Publishers duck paper supply chain challenges

A report for the Periodical Publishers Association assessing the industry's contribution to sustainable development has recommended few actions that would reduce environmental impacts. It pours cold water on moves to increase the amount of recycled content of paper supplies and declines actively to support sustainable forestry certification.

The report into a sustainable development strategy for the industry was drawn up by printing and publishing consultants Pira with input from the PPA and funding from the Department of Trade and Industry's sustainable technologies initiative.1 The PPA represents some 400 consumer and business-to-business magazine publishers, including BBC Magazines, EMAP and IPC.

Launched in November, the report aims to "help the PPA, its members, and their supply chain to understand and subsequently communicate to stakeholders how their activities relate to sustainable development." However, one publishing industry source described the report as "complacent" and designed to demonstrate the industry's clean credentials.

Among the goals set out in an action plan accompanying the report is to reduce the proportion of unsold magazines - which stands at 30% of magazines distributed through newsstands. "Although these returns are sorted and subsequently 100% of the fibre is recycled," it says, "there is an environmental cost of producing, distributing, collecting, and processing this material." But it offers no recommendations or targets to tackle the problem beyond calling for publishers to continue to put pressure on distributors by reviewing their returns.

On recycling, the action plan recognises that mill capacity exists in the UK to recycle more than the 30% of post-consumer magazines that currently enter the reprocessing stream - but the only target is that the industry should support the campaign by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to boost collection rates by printing the recycling logo in magazines.

Some of the commentary is surprisingly one-sided. Regarding the industry's social impacts, the report argues that "magazines play an important role in informing and educating people about environmental issues". Magazines also help encourage literacy, provide information on culture and current affairs and advice on health and personal issues, it says.

There is no discussion of magazines' ability to promote negative societal trends, nor their role in fuelling unsustainable consumption choices in fields such as motoring, tourism, food and alcohol.

Much of the environmental information in the report was previously published by Pira in a mass balance analysis of magazine publishing, funded through the Biffaward research programme on sustainable resource use.2

In 2002, the PPA and the British Printing Industries Federation launched a scheme to encourage printers to improve environmental management (ENDS Report 343, p 30 ). After a slow start, the scheme now has 37 printers in membership.

However, the industry still has a long way to go to engage effectively with its supply chain challenges. Its largest raw material stream by far is paper, some 925,000 tonnes of which were used in 2001.

The report tries to turn this supply chain picture into a positive, by arguing that the industry has "unique potential" to contribute to environmental sustainability because paper is a renewable resource and the end product is recyclable.

It recognises that the use of recycled paper in magazines is "exceptionally low". The PPA says it will support a new project, shortly to be announced by WRAP, to look at how to increase the recycled content of magazine papers. Richard Henchley, PPA public affairs consultant, said the WRAP study will be an important step in gathering evidence on technical and economic feasibility.

Yet the report plays down the potential. "It is important that the industry is not seen as being against recycled content per se," it says. It should be willing to use recycled paper "if and when successful magazine grade recycled content paper can be developed."

It continues: "To date there has been no solution to this issue since magazine grade papers are by their nature virgin papers...A step change in recycling technology would be required to significantly change this situation."

Pira's mass balance goes further and opposes moves to increase recycled content. Because a continuous input of virgin fibre is essential to maintain the quality of the paper cycle, argues Pira, "it is not necessary for the UK magazine industry to attempt to change its paper usage from virgin to recycled materials."

But a recent PrintWeek buyer's guide to magazine papers lists 19 types of paper available with recycled content ranging from 25-100%. One brand, Revive Matt - used by The ENDS Report - contains at least 75% post-consumer waste and is supplied by paper merchant Robert Horne.

David Halford, BBC Worldwide magazines production manager, said there was no technical reason why recycled paper could not be used for high-quality magazines, but there was not sufficient supply to meet the needs of large publishers.

Another important challenge for the industry is forestry. The report says that 48% of virgin fibre used by the European paper industry is certified under either the Forest Stewardship Council scheme or the industry-led alternative PEFC. Four years ago, the BBC became the first consumer magazine publisher to use FSC-certified paper supplies (ENDS Report 311, p 32 ).

The report commits the PPA to maintaining a "watching brief" on the question of forest certification. It calls for major publishers to work towards a single certification scheme. In November, a report for the Environment Department (DEFRA) reported that the PEFC was not currently acceptable for public procurement purposes (see p 32 ).

The Pira report acknowledges concerns over logging in old-growth forests in Finland, but says little about the industry's position on the issue, except that it is "complex" and that the PPA is "actively supporting" dialogue.

Mr Henchley accepted that the action points on sustainable timber could be strengthened. However, he said the PPA had no firm plans to develop the report into a formal sectoral sustainability strategy, nor to set quantitative improvement targets. He also sought to distance the PPA from the report, saying that it was produced by an "independent" consultant - although the PPA clearly had a significant input into the process and in drawing up the action plan.

In contrast to the publishing industry, several other sectors, including manufacturing, retail, automotive and construction, have now published formal sustainability plans in response to a DTI initiative (ENDS Report 349, pp 3-4 ).

Belinda Fletcher, Greenpeace forests campaigner, said she was "very disappointed" with the report. "The publishing industry needs to take the lead and make a public commitment to increasing the recycled content of magazine paper and to supporting the FSC timber certification scheme....Only in this way will companies send a message to suppliers that there is demand."

In June, 34 Canadian magazine publishers took such a lead under the Markets Initiative, a campaign run by a coalition of environmental groups. The companies have pledged to shift away from paper made from timber logged from endangered forests and to use papers which have a high post-consumer recycled content.

Supporting the initiative, the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association and the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers have published a guide to environmentally sound publishing. 3

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