by Rebecca Carter
Categories: Internet.

Our online acquaintance Marc Gunther recently wrote a post entitled “Oprah Winfrey, Destroyer of Forests?” where he delves into the magazine industry’s paper practices, specifically those of O The Oprah Magazine. Being that we are Ecorazzi, our ears perked up and we began investigating even more.

About the Magazine Industry

First of all, the magazine industry has a lot of room for improvement. And we mean a lot. Over 95% of all magazine paper does not include recycled content. That means it’s virgin paper. That means trees.

In theory, the magazines should be sourcing their paper from certified plantations that exist to grow trees. However, like mass production of food or flowers, these places use massive amounts of herbicides. All of that nastiness gets into the groundwater. When talking about herbicides, you also need to concern yourself with the poor people whose job it is to apply these chemicals. They get sick, cancer rates increase, and more. In other countries, the paper industry brings along with it a lot of social issues like mistreating land or taking it away from its people.

So even when the magazines are getting their paper from “appropriate” forests, it still doesn’t look like a great situation. That and the fact that paper production is the 3rd largest user of energy, emits lots of greenhouse gases and creates significant solid waste, leads us to learn more about the magazine industry in general.

Here’s the number that just kills me: 60-70% of magazines that are sent to newsstands are never sold. That is a huge amount of overproduction, especially considering that 95% of that paper was brand new. Much of that probably gets recycled, but when magazine paper gets recycled, it lessens the quality of the fiber considerably, and it  winds up as something like newspaper.

Follow the jump to find out how Oprah fits into this story, and what should be done to improve the situation.

The number one thing that experts say that magazines can do to improve environmentally is to incorporate post consumer recycled paper into their pages. This saves trees, saves waste, and requires less energy to produce than new paper. Every magazine should be able to incorporate at least 10% post-consumer recycled paper into their mix.

How Oprah Fits In

So after learning much of what we’ve already explained, Marc Gunther started looking into the practices of O The Oprah Magazine. What he got was the run around. Oprah’s people say they support their publisher, Hearst. Hearst didn’t really say much of anything. And we get the feeling that if they were doing anything good on the environmental front, they would probably say so.

Marc quotes the executive director of Forest Ethics, Todd Paglia, as saying:

Like every publisher, Oprah has a duty to address the environmental impact of her magazine – and I am sure there is vast room for improvement – but her status as a cultural icon gives her the opportunity to do much more.

She’s already gotten millions of people to read more. Can you imagine what she could do if she helped re-frame the debate around environmental issues to emphasize concrete, positive steps that individuals, companies and governments can and must take right now?

It’s very true. Oprah is in a position of influence unlike almost anyone else in the world. She could influence not only her own magazine, but the entire industry.

What Is Being Done and Should Be Done

The Magazine Publishers of America just launched a new program that will encourage individual readers to recycle their magazines, stating that only 20% are currently recycled from home, while 66% of the people have access to magazine recycling.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it’d be nice if they would visit the post-consumer recycled content issues in their own house, too. One problem that the Please Recycle campaign is highlighting is that magazines with special inserts like CD, samples, or anything that isn’t paper, are tougher to recycle. All of that stuff has to be removed before the magazine can enter the recycling process. If not, it will create some major issues later on. Hopefully magazines will begin to encourage advertisers not to go this route, and advertisers will stop asking for it. However, the association didn’t actually ask the magazines to do anything about it. Too bad.

In fact, advertisers can really lead the way in general. Aveda has been the leader in reviewing magazine practices before choosing to advertise with publications. Each magazine must fill out a survey explaining all of their practices. With that information in hand, Aveda decides whether the magazine is “Aveda-worthy” or not. More advertisers should do this!

And if magazines want to take the post-consumer recycled paper plunge, they don’t have to go it alone. Co-op America has an incredible program called WoodWise; it provides “technical assistance and expertise to magazines interested in adopting environmentally responsible papers and sustainable production processes.” In fact, they really helped us out for this post. Also, Environmental Defense has an online paper calculator that publishers can use to understand how much difference a certain percentage of post-consumer recycled content would make a difference in terms of wood use, total energy, greenhouse gases, wastewater, and solid waste.

Final Thoughts…

So we’re going to go with Marc on this one and ask Hearst and Oprah to lift up their skirts (figuratively, of course, we don’t want a Lohan incident on our hands) and show us what’s going on inside. And Oprah, you have the power, let your voice be heard!

