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Common Sense Sustainability

A look at how circulation and distribution fit into the sustainability equation and efforts to maximize eco and cost savings in these areas.

The ecological and cost savings benefits of smarter, more efficient circulation and distribution practices add up over time. Here’s a look at how these areas fit into the overall sustainability equation and potential areas of leverage for smaller publishers.

Understanding the Big Picture

Magazines’ individual carbon footprints are determined by numerous factors, including print run and frequency, type of paper used and the carbon footprint of the specific paper supplier, and distribution profile.

But there’s no question that paper making—including the pulp and paper manufacturing components—is far and away the industry’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, a greenhouse gas study sponsored by Time Inc., Home Depot, Canfor and Stora Enso North America and published in 2006 by environmental researcher The Heinz Center found that pulp and paper mill emissions associated with producing the paper used for Time and InStyle magazines accounted for 61 percent and 77 percent, respectively, of their total carbon emissions. Add in certified forest management and harvesting, transportation of materials to the mills, and transportation of finished paper to the printers, and paper-associated emissions came to 72 percent of total for Time and 83 percent for InStyle.

The second-biggest CO2 emissions contributor (10 percent for Time, 16 percent for InStyle) occurs in the “final fate” stage, when greenhouse gases are released as magazines decompose in landfills or are incinerated.

Distribution-related carbons, including the transportation involved on both the subscription and newsstand sides, were calculated at just 8 percent of the total for Time and 5 percent of the total for InStyle.

Focusing On The Do-able

While a “cradle-to-grave” study that quantifies a company’s or magazine’s full carbon footprint is the most scientific approach, it’s also complex. Few publishers have as yet gone this route, and most who have have used sustainability experts/consultants to help them with these projects.

Ogden Publications—publisher of Mother Earth News, Utne Reader, Natural Home, The Herb Companion and other titles—is among those that have calculated their carbon footprints. Ogden was able to use its own in-house expertise to conduct its study, according to publisher and editorial director Bryan Welch.

However, Welch points out that while a footprint analysis can certainly be valuable in helping a company focus its efforts, having the numbers doesn’t in and of itself get the job of reducing or offsetting emissions done.

For smaller publishers, in particular, Welch recommends that “before a company goes out and hires someone to help them do a carbon footprint analysis, they first look around and do everything they can think of to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions,” he says. “I don’t think I know of any individual or company that couldn’t do more to reduce its carbon footprint by implementing all of the common sense measures available. When you get to the point where you believe you’ve exhausted feasible common sense measures, then consider a formal study.”

Welch stresses that pragmatic, educated action within the context of business realities and bottom-line responsibilities to shareholders is the key. For example, he points out, “airline travel is incredibly harmful to the environment, but none of us can run our businesses without traveling to see advertisers. You make those trips. But to any extent that you can cut back on airline trips without harming the business, it makes a big difference in environmental terms.”

“The place to make a difference,” he sums up, “is in areas where you can make a difference.”

As Green America’s Better Paper Project points out, environmental goals are most successfully integrated with business objectives by prioritizing the importance and impact of potential initiatives, then doing an inventory and evaluating the resources available to help in the process.

BPP recommends creating an environmental stewardship policy to clearly define and illustrate a long-term vision, articulate key principles and demonstrate commitment to sustainability to readers, staff and suppliers. (A sample stewardship policy can be found on BPP’s site.) A cross-discipline internal team should be assembled to tackle this work, says BPP director Frank Locantore. “It’s not just the people who select the paper who need to have input; you should call on the knowledge of your circulation, editorial and other staff,” he says.

Subscription-Side Leverage Areas

Industry wide, subscription copies account for significantly more of the carbon footprint than the newsstand, for two reasons.

One is that subscriptions account for the lion’s share of total paid magazine units: 87 percent in 2007, versus the newsstand’s 13 percent. The other is that only about 20 percent of subscription copies are recycled by consumers. In contrast, while about 65 percent of copies printed for newsstand distribution go unsold, nearly all unsolds are shredded by wholesalers and resold to makers of various types of products made from recycled paper, such as cardboard boxes.

Reducing the significant impact of discarded subscriber copies by educating consumers and encouraging recycling of magazines and catalogs is the mission driving the “ReMix” public service advertising campaign sponsored by Time Inc., Verso Paper and the National Recycling Coalition and the “Please Recycle This Magazine” campaign spearheaded by Magazine Publishers of America.

Obviously, reducing a magazine’s rate base enables reducing at least the subscriber portion of copies printed, as well as marketing and distribution costs and energy resources. And with consumer magazine advertising down dramatically, many magazines of all sizes are taking a hard look at rate base economics, and frequency as well.

