The Paper Project

Environmentalists Team Up to Reform the Magazine Industry

When it comes to promoting ecological destruction, toxic pollution and wastefulness on a large scale, it’s hard to beat the magazine industry. According to Co-op America, nearly 95 percent of magazines print on paper with no recycled content, condemning 17 million trees to death by the saw each year.

But the trees cut to make paper are only the first environmental victims of magazine publishing. Turning those trees into pulp consumes enormous amounts of energy and water, and the bleaching process creates dioxin, a chemical the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called “the most potent carcinogen ever tested on laboratory animals.”


Environmentalist say this colossal problem could be greatly reduced simply by switching from virgin to recycled paper. Government research agrees. The EPA has reported that substituting one ton of 100 percent recycled paper for virgin paper saves 17 trees, 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 7,000 gallons of water and produces 60 pounds less air pollution.

But while the solution is simple, implementing it is not, since neither the invisible hand of the market nor government regulations have driven magazine publishers toward paper with recycled content. So how do concerned environmentalists tackle the enormous challenge of driving that switch?

First, they team up. That’s what Co-op America, Conservatree and the Independent Press Association (IPA) have done to create the Paper Project, a three-pronged assault that hopes to steer the magazine publishing industry on a 180-degree turn away from its destructive practices while jump-starting a market for recycled paper nationwide.

“IPA started the Paper Project about two years ago as a mechanism to move our members to take their environmental responsibility more seriously with regard to recycling,” says John Anner, executive director of IPA, a nonprofit organization that represents about 220 independent publications. “However, we realized that our members make up only a very small percentage of the publications sold in the U.S., so we coordinated with Co-op America and Conservatree to affect a wider group.”

“The project uses a carrot-and-stick approach to bring about change throughout the entire industry,” says Todd Larson of Co-op America. “We offer incentives and assistance that can help the smaller publishers switch to recycled paper, while at the same time putting pressure via consumer activism on the large publishers to switch.”

The project’s coordinators explain that each group uses its own resources and strengths to impact a particular segment of the magazine industry, creating several interrelated strategies to reach from the very smallest to the very largest publishers.

“The first strategy targets small magazines with a paper-buyers cooperative providing 100 percent post-consumer paper,” says Anner. “Since small magazines often cannot afford to buy bulk paper individually, they can get it in smaller quantities through the cooperative at a lower price. We found a mill that would make 100 percent post-consumer paper to our specs, and we delivered it to a printer. So far, we’ve had two magazines come on board and five others that will likely come on as well.”

Early reaction to the cooperative from independent magazines has been positive. “Buying through the cooperative helped keep recycled paper affordable at a time when the price was going up,” says Gar Smith, editor of Earth Island Journal. “In addition to giving small magazines the benefit of bulk buying power, it serves to create a stable market for recycled paper, bringing price down while creating demand.”

The slightly larger “second tier” publishers, however—ones with distributions in the low hundred thousands—have printing needs too specific to buy their paper as part of a cooperative, and ordering paper in bulk is less of a problem for them. For these magazines, the project acts as an information clearinghouse, providing publishers with up-to-date information on recycled paper that can make it easier to locate specific sizes and weights.

“Publishers and printers that have looked into using recycled paper in the past may have found problems with the price and quality,” says Susan Kinsella, executive director of Conservatree, which offers publishers and printers a thorough database of recycled papers and free consultation from a recycled paper expert. “We’re trying to let them know that much of what they’re dealing with is old information.

One major concern has been price,” says Kinsella. “Recycled paper used to be more expensive than virgin paper, but it is getting cheaper. What we do is figure out which recycled papers are competitive with virgin paper. We also look at shifts in the production process—like changing the weight and layout, and working with the printer—that can make the price more competitive.”

In addition to helping magazines switch to recycled paper with the cooperative and technical assistance, the project seeks to reward publishers already using recycled paper. An annual Ecopaper Leadership Award recognizes magazines printing on paper with 30 percent or more post-consumer content. This year’s award went to 12 magazines that focus on the environment and outdoor recreation, including E.

“The final approach,” says Larson, “is the stick approach, which pushes publishers toward recycled paper using consumer awareness and public pressure. One publisher we’re focusing on is Cond? Nast, one of the largest publishers in the world and the second largest publisher in the United States. We feel it’s hypocritical that the company’s magazine Traveler shows really nice nature scenes, and yet it’s printed on virgin paper which destroys the types of scenery they show. So we’ve been talking to them about switching to recycled paper and have also distributed postcards to our members that they can send to Cond? Nast asking them to switch.”

Cond? Nast, which publishes 18 magazines with such popular titles as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, refused to comment when asked about the campaign. “They try to brush us off,” says Larson. “But we just keep putting pressure on them to let them know we’re not going away.” With a circulation of 762,000, Traveler alone could substantially reduce the company’s environmental impact by switching to paper with even a small amount of recycled content, according to Larson. “Not only would it help the environment, but it would send a powerful message,” he says.