About Rebecca Carter

Rebecca Carter is the Co-Founder of Ecorazzi. Rebecca was recently featured in the book Hot, Rich, and Green. She is one of 70 eco-achievers featured in Glamour magazine in April 2009, named Best of Green 2010 by Miami Magazine and Best Environmentalist by Miami New Times Best of 2008. She's raising a couple of little boys in Miami and speaks English & Spanish. Find out more at Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @rebeccacarter

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  • RemyC

    Just so you know, there are currently hundreds of environmental organizations, green companies, green products and services, sustainable fashion designers, descending on Penthouse, to green the magazine, put Omni and Viva back in, assisting March Pet of the Month Betcee May in her mission, make it beautiful again, Betcee who went from E The Environmental magazine cover-girl to green Pet, who wrote in her Penthouse bio, if she had a million dollars, she’d invest in alternative energy.

  • Don Carli

    There has never been a greater need for the media to play an active role in raising awareness about climate change and in adopting sustainable supply chain practices.

    More digital media and less print is not the answer… responsible management of print media supply chains is.

    Print media supply chain practices result in millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, distribution and fate of magazines, newspapers, freestanding inserts, direct mail, outdoor advertising and catalogs.

    The effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions are becoming increasingly visible. Heat waves, periods of extreme drought, catastrophic flooding and intensifying storms are just some of the weather phenomena that repeatedly remind us how our climate is changing.

    While increased recycling, increased use of paper made of fiber from sustainably managed forests and post consumer recycled content are important issues for publishers to address, there are a number of reasons a narrow focus on these issues alone will fall short of effecting significant change.

    Activist campaigns will get attention… and some publishers will capitulate and sign pledges, but unless publishers and advertisers see a business case for adopting sustainable supply chain practices, and unless they are engaged and supported in developing comprehensive solutions that can be implemented there will be little effect on the mainstream of print media supply chain practices.

    Neither print nor digital media advertising, as currently produced and managed, are sustainable… but they can be if advertisers and their supply chain partners work together.

    Collaboration is essential because print media manufacturing and transportation supply chains are complex, highly fragmented, waste-intensive systems of commerce that employ vast quantities of paper, fossil fuel energy and petrochemical products.

    Print media can and must be reinvented to make more effective use of resources if it is to be sustainable and competitive in the face of rising energy costs, energy supply uncertainty, population growth and climate change.

    To confront these issues constructively, the Institute for Sustainable Communication invites advertisers, publishers and members of their supply chains to address the challenges of climate change and sustainability through the ISC Sustainable Advertising Partnership.

    The ISC Sustainable Advertising Partnership’s is a voluntary advertising/publishing industry working group inspired by responsible brand leaders like the Jewelry Designer John Hardy who see value in identifying, quantifying, offsetting and ultimately reducing the climate change and sustainability impacts of their advertising media production, distribution and supply chain practices.

    The ISC Sustainable Advertising Partnership is a project of the Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC), a non-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

    The ISC Sustainable Advertising Partnership mission is to advocate and communicate a constructive vision for the transformation of print media and to support the development and widespread use of innovative, effective and eco-efficient materials, resources and systems that promote economic and environmental health in and through advertising and publishing related supply chain collaboration.

    • Advertiser Members: submit media plans to the Partnership for calculation of the lifecycle greenhouse footprints of the print media placements and agree to purchase certified carbon offsets for those media plans submitted through the Partnership.

    • Publisher Members: provide Partnership analysts access to supply chain data on a confidential basis and agree to purchase certified carbon offsets for the editorial pages of titles that have been submitted for carbon footprint analysis by the Partnership.

    • Supply Chain Transformation Supporter Members: provide Partnership analysts with access to supply chain data and agree to purchase certified carbon offsets through the Partnership for processes or purchases submitted for carbon footprint lifecycle analysis.

    The immediate goal of the ISC Sustainable Advertising Partnership is to provide its members with a portfolio of resources and services tailored to address the challenges of sustainability and to quantify, offset and reduce at least 10 million of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from print media supply chain lifecycles within ten years.

    Long term, the goals of the ISC Sustainable Advertising Partnership are to foster systemic change eliminating the need for carbon offsets in advertising supply chains and to create systemic economic, environmental and social benefit in and through advertising in magazines, newspapers, free-standing inserts, point-of-purchase, catalogs and other advertising supported media.

    For more information about how you can participate, please contact:

    Donald Carli, Senior Research Fellow
    The Institute for Sustainable Communication, (a 501c3 corporation)