Pressing Magazines and Catalogs for a New Paper Standard

Pressing Magazines and Catalogs for a New Paper Standard

Now it's in black and white: shifting to recycled paper not only is desirable from an environmental perspective, but also feasible from a business perspective. These firms did it right. From The Green Business Letter.

Considering the vast number of unsolicited catalogs in most consumers’ mailboxes and the number of unsold magazines sitting on newsstands, it’s surprising there hasn’t been more of a public uproar about the excessive use of paper by magazine and catalog publishers. Not surprisingly, the activist community has noticed and is becoming increasingly involved with prodding publishers toward more environmentally responsible paper practices. A few firms need little prodding.

Norm Thompson Outfitters, the Portland, Ore.-based retailer of apparel, gifts, and home items, recently partnered with the Alliance for Environmental Innovations to show that a shift to recycled paper not only is desirable from an environmental perspective, but also feasible from a business perspective. Norm Thompson, after nine months of research and testing, switched to 10% post-consumer recycled paper in its Solutions catalog, then introduced recycled paper to two of its other catalogs. In partnership with AEI, it tested customer response to the paper.

The company’s paper suppliers identified several recycled options for its catalogs that matched the specification of its virgin sheet and were compatible with printer requirements. A number of major suppliers offered recycled paper at a price comparable to virgin. Ultimately, the company chose a paper from International Paper that was slightly more expensive, but IP worked with Norm Thompson to identify production efficiencies that allowed IP to offset its extra cost and achieve price parity.

To ensure customer acceptance, the company tested recycled paper in four regularly scheduled mailings of Solutions, each accompanied by a control group that received the virgin version, and tracked the revenue generated by each. There was no statistically significant difference between the two catalogs.

Switching to 10% post-consumer recycled paper in Solutions will use 1,067 fewer tons of wood, 4.2 billion fewer BTUs of energy, 2.4 million fewer gallons of wastewater, and 301 fewer tons of solid waste, the company says.

A four-page summary describing Norm Thompson’s experience can be downloaded

Reforming Magazine Publishers

Meanwhile, a publishing trade association and two nonprofits have launched an effort to help magazine publishers “adopt environmentally preferable printing and distribution practices.” PAPER (for Printing Alternatives Promoting Environmental Responsibility), a project of the Independent Press Association, Conservatree, and Co-op America, recently issued a white paper describing magazine publishers’ “environmentally unsound industry
practices,” including “the 2.9 billion unread magazines that are destroyed each year” and the fact that fewer than 5% of magazines use recycled paper.

The study concludes that if all magazines published in the US switched to at least 10% post-consumer content, the annual savings would be more than 540,000 tons of trees — enough to make copy paper for 11.6 million people a year — and enough energy to power 23,000 households.

Among other key findings:
  • Magazine production is a major contributor to deforestation. US magazine production uses more than 2.2 million tons of paper per year. Magazines are printed almost exclusively on papers made from virgin fiber, resulting in more than 35 million trees being cut down each year.
  • Fewer than 5% of magazine paper has any recycled content, and even these recycled content papers generally contain only 10% to 30% recycled fiber. Almost all magazine papers have been bleached with chlorine or chlorine compounds.
  • Approximately 90% of magazines are discarded within a year of publication, and only about 20% of these are recycled. In 1998, approximately 18,000 magazine titles were published, producing a total of about 12 billion magazines; more than 9 billion were landfilled or incinerated.
  • Overproduction is a key factor in magazine industry wastefulness. These inefficiencies are particularly evident in magazines sold on newsstands, compared to those sold by subscription.
The report, which includes recommendations for changing the industry, may be downloaded from


©2001 Tilden Press Inc. Reproduction strictly prohibited without permission. This piece originally ran in the July 2001 issue of The Green Business Letter, a GreenBiz News Affiliate.