Here are some of the areas and types of initiatives within more direct control of audience development and distribution executives that can help reduce CO2 emissions, as well as costs:

Greener Subscription Marketing

Within the big ecological picture, direct mail isn’t nearly the villain that many consumers assume.

It accounts for 2 percent of the total tonnage in the U.S. municipal waste stream, and nearly 39 percent of U.S. direct mail was recycled in 2006, according to a Pitney Bowes study released last June, The Environmental Impact of Mail: A Baseline.

The U.S. Postal Service’s own Lifecycle Inventory of Mail (LCI) study found that, at the household level, energy and CO2 emissions associated with the entire mail life cycle are roughly comparable to those from operating a coffee pot or a number of common home appliances over the same period of time. And the USPS’s 2007 Environmental Impact of Mail study actually concluded that “advertising mail has a net benefit to the environment by encouraging shopping from home, which reduces customer miles driven and harmful automotive emissions.”

Be that as it may, publishers and other direct marketers striving to do their part to reduce carbon emissions should be aware of the Direct Marketing Association’s Environmental Resolution and “Green 15,” a set of eco-friendly mailing business practices ranging from mail list clean-up to recycling and pollution reduction. Members can access a Green 15 tool kit on DMA’s site. The organization’s first green goal focuses on mailing list clean-up (including a 25 percent reduction in undeliverable mail), with a target of realizing 1 million tons in carbon equivalent savings between this year and 2013.

The basics of more targeted—and more efficient and eco-friendly—direct mail are of course no secret: Consistent mailing list hygiene (use of Zip and postal code correction, address standardization, change of address element correction, delivery sequence file and address correction files/services) and employing database mining to realize higher response yields on lower mail volumes are the two anchors.

Circulators can also strive to use paper stock with post-consumer recycled content in mail components wherever financially feasible, and test formats that may be more eco-friendly.

No publisher these days needs to be urged to try to maximize e-marketing as new business and renewals sources. While cost savings are the primary driver behind the tremendous e-marketing push, this doesn’t negate the reality that collectively, millions of publisher e-efforts are reducing the numbers of mail pieces produced, printed and mailed. [See the sidebar at the bottom of this feature for a checklist of "Eco-Friendly, Budget-Friendly Marketing Tips."]

(While we all assume that email has significant environmental advantages over postal letters and many other forms of communication, Sun Microsystems is now attempting to quantify and prove these advantages, which requires measuring the environmental impacts of the technology required to support email.)

Greener Postal Mailing Practices

Co-mailing programs that consolidate multiple titles for mailing help reduce transportation and energy use by efficiently getting more magazines deeper into the postal system or closer to their ultimate destinations.

Co-mailing programs are more flexible than ever, with publications of circulations ranging from 5,000 to 200,000 now able to benefit from offline co-mailing systems—and postage savings can often be in the 10 percent range (after program costs), according to Transcontinental Printing, which recently released a white paper on reducing magazine carbon footprints.

Switching from labels to inkjet addressing, and from standard polywrap to new, biodegradable versions that disintegrate in about a year rather than over many years, are also positive steps, the printer points out.

A Greener Newsstand

Quantifying newsstand carbon emissions is one of the most difficult aspects of a carbon footprint study, according to publishers who have done these.

For its carbon footprint study last year, Discover asked its newsstand consultant to provide the location and number of copies going to each of 213 wholesalers in the U.S. and Canada. It was assumed that the magazine’s 41,500 retailers were more or less evenly distributed across those wholesalers, and a calculation of the distance that the average magazine travels from wholesaler to retailer came out to 70 miles. Those assumptions were also used to factor in estimates for emissions associated with wholesalers’ transporting of returns back to warehouses.

In the end, newsstand-related emissions were estimated at accounting for under 1 percent of total per-issue emissions (about 8 tons out of a total 962 tons).

In recent years, large publishers have used by-store sales analysis and worked with wholesalers to reduce magazine draws with minimal impact on sales, enabling reductions in print runs and the CO2 emissions associated with shipping copies to wholesalers, trucking copies to stores, and then driving unsolds back to warehouses.

Currently, the combination of recession-driven sales declines and the data and order regulation difficulties created by Anderson News’s exit from the business in this year’s first quarter are making draw reduction efforts challenging.

However, efforts to hone draws and improve efficiencies continue to be very much on publishers’ priority lists for sustainability and cost efficiency reasons.

The industry’s average sales efficiency, which had been rising in recent years, declined by two percentage points last year, to 35.2 percent, according to Harrington Associates and MagNet data. However, this occurred despite reductions in draws: Lost sales negated the efficiency efforts, driving down the percentage. Total draw actually declined by 5.3 percent (to 3.6 billion units), and total returns declined 1.4 percent (to 2.34 billion units), but sales declined by 11.7 percent (to 1.27 billion units).

