By Dan Shapley
By Dan Shapley News Editor
For eight years, Don Carli has been trying to get advertisers and the magazines that print their ads to adopt more sustainable practices. For seven years, I felt a little like a guy blowing a dog whistle on a planet full of cats, the senior research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Communications
said. Not a lot answering the call. They answered the call Thursday when Carli filled a room in New York City to capacity (and then some) for a discussion about improving the supply chain that leads from chain saws in a distant forest through advertising to the recycle bin or landfill where a magazine ends up. It was a watershed moment for a movement that, despite being below the radar of even many environmental advocates, has enormous implications for a low-carbon economy of the future. The pulp and paper making industry is the fourth highest user of electricity, accounting for 6 percent of the nation''s total demand. The environmental footprint of many other segments of the supply chain have yet to be adequately quantified -- but with 250,000 pages of advertising produced annually by the enormous and complex industry, there is a lot of paper, ink, distribution and waste to be addressed. Carli framed the effort as singularly challenging." Speakers emphasized the need for publishers to get out in front of the sustainability issue before it bites them. They can save on energy and other costs now, and avoid customer backlash or potentially huge costs in the future, should Congress enact a carbon tax or other fee on greenhouse gas emissions. With public interest in climate change issues high, companies have a chance to win customer approval if they take meaningful action. There''s nothing we''re better at in the U.S. than creating demand, said Andrew Winston, an author of Green To Gold. We can create demand for sustainable products. Financial institutions are increasingly committing huge sums of money toward sustainability efforts, giving companies a chance to win the capital they might need to improve their supply chains. Bruce Kahn, 2nd vice president of Citi Smith Barney, which hosted the forum, said investors should consider sustainability a key factor in their portfolio choices, if not for ethical reasons, then for purely economic reasons, given the enormity of the impacts that the changing climate promises to cause to the business and regulatory landscape. Aligning investments and values is not just ethical. It''s good business ... and it''s mainstream, he said. It''s not a niche-type investment anymore. There were hints during the panel discussion about ways that publishers might lower their impact in real -- and even elegant -- ways. The Bali-based Jewelry maker John Hardy
calculated the impact of the advertising he purchases, and began a program to plant native bamboo plantations on a tiny Pacific island in cooperation with indigenous people there. He now can add a selling point to his jewelry, under the brand sustainableadvertising.org
, that is both attractive to customers and helpful to the environment. We''re going from a world of conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption, Hardy said. Publishers, speakers said, need to follow a similar path: First quantify their impact, then identify ways to reduce it, and finally mitigate the impact through local or global projects that have real results. Only then can they successfully market their efforts. While the focus was on print advertising and print publications, speakers noted that the perception that the Web has little or no environmental impact is wrong. What is the carbon footprint of a banner ad? What is the carbon footprint of an e-mail? What is the carbon footprint of a Web site? Carli said. Questions for another day. Until then, Carli and his colleagues can take heart that their message is finally breaking through, and that publishers are increasingly discussing -- with various degrees of openness and thoroughness -- the impact of their business. I think we''ve reached a tipping point, said Laurence Allen, the editor and publisher of ValueNewsNetwork.com. Eighteen months ago, I don''t think anyone would have shown up.