Paper, print and publishing
Producers of print media have big sustainability impacts, particularly on the environment through their sourcing of paper, printing processes and publishing activities. However, the debate is far from clear-cut. Critics who trot out the received wisdom that print media is inherently unsustainable, and online always best, may yet be proved wrong.
Key challenges and opportunities
Customers and consumers are becoming more discerning, demanding paper with strong sustainability credentials. However, while it is 20 years since the first forest certification schemes were launched, there is still a number of schemes in operation, with little hope of harmonisation. The Forest Stewardship Council scheme is regarded as the strongest by environmental NGOs, but only a small proportion of commercially harvested forests worldwide are certified to its standard. It is difficult for media producers trying to source paper, and their readers, to know which of the competing schemes and logos to trust.
Meanwhile, the global paper market is undergoing a rapid transition in the face of changing patterns of supply and demand. Driven by globalisation, many of the larger paper manufacturers are beginning to exploit significant new sources outside their traditional areas of operation in North America and Europe and new plantation operations are developing in the southern hemisphere. Where these can be shown to be sustainable, for example through suitable certification, they are helping to mitigate remaining concerns about the harvesting of old-growth forests in the North. But new issues are arising all the time, such as the environmental profile of fast-growing eucalyptus monocultures. There is also increasing focus on the social factors of fibre-sourcing such as the allegations of land grabs from the so-called ‘landless people’ of Brazil.
The received wisdom is that if you have to use paper, then recycled is best, certified virgin sources a poor second, uncertified unacceptable, but paperless and online is best of all. But this green credo is starting to be challenged.
The fashion for ‘carbon neutral’ claims has caused a flurry of activity to calculate the carbon footprint of print and paper. Many questions remain regarding the comparability of paper footprints. A number of the larger paper companies have supported Paper Profile as a mechanism for disclosing environmental performance. New standards are emerging: the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) is in the process of publishing the 'CPI ten toes', which outlines ten key areas of a paper's carbon footprint that should be measured.
Meanwhile, the carbon profile of online – the technology used to drive the internet and the energy profile of the equipment we use to view it – is coming under timely scrutiny, although no clear figures are yet available.
Influence and action
The internet revolution has enabled consumers to circumvent traditional sources of news and information, making a radical impact on media organisations worldwide. Driven by pressures of time and cost, news is often blurred with entertainment. Also, there is concern about the way some news and media organisations manage and present information. British journalist Nick Davies coined the term ‘churnalism’ – where press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles without proper further research or checking. As a result, press releases can end up masquerading as fact.
Add to that growing concern over the lack of a free press in many countries, and the role of the media in influencing public opinion has become a core corporate responsibility issue. The most responsible media organisations are examining their ‘mindprint’ and taking greater responsibility for how their editorial decisions are affecting public awareness of sustainability issues.
- We have worked for several years with Guardian News & Media (GNM), initially advising on print site standards and reviewing the carbon footprint of GNM's paper supply, and more recently providing independent assurance. With the launch of GNM’s sustainability website in 2009, its reporting of its own sustainability performance became more dynamic and interactive. Two Tomorrows has developed ‘rolling assurance’ to mirror this groundbreaking approach.
- We have provided independent assurance since 2003 of the annual sustainability report produced by Finnish/Swedish forest products company Stora Enso, one of the largest paper manufacturers in the world. In our work, we have visited Stora Enso operations across Europe, Russia, South America and China.
- We have provided ongoing advice to Trinity Mirror, publishers of The Mirror newspaper, since 2003. Our work includes developing paper-sourcing data systems, evaluating print site standards, preparing disclosures for the company’s annual report and supporting a high-level CR committee.