We’re all guilty of it: a plastic bag here, a disposable coffee cup there – small instances of wastefulness in the name of convenience.

But the tide is turning. People are turning away from single-use plastic. Some are ditching short journeys in the car in favour of public transport. However, for publishers, it’s not just about opting for a bag for life at the supermarket…

Here, Justin Masters – Production Director at Think – talks through how membership organisations can make their publications more environmentally sound.

Sustainably-sourced paper

If a printed magazine is still a key part of your membership engagement strategy (quarterly is the most popular frequency according to our latest Re:member research), one of the best ways to ensure your membership magazine is as environmentally-friendly as possible is to use paper that comes from a sustainable source.

Justin recommends looking out for publishers that adhere to specific paper accreditations such as FSC, which confirms that the forest the paper is harvested from is being managed responsibly; preserving biological diversity, benefitting the lives of local people, and ensuring there’s no needless deforestation. 

Likewise, there are also other accreditations which stipulate that the paper comes from certified forestation, managed in line with the strictest environmental, social and economic requirements. Each one ensures renewable forestry and is therefore far kinder to the planet.

Think is actually somewhat of a frontrunner in this area – we’ve been sourcing paper from certified sources for more than 15 years! Since then, these accreditations have now become more commonplace – and it’s a great place to start to boost your magazine’s sustainability.

Ditch the plastic 

We’re all conscious about reducing the single-use plastics we use in everyday life, but ask yourself: does this also extend to your membership magazine offering?

Many magazines have plastic wraps covering them. But while this is useful – to help protect the magazine from damage in transit, for example – that’s not to say you can’t protect your magazine with something a little less toxic to the planet. 

To find out the impact of different magazine materials on the planet, the PPA conducted a study on various types of fulfilment and the carbon footprint attached to each, including the analysis of any plastics used. The results showed the need to move away from harmful plastic and to one of the many kinder and more sustainable alternative materials.

So, if you want to lighten your magazine’s load on the planet, consider instead covering your magazine with a starch wrap, made up of potato and maize starch. Likewise, using a paper wrap is also a great alternative – and it’s completely recyclable!

If you fancy trying something a little bit more extreme, Justin explains that you can opt for ‘Naked Mail’ – sending your magazine through the post to your members without ANY wrap and just a personalised back cover instead. However, this can come with it’s downsides – the magazine can get damaged in transit, for one, as well as this eliminating the possibility of any commercial inserts or supplements being included in your offering.

Think was an early adopter of using compostable wrap, which led to a new initiative in securing discounts for starch mailing packs. This resulted in us saving two tonnes of plastic annually – with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Royal Photographic Society, and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health among the clients that have made the switch.

Moving to sustainable wrapping will no doubt delight your members, too. We have also had great success in introducing paper wrap, which as well as being fully recyclable, is a great way to add extra marketing material to your pack, as it can be fully printed front and back.

Review your use of laminates 

Justin also highlights how your magazine’s sustainability goes far beyond the wrap that it comes in…

Think about magazines with glossy front covers and a high-sheen finish. As stunning as they look, to achieve a finish like this, a magazine is probably covered in a laminate – a plastic that wraps around the cover. While a matte laminate looks beautiful, its effect on the environment is not. In fact, Justin explains that this laminate makes the whole magazine non-recyclable!

If your organisation is guilty of using laminates, don’t worry – it’s a quick and easy fix. Justin recommends looking at your cover finishes and eliminating materials such as laminates, varnishes or special finishes, such as foil. 

Recycled vs new

Most people would believe that opting for recycled paper over new would be far more eco-friendly. However, Justin reveals the opposite to be true.

Recycled paper actually has a far bigger carbon footprint. In order to recycle used paper into a state of ‘new’ and usable paper once again, there’s a whole range of processes the paper needs to go through. Pulping, de-inking, whitening, recoating… All of these processes require a lot of energy and chemicals. And the more energy used, the higher the carbon footprint and impact on the planet.

As result, virgin fibre – also known as ‘new trees’ – are technically more sustainable. If new trees are cut down from a renewable forestry source that has a constant flow of new saplings being planted in their place, this is actually a whole lot kinder to the planet. 

Weight of the world

Have a feel of your magazine – does the paper feel thick or thin?

If it feels too thick, you could take a look at reducing the thickness and the weight of the paper used to print your magazine. For instance, Justin recommends that if you’re using 90 GSM paper, you could look into opting for 80 gram paper instead. This would give you a lower volume of paper used during the printing process, which would therefore lessen your carbon footprint.

Think about ink (and the rest!)

So, we’ve covered paper, wraps, and the weight of your magazine – but did you know that even the ink used during the printing process can be made more eco-friendly? Vegetable and soy-based inks, for example, are far kinder to the planet, so it’s worth examining the type of ink currently being used in your printing process.

If you want to delve into your printing process even further, Justin recommends looking into ISO 14001 certification. ISO 14001 is an internationally-recognised standard that sets out the criteria for an ‘environmental management system’. This maps out an environmental policy framework that your organisation can follow to ensure its being mindful of its carbon footprint. ISO 14001 certification can stipulate processes such as ensuring renewable energy, electric vehicles and – you guessed it – even environmentally-friendly inks are used during the manufacturing process of your magazine. Find out more information about ISO 14001 here.

Educate your readers

The sustainability of your membership magazine doesn’t have to fall totally on your shoulders. Justin recommends sharing your environmental efforts with your readers so that they can be a part of the process, too.

By sharing the steps you’re taking to be a more sustainable company, you’ll likely enthuse your readers to do the same. You can even ask them to play their part in helping you with sustainability. For instance, ask them to responsibly recycle the magazine once they’re done with it, or to compost their starch wrap in their bin for food waste. That way, it’s a team effort. 

Continue to analyse and improve

As with anything, there’s always room for improvement – and your business’s carbon footprint is no different!

While there may be certain areas of your printing process that are currently less sustainable, analysing your environmental impact and examining where you can improve is a great place to start. 

Look at what your business’s carbon footprint is and think about ways that you can reduce this. For instance, Justin suggests investing in schemes to plant more trees and therefore offsetting some of your environmental impact. Similarly, ensure that you work with a publisher who is mindful of their carbon impact and is actively doing something about it (Think is currently analysing its own footprint as a publisher, with a view to implementing further reductions and offsetting, for example).

As our recent Re:member research revealed, while frequencies are in decline, many members do still very much enjoy reading a printed magazine. In fact, the majority of membership organisations we surveyed ranked their magazine as one of the most valued and effective channels for their members!

So, as sustainability increasingly becomes a priority for more individuals, investing in the eco-friendliness of your membership magazine is a future-proofing win. 

Need some help? Get in touch with us today.

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