Paper price increases are painful. What do they mean for environmental publishing considerations? The good news is that being fiscally conservative with paper expenses can also be environmentally responsible with thoughtful planning.

The simple explanation for the increases is that supply has constricted due to mill closings, mergers and acquisitions while manufacturing costs have gone up primarily due to increases in oil prices. Experts in the industry predict that the prices will stabilizing anytime in the next six to 18 months–likely 18 months.

The high paper prices provide an opportunity to assess paper use efficiency and find ways to reduce relative costs. These savings will last beyond the current market fluctuations and continue to be good for the environment.

Let this be an evolution, not a revolution, by making changes strategically over time that add financial and environmental value to the magazine. Here is how mitigating current increases also helps protect the environment:

1. Reduce the basis weight.
Lighter basis weight means more paper per hundred-weight, less fiber needed from forests, less fuel required for transportation, and less postage costs for mailing.

2. Change from freesheet to groundwood or recycled paper.
It takes 4.4 tons of wood to make one-ton of freesheet paper, and 2.2 tons of wood for groundwood paper. A switch to groundwood paper with recycled content doubles the paper yield and keeps more trees in the forest. (It takes 1.2 tons of recovered paper to make one-ton of recycled paper.)

3. Reduce the trim size.
A reduction of one-quarter or one-half inch in trim size can result in a four- to eight-percent cost savings while also reducing the amount of fiber need from forests.

4. Rethink all paper options.

Going down in paper grade in addition to basis weight and trim-size reductions will save on production costs in addition to reducing chemical use.

5. Think geographically.
Where does the virgin fiber and recovered paper come from for the magazine paper? Is the printer a few hundred miles or less from the paper mill? Strategize how to reduce the distance between these points in order to reduce costs and environmental impacts? Use the Chain of Custody document on the Magazine PAPER Project Web site to determine where all the fiber and pulp for the paper comes from. This can also help identify if fiber is sourced from areas of high conservation value. Then work with the magazine’s supply chain to identify ways to reduce transportation.

6. Partner with the supply chain and build new relationships.
Mills are working to do their best to ensure that their valued customers are able to get the paper that they need and weather these price increases. Magazines that worked with suppliers without trying to unreasonably squeeze lower prices from them when the market was down may reap some “preferred” status. Look at negotiating flatter price increases over several quarters, such as a flat five-percent increase on Jan 1 and another on June 1. If you have a good relationship with the mill and the prices don’t increase that much they will sometimes give you a rebate on the difference. Even if they don’t, knowing what price increases to expect is critical for creating and staying on budget.

In paper market conditions such as these a thoughtful and strategic approach will assist magazines production departments in weathering the storm while also being able to maintain and even increase their practices that protect the environment.