishers that have been slow to adopt recycled fiber for their publications, the latest move by National Geographic—one of the most widely read and admired publications in the world—sends an important signal to the industry.
“The magazine that has showcased the natural wonders of the world for generations is now helping to preserve them in its very pages,” said Darby Hoover, NRDC senior resource specialist. “National Geographic’s world-renowned photography is unparalleled—if they can continue to captivate their audience in print by using recycled content, anyone can. By adding recycled fiber into their magazines, National Geographic is joining a growing movement that can help ensure the world’s forests can live on the pages of their magazine—instead of in them—for years to come.”
“National Geographic’s recycled paper use is a tipping point for recycled paper in the magazine industry,” Green America Better Paper Project Director Frank Locantore said. “National Geographic takes its environmental responsibility seriously and their recent commitment to using recycled paper helps further lower their greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. If National Geographic Magazine, with over four million print copies each month, can take this important step to use recycled paper, all magazines can follow their example.”
National Geographic is initially piloting magazine paper containing five percent postconsumer recycled fiber, and intends to continue testing the viability of papers with increased recycled content. This is an important first step, and the environmental groups have committed to working with National Geographic to increase recycled content in their magazines over time.
“For National Geographic, our goal – and our challenge – is to balance our desires to utilize as high a percentage of recycled fiber as possible, maintain the highest quality and aesthetic standards, produce affordable products and minimize our impact on the environment,” said Stephen Hughes, National Geographic’s vice president for global sourcing.
Environmental groups Green America and Natural Resources Defense Council have worked closely with NGS since 2011 to assess the impacts of NGS’ paper use and identify opportunities to reduce its environmental footprint. In 2013, Green America and NRDC joined with NGS on the most rigorous study to date of the benefits of using recycled fiber versus virgin fiber in magazine publications. Conducted by an independent third-party for NGS, the study found that recycled fiber is superior to virgin fiber in 14 out of 14 environmental categories, such as energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, the groups have been working together to develop a plan to incorporate recycled content into the pages of the NGS magazines.
There are over 15,000 magazine titles in the United States, with only about three percent regularly using recycled paper, according to the Green America Better Paper Project.
“The paper manufacturing playing field is dominated by the virgin fiber paper industry,” says Locantore. “That’s why National Geographic’s initial step to use postconsumer recycled content should help other publications understand that they can also begin using recycled paper while simultaneously building momentum to make recycled paper use the paradigm rather than the exception.”