Green America

Tipping Point: National Geographic Adds Recycled Fiber to Magazines

In a major step forward for the use of recycled paper in the magazine industry, the National Geographic Society (NGS) has begun incorporating recycled fiber in all the pages of National Geographic Magazine, National Geographic Kids, and National Geographic Little Kids. The shift clearly demonstrates the viability of using recycled paper for high quality photographic reproduction. This expanded use of recycled paper comes as a result of close collaboration with Green America and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

For large publishers that have been slow to adopt recycled fiber for their publications, the latest move by National Geographic—one of the most widely read and admired publications in the world—sends an important signal to the industry.

“The magazine that has showcased the natural wonders of the world for generations is now helping to preserve them in its very pages,” said Darby Hoover, NRDC senior resource specialist. “National Geographic’s world-renowned photography is unparalleled—if they can continue to captivate their audience in print by using recycled content, anyone can. By adding recycled fiber into their magazines, National Geographic is joining a growing movement that can help ensure the world’s forests can live on the pages of their magazine—instead of in them—for years to come.”

“National Geographic’s recycled paper use is a tipping point for recycled paper in the magazine industry,” Green America Better Paper Project Director Frank Locantore said. “National Geographic takes its environmental responsibility seriously and their recent commitment to using recycled paper helps further lower their greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. If National Geographic Magazine, with over four million print copies each month, can take this important step to use recycled paper, all magazines can follow their example.”

National Geographic is initially piloting magazine paper containing five percent postconsumer recycled fiber, and intends to continue testing the viability of papers with increased recycled content. This is an important first step, and the environmental groups have committed to working with National Geographic to increase recycled content in their magazines over time.

“For National Geographic, our goal – and our challenge – is to balance our desires to utilize as high a percentage of recycled fiber as possible, maintain the highest quality and aesthetic standards, produce affordable products and minimize our impact on the environment,” said Stephen Hughes, National Geographic’s vice president for global sourcing.

Environmental groups Green America and Natural Resources Defense Council have worked closely with NGS since 2011 to assess the impacts of NGS’ paper use and identify opportunities to reduce its environmental footprint. In 2013, Green America and NRDC joined with NGS on the most rigorous study to date of the benefits of using recycled fiber versus virgin fiber in magazine publications. Conducted by an independent third-party for NGS, the study found that recycled fiber is superior to virgin fiber in 14 out of 14 environmental categories, such as energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, the groups have been working together to develop a plan to incorporate recycled content into the pages of the NGS magazines.

There are over 15,000 magazine titles in the United States, with only about three percent regularly using recycled paper, according to the Green America Better Paper Project.

“The paper manufacturing playing field is dominated by the virgin fiber paper industry,” says Locantore. “That’s why National Geographic’s initial step to use postconsumer recycled content should help other publications understand that they can also begin using recycled paper while simultaneously building momentum to make recycled paper use the paradigm rather than the exception.”

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