Guest Column: Looking to Make Your Magazines ‘Greener’?
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.
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 and to provide you with useful information that can help you make more informed decisions in your efforts to go "green."
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 percent of one magazine's carbon footprint and 61 percent 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: 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. study mentioned earlier puts transport to the printer at about 1 percent to 2 percent of the footprint.