When it comes to tackling climate change, the media has "an innate" responsibility to pratice what it preaches, and should not rely on the growth of digital publishing to curb its carbon emissions, the chief operating officer of News UK has said.
Speaking to BusinessGreen after News UK last week became the first media company to secure the Carbon Trust Triple Standard for reducing CO2, waste and water use, Chris Taylor, said all businesses should be aware that they are "custodians of the environment for future generations."
"I think if we are writing and commenting on these matters as we do regularly, then it's only fair that we try to practice what we preach," he said.
News UK has slashed its carbon emissions by 50 percent since 2008, and its new offices next to London Bridge's Shard building now recycle 80 percent of their waste, up from 10 percent at the old Wapping offices.
The new complex also has no car parking spaces except for disabled drivers, in order to encourage employees to use public transport or cycle.
"The Times is very famous for its cycling campaign as an alternative to driving to work," said Taylor. "To do these things ourselves only adds to the level of credibility. I think it's just something in the company that everyone buys into, so as a joiner you feel a bit out of place if you were trying to rail against that."
News UK's strong commitment to green best practices may come as a surprise to some environmental campaigners, who have accused The Sun and The Times of promoting climate skeptic arguments and being highly criticial of decarbonization policies and investments.
Arguments against efforts to curb emissions do not appear to have been embraced by the company's management, but Taylor insists it is not within the remit of the News UK management to dictate editorial policy on environmental issues. "The Times and our other newspapers have comprehensive editorial independence from the leadership of the company itself," he said. "It doesn't have to be the case that the newspapers have to report what the policy of the company is, and in fact there are many high profile cases in the industry where that's not been the case."
Securing the Carbon Trust standards has required initiatives right across the business, and Taylor explains how steps have been taken to ensure the measures embraced by News UK are compatible with a busy newsroom. For example, the management decided to make it easy for employees to recycle by sorting waste off site rather than asking people to separate waste in different bins.
However, some of the biggest environmental wins have been achieved outside the newsroom, in the print production facilities, where News UK also prints The Telegraph, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard and The Metro as well as its own newspapers.
Printing facilities require supercharged air conditioners to deliver the precise humidity levels that ensure the ink sticks to the page. But News UK cut its air conditioning demand by 70 percent, through scheduling and engineering improvements that has saved a total of 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the Euroscentral print site in Glasgow has reduced its water use by 44 percent, while the Broxbourne print site in Hertforshire has curbed all non-paper waste going to landfill by three-quarters.
Taylor maintains that its efforts are having a wider impact on the newspaper industry too, with the "real wins" coming from publisher to publisher collaborations.
For example, since September 2013, News UK and The Telegraph have combined their distribution programs, reducing the need for 15,000 van journeys a year and cutting mileage for distribution vans by 1.2 million miles. Taylor said he hopes to roll this collaborative approach out with other papers in the future in a bid to further reduce mileage.
But should News UK really be focusing its efforts on reducing the footprint of print when some argue the platform rapidly is becoming outmoded?
Taylor said in fact the opposite is true, that it would be easy for a publisher to claim that a shift to digital naturally would fulfill its environmental commitments, when in fact active steps to improve environmental performance still need to be taken. This is in part because News UK's digital subscription services for online content have not led to the same widening gap between digital and print distribution that other outlets with free online sites have seen. "We here firmly believe that in an environment where you charge for all of your products as we do, it's really about consumer choice and we don't see people moving away comprehensively from print," Taylor said.
Instead he argued that all newspaper outlets should be taking practical steps to develop more efficient processes that improve both the environment and their balance sheets. "Our view is that the printed product is here to stay certainly for the next 20 years, so it's about having the two things to co-exist side by side," Taylor added.
As the newspaper industry continues to face challenges in monetizing online publishing and managing declining printing sales, perhaps News UK's approach to delivering a more efficient printing and distribution model could help improve both its financial and environmental performance for years to come. Rupert Murdoch's Twitter account may have confirmed that the media magnate is somewhat sceptical about the need for action on climate change, but at least one of his companies appears to remain fully committed to curbing its environmental impact.
This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen.