It may seem surprising that there is not a real industry-wide definition of ‘green’ paper for all the gusto shown by publishers, mills, readers and advertisers for an ‘environmentally preferable’ paper, as Hearst calls it. The de facto classification applies to paper with a minimum of 10 percent recycled fiber for coated paper and 30 percent for uncoated, based on a federal order from more than a decade ago. But there are several environmental issues surrounding forestry, paper and paper production to be taken into consideration when truly defining green paper, says Craig DeRusha, vice president of magazine & book paper for Hearst Magazines.

Hearst, the media darling of the environmental sustainability movement for its recycling efforts and gold LEED-certified officer tower, has been working with member companies of the Paper Working Group and Metafore, a non-profit government organization, for several years to develop the definition of ‘green’ paper. This has resulted in the establishment of the Environmental Paper Assessment Tool (EPAT) that affords publishers a better lens through which to view suppliers when making purchasing decisions.

Five Points For Going Green

The five major points of criteria are as follows: efficient use and conservation of raw materials (recovered content, water use and energy use); minimization of waste (recyclability and compostability); conservation of natural systems (fiber sourcing, certified forest management, sensitive forest management); clean production (air quality, water quality, climate stability, minimum impact mill, solid waste, environmental management system); community and well being (labor and human rights, human health and safety, stakeholder impacts); and credible reporting and verification (public reporting and independent verification).

“All paper suppliers to Hearst subscribe and participate in the EPAT by providing their confidential mill data to the system for our evaluation,” DeRusha says. The publisher has 14 U.S. titles and nearly 200 international editions.

Hearst has focused on three major environmental initiatives: increasing the availability of certified fiber in the states where it procures and increasing the level of certified fiber in its paper products; participating in recovery projects like REMIX (recycling magazines is excellent) and promoting paper recovery and a carbon footprint study or LCA following the criteria of the World Resource Institute for a scope III supply-chain definition. Currently, Hearst magazines are printed on paper that is made up of 75 percent certified fiber, compared to just 38 percent at the end of 2004. The publisher, which has a goal of reaching 80 percent, has modified its purchasing strategy and works proactively with its suppliers, DeRusha says.

Hearst requires that paper mills it uses pursue and/or operate under a third-party certified chain-of-custody (COC) program, ensuring that the fiber it uses was legally harvested and does not come from endangered forests. At the end of 2009, 100 percent of the paper Hearst purchased came from mills with certificates that operate under a COC system.

In fact, that system is becoming the norm in the industry thanks to a revival of the Lacey Act. As of September, the ruling requires all paper companies to provide a chain-of-custody certificate and to certify where the paper came from.

For magazine publishers, ‘green’ paper must live up to printing standards, and there are mixed opinions regarding the look and feel of the environmentally friendly grades.
Shape magazine, published by American Media Inc., (AMI) runs on ‘green’ paper, though the publisher declined to give specifics about which paper it uses. AMI has seen “no difference” between the environmentally-friendly paper and virgin-fiber paper and there are ‘no major issues’ with color transfer, says spokesperson Samantha Trenk. “The paper has evolved over the years so that in most cases, we can print on recycled paper as well as we did on non-recycled paper,” Trenk says.

But there can be different characteristics between virgin-fiber paper and recycled paper, says Frank Locantore, director of the Green America Better Paper Project. For example, different fibers absorb ink and perform differently. “Every time you use a different sheet of paper, there will be differences,” he says, noting that it holds true no matter what kind of paper you switch from. “If you’re using the same paper over and over, you have a whole lot of confidence in how it will perform this issue compared to last.” But the real evidence, he says, is in the look of the magazines printed on recycled paper. “Audubon has great photography and it’s 100 percent recycled.”

Paying the Price for Green Paper

There’s a general perception that ‘green’ paper costs more than virgin-fiber paper, but that’s not always the case, Locantore says. Pricing can vary and a lot depends on the market and the prices for hardwood pulp compared to de-inked recycled paper.

“Generally there is a premium charged for recycled paper. The extent of this upcharge largely depends on the purchase deal that is being struck,” Trenk says. “If you want to go green, it is going to cost you a little something.”

SIERRA, the publication for the Sierra Club, pays a premium for its paper to be 30 percent post-consumer waste and FSC-certified, but that’s part of the cost of doing business for the oldest environmental group in the country, says Chuck Baldwin, associate director of operations.

While the cost may be reasonable and sustainable at the moment, there are very few good options available to a publisher of SIERRA’s scale, Baldwin says. “From what I understand finding suitable recycled material is quite difficult, with China buying the vast majority of it. The ‘urban jungle’ that produces recycled fiber is primarily supplying paper manufacturers overseas, which is a big reason there is a premium on paper with a high recycled content. It’s just easier and cheaper to chop down trees,” he adds.

There are several factors that can contribute to a higher cost for paper with recycled content. Some mills have to buy recycled pulp on the open market, which can boost costs. The way the machines are set up, and whether the process is efficient, determines the cost. In some cases, mills have to slow down machines to add the recycled fiber, which means the machine will make fewer sheets of paper per minute. So, prices will rise to cover the cost of running the machines per hour with less output. Locantore also says that there are a slew of incentives and tax breaks for virgin-fiber production.

“Prices can vary significantly and the reasons will be the real costs that are associated with market conditions,” Locantore says. Also, working with a paper broker can add to the cost, he says. “It is a significant challenge in working with publishers to find recycled paper that meets all their needs. For some, it has been a real obstacle and has prevented them from using recycled paper. For others, it’s been non-existent and small enough where they absorb it.”

Another area where publishers can make a difference is through the recycling process. Roughly 30 percent of magazines are recycled each year, with the rest going to landfills, according to the Hearst. One reason it’s not a higher percentage is because many people don’t know that magazines are recyclable. Hearst has made an effort to put the recycling logo as well as text asking for people to recycle  magazines on each title every month. The publisher has also reduced returns by 17.5 million copies over the past three years.


Retail Recognition

Green America Better Paper Project continues its retail recognition program for publishers who use recycled paper. Select retailers, including Barnes & Noble and Hastings, put signs near certain titles to show readers which magazines use recycled paper. The signs can be found throughout the magazine displays in September and April. is also part of the effort online. In its magazine section on the site, users can choose between different types of magazines, including a ‘recycled  paper magazines’ category, which brings users to a listing of greener titles. The goal? To possibly influence readers’ buying decisions and to recognize the publishers leading this movement, says Frank Locantore, director of Green America Better Paper Project.


The EcoPaper Database: How to Find Green Sheets

EcoPaper database includes a list ‘Ancient Forest Friendly” and other environmentally-preferable papers available in North America. Click on to access the database. The database includes the brand name of the paper, the manufacturer, paper type, coated or uncoated, grade, and what “step” the paper is in the green transition.

Mills Use Less Water for Recycled Paper

Despite the fact that recycled pulp has to be cleaned so many times to get the ink out of it, there’s some  evidence, albeit anecdotal, that recycled paper uses much less water than if you start with a tree. Paper company Arjowiggins Graphic estimates its mills use nearly 50 percent less water for paper from de-inked pulp than from virgin sources. The paper also looks brighter as a result of the cleaning process, says Gilles L’Hermitte, Sustainability Development Manager for the paper company.