Guest Column: Being ‘Green’ Not a Priority?
A new challenge faces every businessperson in the marketplace today. The definition of "quality" has changed. There's a new element in the quality formula for products and services of all kinds (including books and magazines): sustainability.
Consumers increasingly make buying decisions based on the environmental impact of their purchases. As the human population and technology put increasingly heavy demands on natural resources, environmental concerns take up more and more space in the daily news. Unfortunately, thanks to population growth and industrial development, that trend is likely to continue, and concern for the environment will grow. The value of sustainable business practices to your marketing efforts and the perceived quality of your product is going to grow as well.
The competitive penalty for paying no attention to sustainability is going to be increasingly painful. Businesses without a sustainability platform will look more and more like dinosaurs complacently chewing their ferns while the glaciers advance.
Every successful brand will, eventually, have to invest in sustainability.
Great companies in every industry are already paying new attention to their provenance, the people and processes through which their products are created, and the implications of those processes for people and the planet. The best marketers are attaching compelling narratives to their products, telling the story of the careful ways they choose suppliers, protect their employees and conserve natural resources.
Few truly sustainable businesses exist today. Almost all of us use more natural resources than we create. Thankfully, we don't have to be perfectly sustainable in order to promote sustainability. Like the camper in grizzly country, we don't have to run faster than the bear. We only have to run faster than the other campers. The sustainability discussion provides a great opportunity for getting ahead of your competitors.
Publishers are not often recognized as champions of the environment. Far too often we seem to be debating the environmentalists. Many publishers and printers, for instance, like to argue against the virtues of recycled paper. My company is one of the largest consumers of recycled magazine paper in North America, but I'm happy to acknowledge that recycled paper is not always better, environmentally, than virgin paper from responsible sources.
Still, if you publicly criticize the value of recycled paper, you tend to sound like parents of the 1960s who said that rock 'n' roll was not music. They had a point, but the assertion destroyed their credibility with young people. We can't afford to do that.
In general, the use of recycled paper is good—in fact, very good—for the environment, and it's popular with end users.
When we started printing our biggest magazine, Mother Earth News, on recycled paper eight years ago, the price was about 15 percent above that of virgin paper. Because sustainability is our subject matter, we figured it was a good idea anyway. Over the years, the quality of our recycled paper has improved dramatically, and the price has come down to the point where it is competitive with virgin papers.
The more publishers start using recycled stock, the more high-quality recycled paper will be available. New demand also is creating new value in white papers we harvest for recycled pulp, thereby improving the economics and infrastructure of recycling.
Assert Your 'Greenness'
There are a bunch of efficient ways to assert your organization's commitment to sustainability, many of which may even reduce your costs. Here are some of our favorites at Ogden Publications, in order of cost savings and simplicity:
1. Install digital thermostats that shut off climate control when your office is empty.
2. Install efficient ballasts and bulbs in office lighting fixtures. Provide natural light wherever possible.
3. Change power settings on your computers for minimum power usage.
4. Buy mass-transit tickets for employees.
5. Offer special parking for carpools.
6. Offer special parking for bicycles and motorcycles.
7. Make sure you are soft-proofing on screen and that your prepress processes take content direct to the plate.
8. E-mail everything possible, rather than shipping hard copies.
9. Use a laptop and a projector to display layouts for group editing.
10. Teleconference rather than traveling, when possible.
11. Promote automatic renewals for subscription products. When they are "earth-friendly," consumers like them!
12. Sell content in digital formats, and deliver it electronically.
13. Switch to recycled paper for publications, promotions and office paper.
14. Recycle as much as possible around the office. Make it easier to find a recycling bin than a trash can.
15. Repurpose office paper as note pads.
16. Run "Please Recycle" house ads in your publications.
17. When buying new equipment, choose the most energy-efficient models.
18. When taking proposals from vendors, ask them to list their contributions to sustainability. If they draw a blank, give them a copy of this column.
19. Tell your story. When you've made an investment in sustainability, your customers will want to know about it. It's not bragging. It's marketing information.
20. Never, never, never exaggerate your positive contribution. It would be hard to live down the bad press if you're exposed.
A powerful side benefit exists for companies that bring a sense of conscientiousness—environmental or otherwise—to the workplace. Conscientious companies attract conscientious employees. Conscientious employees make their companies more efficient and productive because they work hard. Doing business with a conscience is just good business. PE
Bryan Welch runs Ogden Publications, Inc., which publishes 11 leading magazines in the sustainable-lifestyle, rural-lifestyle and collectible categories, including Mother Earth News, Natural Home & Garden, and Utne Reader. It also provides companies of all sizes with strategic consulting services on marketing to conscientious consumers. Welch and his wife, Carolyn, raise organic, grass-fed cattle, sheep and goats on a 50-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas. He serves on the boards of directors of The Association of Magazine Media (formerly Magazine Publishers of America), the Social Ventures Network and the Down Home Ranch Foundation.