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Oprah's O, and All Magazines, in Environmental Hot Seat

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The current article you are reading does not reflect the views of the current editors and contributors of the new Ecorazzi

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!

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