The ambitious plan for the magazine category laid out by Wal-Mart as part of its overall corporate sustainability initiatives calls for increasing comparable-store sales by 5 percent, improving magazine sell-through efficiency to 50 percent, and removing magazine waste from the supply chain.

The six team-based innovation projects include “360-degree” merchandising; title mix optimization; point of sale replenishment; scan-based trading; aligning incentives; and bottom-up distribution. Aligning incentives to ensure maximum participation and cooperation, and implementing bottom-up distribution practices that will enable goals such as timely replenishment and printing of the optimal number of copies are the initiatives that will provide the foundations for the rest.

Reaching the efficiency goal will reduce the number of unsold magazines by 60 million each year, which in turn will save 203,438 trees, 2.1 million gallons of diesel, 242.8 million gallons of water and nearly 41,000 tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, according to data presented at last year’s Retail Conference by Blu Skye Sustainability Consulting, which works with Wal-Mart and other companies on sustainability strategies.

What can smaller publishers do to improve their newsstand efficiencies and reduce waste and carbon emissions?

San Francisco-based consulting firm Next Steps Marketing and the Better Paper Project have just published a white paper on this topic, Newsstand Marketing and Distribution: Green at Retail (available on both organizations’ sites, as a download.) Here are some of their key points and recommendations:

Improve efficiency: Request a report from your national distributor that sorts sales by retailer into “buckets,” such as stores with sales of 0 to 1 copies, 3 and above and so on, and ask the ND to strip out retailers where your title is showing consistently poor sales. Removing “zero copy sales” can improve efficiency and achieve significant production and shipping savings, as well as reduce resource consumption.

With direct distributors, it is still possible to do O&R work by reviewing the magazine’s retail distribution line by line, comparing it to two or three similar titles, trimming copies not selling and requesting allotment increases in stores where your competitive set is selling well.

Test new markets and limit your risk: Once you have a retailer authorization, be strategic about entering new markets in order to minimize costs and wasted copies. Analyze the data to determine where competitive titles are doing well, and target by region (perhaps by your top subscriber Zip codes), or other breakouts that may be available, depending on the retailer (demographics, psychographics, sales of like titles). Promotions can also be targeted by region to reduce your costs and risk. Partner with retailers to develop promotions that make sense for your magazine.

Review your paper options and promote sustainability to consumers: Publishers that print on recycled paper are eligible for participation in special in-store promotions in retailers including Barnes & Noble, Hastings, Universal News and Amazon.com, through a program coordinated by BPP and Next Steps. Special displays or promotion space are provided to spotlight such titles, at little or no additional cost to the publisher.


Meaningful comparisons of magazine carbon footprint study results require knowing specifics such as the standards and definitions employed for calculations and a study’s scope and depth. To provide a rough idea of how circulation/distribution components break out within magazine carbon footprints, here are top-line results for some specific studies.

A greenhouse gas study sponsored by Time Inc., Home Depot and forest product manufacturers Canfor and Stora Enso North America, published in 2006 by environmental research organization The Heinz Center, found the following breakouts of components contributing to total emissions for Time Inc.’s Time and InStyle. (Office/staff-related emissions, not factored in here, represent less than 1 percent of footprint.) 

Forest management and harvesting: 2 percent (same for both titles)

Transport of wood fiber and other materials to pulp and paper mills: 8 percent Time, 3 percent InStyle

Pulp and paper mill emissions: 61 percent and 77 percent, respectively

Transport of paper to printers: 1 percent (same for both titles)

Printing: 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively

Transport/distribution of magazines: 8 percent and 5 percent, respectively

Final fate of magazines (reflecting proportions of copies landfilled, recycled, etc.): 16 percent and 10 percent, respectively

Metric tons of CO2 emitted per magazine metric ton: Time: 0.32, InStyle: 0.30

A 2007 carbon footprint study completed early last year by Backpacker
as the foundation for a carbon-neutral initiative produced this breakout. Starting with its April 08 issue, Backpacker implemented initiatives estimated to reduce this footprint by another
12 percent during 2008.

Metric tons of CO2 emitted: 2,305 total in 2007 (499,053 pounds per issue X 9 issues, or approximately 5 million pounds total per year)

Results of a Discover magazine study
conducted for publication in its May 2008 issue, using Greenhouse Gas Protocol standards for calculations: 


Tons of CO2 emitted: 962 per issue; 12X frequency


Paper is obviously the biggest area of leverage in reducing magazine carbon footprints.

