June 23, 2010

Your Favorite Magazine Kills Trees. But it Doesn’t Have To. ~ Paul Smith

Paper is still a daily part of most of our lives.

I don’t know about you, but no matter how dazzlingly Apple packages it, I don’t see doing all my reading digitally any time soon. Between you and me, I get my best reading done while on the toilet. The physical act of thumbing through and dog-earing pages is something that a shiny metal tablet cannot replicate. Yet.

However, consuming forests worth of paper just won’t do.

In this day and age where recycled based products are seemingly everywhere, there’s one big gap: Magazines, Catalogs, and other publications that use glossy paper. Take a look in your favorite magazine and try to find out what kind of paper it uses. For many, it doesn’t even say. In that case, it’s likely 100% virgin paper, or at best 10-15% recycled content. For those that do specify, the two most common are still a problem: FSC Certified and 100% recycled.

What? But those are the best options out there, right? Sorry, no.

FSC sounds good on, um, paper, but the reality is, it’s a pretty packaging on an act that need not happen: Removing healthy, carbon absorbing, capable trees, and replacing them with new, far from their peak capacity trees. It’s a step forward from clear cutting and moving on. But not far enough.

High percentage recycled content paper is encouraging to see in more publications these days. Nevertheless, there’s one glitch: Most of it comes from Europe, which is great if your publication is based there, but not so great if you’re in the US. You’ve reduced paper usage, but have a huge, and now unnecessary, added carbon footprint.

I was surprised to learn recently that there is only one company in the US that produces 85-100% recycled coated mechanical printing paper (glossy magazine quality paper to you and me) FutureMark Paper .

The more I learned about the company, the more I wanted to help people learn about them. So that’s what I’ve been doing since May, and in doing so, the questions people have asked (particularly at Care2) has illuminated even further why FutureMark is to be commended for what they offer.

Take whitening. To get paper to the white, perfect appearance we’ve come to expect, chlorine bleach is frequently used. I learned that FutureMark uses Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) which breaks down to water and hydrogen. What’s left over is so clean it can be discharged straight to the municipal waste system.

And what about the material used to make glossy paper glossy? I won’t go into the geeky details of it, but let’s just say that FutureMark’s recycling process is sophisticated enough that it not only gets paper fibers, it also retrieves coating material for use in making new paper.

And what it cannot make use of, 30,000 tons annually, it has found makes a good agricultural additive, which an Illinois area company is now selling, taking it off FutureMark’s hands for less than it would have cost them to landfill it. A win all around, making full use of as much material as is possible from what they recycle.

So why aren’t more publications making use of this option? In  a word, inertia. Publishers, like people, are hesitant to change from what they know. They presume recycled means lesser quality. That it’s going to cost substantially more. And in the past, they’d have likely been right. And for some, it’s simple lack of awareness of their options.

Times change, and with it has the quality and price parity of recycled paper. And in the case of FutureMark Paper, they’ve now had the chance to prove themselves with a number of high profile publications. You know, the ones most likely to have hesitation to change their ways? Every Day with Rachel Ray, Outside, and several others, which you can find on their website. Also, publications like Surfer Magazine, Climbing Magazine, and Urban Climber have gone green and begun to use entirely recycled paper, while magazines Elle, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times Magazine have all published “green issues.” Though these large magazines did not make a full time commitment towards eco-friendly paper, the green issues definitely made a big statement in regards to the movement towards the use of recycled paper.

In a wise and ecologically sound move, FutureMark has  chosen to locate near, and source from the heavily paper intensive urban forest that is Chicago, where much of this country’s printing happens. Couple that with FutureMark’s tendency to reach out to and work with the community it exists in, like their recent partnership with the city of Chicago on their June paper drive (paying schools, churches and civic groups by the ton for paper recycled) and you’ve got a company that is clearly more than skin deep when it comes to being sustainable.

When you combine doing the right thing with a monetary incentive, this is a powerful thing.

Given this, I’d say it’s time to make your favorite magazine or catalog company aware of a better choice.  If you’re an editor or a publisher, it’s time to update your knowledge of what’s available to you and see how you can give your readers what they want while both keeping an eye on your bottom line, and doing the planet a big favor.

Readers: What other eco alternatives to the status quo are you seeing out there that we should know about? Do you have any questions about FutureMark? I’ve found them transparent and thorough in their responses.

Paul Smith is a sustainable MBA powered green business Swiss army knife: Social media focused PR for green/greening businesses as GreenSmith Consulting, startup centric blogging for Triple Pundit, and ghost writing for _____. Overall, he helps demystify social media for businesses, and lends his brain and considerable network to his clients as needed.

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