For Newspapers, Paper Is as Important as the News Itself
December 20, 2010 - Editor & Publisher - Nicole Rycroft and Tara Sawatsky
Despite circulation declines in recent years, newsprint purchasers are some of the most influential paper buyers in the world. Coupled with a strong environmental policy, this enormous purchasing power can generate the impetus for paper suppliers to improve the sustainability of their forestry practices as well as the papers they produce.
Precedents set in Ireland and the UK, and the world-leading examples set by publications such as The Globe and Mail and the Canadian book publishing industry, show that a combination of individual corporate leadership and creative collaboration between players can make for impressive environmental gains.
The National Newspapers of Ireland, through a combination of recycling reform, pro-recycling advertisements, and closed-loop recycling agreements, managed to get readers to recycle 73 percent of newspapers in the country by 2007, up from 28 percent in 2002. Parallel with the jump in recovery, the average recycled content of papers used by Irish newspapers also increased - up to 52 percent, compared to 35 percent in North America.
While digital readership is increasing, we know that most people still prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands and, for the moment, ad revenues are still significantly higher for print than online. But in the classic we-want-it-all conundrum, more and more readers and advertisers want a greener product.
Consumers may not know the raw data, but they are well aware of the raw materials. In 2009, North American newsprint demand was about 6 million metric tons, consuming 77 million trees, more than half of which came from biologically diverse and ecologically important forests. Scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and organizations such as Canopy have all contributed to an increasing public awareness that forests are a critical safeguard against runaway climate change and are home to myriad species including caribou, chimpanzees, and tigers.
Often, demand has to be out ahead of the supply curve in order to stimulate production of new papers. This seems especially to be the case with environmental paper production. For a decade, Canopy has worked with the publishing sector to develop metrics for greener paper and mechanisms to improve the environmental performance of printed books, magazines, and newspapers. That work has included "speed dating" the demand with the supply - when no eco-papers were available for book printers, we coupled eco-demand with specific potential suppliers, so that the two worked together to satisfy the bottom line as well as the production needs of both ends of the supply chain. In doing so, availability skyrocketed from zero to 250 different types of eco-paper in just seven years.
Environmental improvements begin with increasing efficiency in paper use and increasing post-consumer recycled content. Where virgin fiber is used in papers, ensuring that it isn't from endangered and unsustainably managed forests and specifying a stringent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification delivers confidence to environmental groups and to consumers. Adding a manufacturing process into the mix that is free of toxics makes for an even better story to communicate to the world.
Leadership by individual companies such as The Globe and Mail and Transcontinental has shown that a clear environmental policy resonates throughout the company. When such a policy is incorporated into corporate practices and supplier negotiations, it can also lead to tangible supply-chain change. Individual champions within companies have the influence to curb logging operations in particularly sensitive forest areas, shift suppliers to FSC-certified operations, or catalyze landmark conservation initiatives such as the Boreal Forest Agreement.
At a sectoral level, individual leadership is amplified by creating a critical mass in demand that spurs both positive policy shifts and environmental alternatives that achieve economies of scale. As the Irish industry example shows, goals that seem unattainable for individual publishers become the norm with collective engagement. With North America currently only averaging 57.5 percent paper and paperboard recovery, there is much room for improvement. But just as publishers in Ireland and the UK have been able to band together to achieve larger scale success, so too can North American newspaper entities.
We face daunting environmental challenges as a society. In an age where climate change and species decline is common knowledge, readers and advertisers are increasingly looking at the medium as well as the message. Strategies that marry readers' and advertisers' desires for better environmental products with the industry's desire to be greener have to be developed within each company and across sectors. That's the sweet spot the newspaper industry is capable of achieving. More than half the trees logged in the world's forests every year become pulp and paper. Canopy (formerly Markets Initiative) shifts consumption patterns of industrial paper consumers so that their purchases alleviate the degradation of endangered forests globally and contribute to a more stable climate. The organization works collaboratively throughout the paper supply chain and has been working with the North American newspaper industry for the past five years.
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