However, the complexities of weighing environmental concerns, costs, quality, weight, dimensions and other factors to make the right decision for a specific magazine are beyond the scope of this article.

Here are some resources to investigate for help:

Green America’s Better Paper Project provides free guidance to publishers on both paper buying and carbon footprinting projects, as well as a host of informational resources on its Web site. Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) also has numerous paper research and educational resources on its site.
The Environmental Paper Network (EPN) endorses the Environmental Defense Fund’s free paper calculator tool, which weighs recycled fiber content and other factors and makes recommendations as to which paper options being considered are preferable from an environmental standpoint.

The Paper Working Group (PWG), coordinated by Metafore, Inc., was founded by 11 corporations, including Time Inc., Staples, Starbucks and Hewlett-Packard. PWG created the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool, or EPAT. This by-subscription tool makes assessments based on PWG’s definition of “environmentally preferable paper,” encompassing “seven interconnected desired outcomes across the supply chain of paper that represent opportunities for improvement”: Efficient use and conservation of raw materials, minimization of wast, conservation of natural systems, clean production, community and human well-being, credible reporting and verification, and economic viability. For a limited time, MPA members are eligible for a discount on the subscription fee.



By Mike Popalardo, principal, Next Steps Marketing

Here’s a summary of techniques that should produce savings and enhance response, as well as help your magazines do their bit for the environment. The e-techniques are standard practice now, so if you’re not using some of these yet, time’s a-wasting.

1. Be aware that at least some of your audience cares. Studies have consistently shown that Americans have a high level of eco-awareness. Over 80 percent report “some” to “great” concern for the environment. In other words, it’s likely that some portion of your audience(s) would have some level of interest in knowing what your company is doing on the sustainability front, and may  reward  such efforts with higher retention and pay-up rates. Make your sustainability efforts visible (by mentioning recycled paper use on mastheads and in promotions, for example).

2. If you’re going postal, choose stock wisely. If you’re doing larger mailings, consider testing convertible envelopes that do away with the need for a BRE (check out ecoenvelopes.com and 7rcommunications.com). Added benefit: the uniqueness of the envelope may make for some additional time in your prospects’ hands.

Also check your fulfillment house’s ability to provide generic, double-window envelopes for your renewals and billing, cold donor and dead expire efforts. If testing shows that these formats work for you, you can avoid dead inventory and stock shortages by simply changing headlines and copy for your specific subscriber segments.

3. Develop a comprehensive online strategy. Your online campaigns will be more effective if you tie them to an integrated online strategy that consistently and effectively integrates email, newsletters and social media. All should lead to specific landing pages that tie to your campaign.

4. Promote e-payments and e-renewals. At strategic times of the year (Earth Day, Arbor Day, World Environment Day, etc.), encourage your subscribers to “go paperless” in your print, email, and online landing pages. As an incentive, consider giving them an opportunity to win an eco-trip or plant a tree in their name through an organization like Trees for the Future. Or if you feel your audience is likely to be responsive to a more traditional approach, try pass-along savings (“We save money, so you save money”). One caveat: You’ll want to have a couple of print efforts ready to go for people who don’t respond to your online requests. This approach can also be adapted for an auto-renew effort.

5. Add e-efforts to the retention series.
Test adding emails for early bird, at-expire, and welcome back efforts. Publishers are realizing 3 to 8 percent response rates even with simple text (as opposed to HTML) efforts.

6. Consider going social. Don’t just jump in: First, investigate whether portions of your audience are using any of the various social media platforms. For example, CIO has nearly 18,000 group members on LinkedIn because such professional networking makes sense for their audience. Even if the number of users among your audience is relatively small, their passion can do wonders to build your brand.

7. Grow your own lists. House lists are, of course, always the most responsive lists for your print and online campaigns. Investing time and money in building targeted lists will pay off in the end. Focus on quality, not quantity. With email, bigger is often not better. Unqualified recipients are not only unresponsive; they tend to report marketers for sending  “junk” mail more frequently, which could lead to being blackballed by ISPs .

8. Woo those search-engine leads. While it’s tempting to cut to the chase and ask for the subscription order, consider this:  If your site is like most, about 70 to 80 percent of your traffic comes from search engines, and many of these people have no knowledge about your products and company, never mind relationship. These folks need to be wooed. Encourage them to get to know you better by asking them to participate in simple polls, quizzes and surveys. Solicit ratings and comments. If you can track multiple visits, step it up by offering them free information, discounts or other goodies in exchange for an email address.

9. Use content to sell or nurture leads. Make sure you’re fully leveraging the power of your content. Use engaging content in partner enewsletters and sites and in your social media networks to build interest in your brand and your offerings.

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