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The Green Media Show – scheduled to take place in Boston on October 1-2, 2008 – is designed to help companies in a wide variety of venues understand the concept of Sustainable Communications and how it can fit into a strategic business plan. The broad message is that traditional modes of communication are having an enormous impact on the environment, and that people concerned with the carbon footprint of their operations ought to be thinking about the carbon footprint of their communications vehicles.

In the final part of a two-part interview, Don Carli, Senior Research Fellow with The Institute for Sustainable Communication, puts the issues into context:

CPG companies and retailers probably are prime offenders, since they rely on print ads, coupons, flyers, mailers and FSIs. So what you’re really talking about isn’t a green initiative, but a complete marketing makeover, right? And doesn’t this make it a tougher sell to these companies?

Don Carli: Yes, CPG and retail companies are significant users of advertising media, but I would not single them out or any other industry as offenders. We are all conflicted, but more significantly most of us are unaware of how the economic footprint of our advertising and communication activities relates to their environmental and social aspects and impacts.

Let me give you a timely example.

TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Analysis Group says McCain and Obama campaigns are already spending between $250,000 to $300,000 per day on advertising. So far neither campaign has addressed the carbon footprint of political advertising. While spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, each campaign has the opportunity to determine the carbon footprint of their advertising and set an example on the issue of climate change.

Given the importance of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions stated by both presidential candidates, quantifying and reducing the carbon footprints of their advertising would be one of the material ways they could “walk the talk” prior to the election, setting an example for the RNC, the DNC, political action committees and the hundreds of state and local offices marketing their candidates for the 2008 election.

A lot of people might wonder about why this issue (Sustainable Media Supply Chains) is of such critical importance, especially because so many of us are recycling. What are we missing here?

Don Carli: First let me address the fallacy that so many of us are recycling. What most Americans call recycling is not recycling... it is correctly termed waste recovery or waste diversion. The single stream "recycling" practiced by Americans results in the diversion or recovery of 56 percent of the paper consumed in the U.S. for recycling, but that does not mean it is recycled. In addition, while recovery or diversion rates are up dramatically from what they were was a decade ago, it is by no means world class, and it is NOT recycling.

Recycling requires "closing the loop" that the familiar chasing arrow symbol for recycling signifies. Just because we tie up our newspapers and separate our bottles and cans from our other trash does not mean we are recycling. According to the National Recycling Coalition, recycling refers to the complete series of activities by which discarded materials are collected, sorted, processed, and converted into raw materials and used in the production of new products, and it excludes the use of these materials as a fuel substitute or for energy production. Recycling also means buying recycled.

At present the majority of the waste paper that most American's think they are recycling is in fact being diverted from landfill or incineration only to be sold and shipped to China. A little known fact is that waste paper is America's single largest export by volume and China is our largest single customer for it. They in turn downcycle our paper into linerboard used to make the boxes that they in turn ship consumer goods to us in and we typically then send to landfill or incineration. When it comes to recycling paper, we currently divert approximately 52% of the 750 or more pounds of paper consumed by each American from landfill, but we recycle very little of it here in America.

In fact we have been shutting down paper de-inking facilities and paper mills in the US. We have not built a new paper mill in the US for over 12 years and the ones we have were built by our grandparents. In contrast, just one company in China founded less than a decade ago has built a half dozen of the most sophisticated de-inking and papermaking plants in the world over the past 5 years. Nine Dragons Paper and its ownership group, America Chung Nam Inc. are presided over by Ms. Cheung Yan, the richest woman in the world.

As for sustainability... most people think about the sustainability of something they depend on for existence the way fish think about water. We are literally awash with paper and digital media in North America so we tend to take them for granted... In particular we take the sustainability of the flows of energy and materials that produce them, deliver them to our homes and businesses and produce waste streams for granted. Just as most people expect their lights to work whenever they flip the switch and unlimited quantities of clean water to run from their taps at any time of the day on any day of the year. These are not safe assumptions.

Let me be clear. Communication media supply chains (whether we employ print or digital media), make government, business, the arts and a civil society possible. Our ability to communicate through the use of media is what defines us as a species, and our ability to develop sustainable communication media supply chains will be as important to our quality of life and that of future generations as having clean water to drink, safe food to eat, clean air to breathe or clean renewable energy to light, heat and cool our homes and businesses.

Advertisers, marketers and all professionals who depend on the ability to communicate freely and affordably through print and digital media need to ensure the sustainability of their media supply chains as a matter of economic self interest as well as a matter of environmental stewardship and due care for that which defines us. We are beginning to see evidence of interest in the issue on the part of major publishers and media companies like Time Inc., The Economist, Newscorp and Yahoo as well as from leading advertisers and government agencies.

The first step to be taken by all is to identify the sources and fates of the media we purchase and dispose. The second step is to quantify the major positive economic, environmental and social aspects and impacts associated with our media supply chains using transparent peer-reviewed standards-based methods like ISO 14040 lifecycle analysis and ISO 14064 carbon footprint analysis. Armed with facts derived from "triple bottom line" analysis and using systems thinking we can then make informed decisions about how we can communicate more effectively with less energy, less materials and zero waste. The future of business, government and our quality of life, as well as the fate of future generations, depend on it.

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