Magazines vs. the environment

Traditional print publishing takes a heavy toll on our little blue-green planet

Companies today are wrestling with a conundrum: How do they cut costs and reduce environmental impact while maintaining — or even sharpening — their competitive edge?

For some organizations, technologies such as virtualization are the answer. For the publishing industry, the answer is the Internet. And as online use continues to swell, publishing companies (including InfoWorld parent IDG) are increasingly embracing the medium as a way to achieve their business objectives of delivering information to readers efficiently and inexpensively. Reducing environmental impact is a welcome side benefit.

Make no mistake: The world of traditional print publishing takes a heavy toll on our planet, much of which derives from the energy involved in simply cranking out paper. According to a 2002 study by the Energy Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, the paper industry emits the fourth highest level of carbon dioxide among manufacturers, after the chemical, petroleum and coal products, and primary metals industries.

Moreover, as reported in October in The New York Times, Time magazine found that an average issue was responsible for creating about a quarter pound of greenhouse gas emissions. Compounding the damage, weekly magazine subscriptions generate an average of 90 pieces of mail in the form of renewal notices, premiums, and the like, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Yet paper usage is just the tip of the waste-berg. Delivering tens of thousands of magazines from the publisher to subscribers’ mailboxes means adding more weight to the post office’s fuel-burning planes and trucks. With gas prices increasing year after year, it’s no surprise USPS raised magazine shipping rates last year by 5.4 percent.

In short, InfoWorld’s move to an online-only publication makes a world of sense, not just from a business perspective, but from a sustainability standpoint.

And while being kinder to Mother Earth wasn’t among the top-of-mind reasons for the move, it’s a healthy by-product — one that companies struggling with issues of efficiency and resource management can surely appreciate.