Saturday, October 3, 2009

Three, or Maybe Four, Green Magazine Pioneers

While some magazine publishers get plenty of PR mileage from using paper with recycled content, the real leaders in making U.S. magazines greener have gone largely unheralded.

In a recent interview with Publishing Executive, I named three publishing companies that have been “industry pioneers” in making printed products greener. I had a fourth pioneer in mind as well but disqualified it from the list. More on that later.

Here are my green heroes:

Wenner Media
I’ve previously praised U.S. News & World Report for using Catalyst Cooled “manufactured carbon-neutral paper” throughout its “green” issue this year, but it was really following in the footsteps of Wenner’s Rolling Stone magazine. Two years ago, Wenner began changing the industry’s thinking on the environment away from simplistic discussions of recycled content when it announced that all of the magazine’s inside pages would be on Catalyst Cooled.

Wenner pays for a tree-planting program that offsets the already low carbon footprint of the paper. As far as I can tell, Wenner gets no PR or marketing mileage out of that commitment other than a small mention in each issue of the magazine. It is just doing the right thing, in good times and in bad.

Time Inc.
The “Evil Empire”, as competitors and even employees call Time, made a huge contribution by commissioning the extensive, landmark Heinz Center study in 2006 called "Following the Paper Trail". That study showed that the vast majority of a consumer magazine’s carbon footprint occurs at the paper mill and that the emissions of greenhouse gases vary widely from mill to mill.

Time also pioneered the ReMix (Recycling Magazines is Excellent!) advertising campaign that encourages consumers to recycle their magazines.

Check out this audio interview with Guy Gleysteen, Time Inc.’s production chief, who talks about how the company is lobbying paper suppliers on such issues as carbon footprint and sustainable forestry. He’s especially interesting when talking about the company’s motivation for these actions and why Time doesn't mention them in its marketing to consumers.

“The issues that you’d want to educate people on are complex and are not readily described in one or two lines that would appeal to a consumer,” says Gleysteen. He adds that Time’s efforts are about “putting our company into a position where we can be trusted relative to the resources that we use.”

Being green seems to permeate the company’s culture, from its award-winning LEED-certified headquarters in New York to the rooftop worm farms (Ooh, gross!) that recycle waste from its Good Housekeeping kitchens in London (Oh. Cool!).

“By the end of 2008, 70% of our magazine paper comprised certified fiber. We have set an interim goal of 80% by the end of 2009,” says the publisher’s "Being Green" report, perhaps the best example of environmental transparency in the U.S. publishing industry. As part of that effort, Hearst and Time went public this week with their campaign to help small forest owners in Maine get certified.

“Being Green” addresses the recycled issue clearly and correctly: “Hearst is currently using more than 15% post-consumer recycled (PCR) paper across its portfolio of publications, primarily in the newsprint we buy. After extensive review, we currently believe newspapers and other end uses (packaging, wallboard, etc.) are the most efficient use for recycled fiber, which continues to be in short supply.”

Now for the almost fourth hero: Readers Digest Association deserves some credit for using paper with 85% recycled content throughout Every Day with Rachael Ray.

As Hearst suggests, coated paper is often not the best use for recycled pulp. But if you’re going to print a magazine in the Midwest on relatively heavy coated-groundwood paper, Myllykoski’s Alsip, IL mill is a green choice. By mixing high-brightness recycled products, such as unsold magazines and printer waste, with curbside-collected paper and virgin kraft pulp, the mill is able to make good magazine paper without bleaching. (The mill’s products are too heavy for Rolling Stone and most Time Inc. magazines, by the way.)

As with Wenner’s announcement about Catalyst Cooled, the marketing of Every Day with Her Perkiness brought much-deserved attention to a paper maker that is greener than its larger competitors.

So why am I not giving RDA as much credit for being green as Wenner, Time, and Hearst? It turns out that Myllykoski already gave Readers Digest plenty of credit: The Finnish company was left holding the bag with $1.65 million in accounts payable when RDA went Chapter 11 in August. That's not exactly a great way to reward a supplier for its environmentally friendly practices.

Do you disagree with my choices of magazine-industry green heroes? Then make your voice heard, not only by commenting on this article but also by entering the 2009 Aveda Environmental Award for Magazines.

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