Discovering Profit in Sustainability
Does the current magazine business model have anything to do with sustainability? Not the ability to sustain ourselves as a business, but rather the new-age definition of environmental sustainability as defined by Wal-Mart. You remember Wal-Mart—the conglomerate that distributes nearly 25 percent of all newsstand titles? Oh, yes, you remember Wal-Mart—the mega-discount retailer that recently cut 1,000 magazine titles from its roster. But did you ever wonder why it did that?
As I found on the Wal-Mart Web site, “through sustainability, Wal-Mart has saved billions of dollars in costs and has begun to drive profitable product innovation. Our goal: Offer our customers an increasing volume of affordable, sustainable products that help them live better every day.” Wal-Mart wants to improve the quality of life for people on a global basis. Wal-Mart is preaching and insisting on accountability for sustainability with all vendors.
This may sound like corporate rhetoric, but it isn’t. Wal-Mart is serious. It has discovered profit in the new mantra of sustainability. It has saved $10 billion in improved, sustainable packaging. It has increased efficiency in its truck fleets by 15 percent. It is in hot pursuit for two reasons. One, it makes good business sense. The savings that it is experiencing are dramatic and have been achieved by many other companies as well. Two, the public has come around to the concept and now is starting to demand sustainability in the products it buys.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that sustainable development marries two important themes:
1. environmental protection does not preclude economic development; and
2. economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.
What does this have to do with magazines? Everything! We are not yet a sustainable business under Wal-Mart’s definitions. This is an important concept for us to recognize. I have been ranting for years about our inefficient distribution system. I have also said that if we don’t fix it from the inside, outside forces will fix it for us. Well, there you have it; those forces are in action as we speak. Do you think this sustainability movement will just go away? Do you wish to continue with business as usual? Are you developing a distribution plan for the future? And by the future, I don’t mean your next issue—I mean next year and the years after that.