This week, at the Folio Show, the magazine industry's annual shindig, there will be a new addition to the Folio Awards. Beyond the "Eddies" (which honor magazines for editorial content) and the "Ozzies" (for design), there will be a new category: The Aveda Environmental Award. It will honor "Best practices in environmental sustainability within the magazine production processes."
Lest you think that Aveda's name attached to this award is merely a crass branding play, think again: For the past few years, Aveda, the roughly half-billion-dollar unit of cosmetics giant Estee Lauder Companies, has been single-handedly trying to transform the magazine industry to adopt more sustainable practices.
Single-handedly, that is, with the help of some pretty potent activist groups -- notably the Environmental Paper Network, a coalition of environmental and social action groups like the Center for a New American Dream, Co-op America, Environmental Defense, and the National Wildlife Federation. EPN has been working to reduce the impact of the 35 million trees logged annually to produce the 2.2 million tons of paper used by the roughly 18,000 magazine titles published in the U.S. each year, according to a 2001 white paper (Download - PDF) on the topic.
About four years ago, Aveda began looking into the environmental practices of the magazines in which it runs advertising -- their use of post-consumer recycled paper, chlorine-free bleaching, and soy inks, for example. It sent a short survey to the 50 or so publications where Aveda was running ads, or thinking of doing so.
The survey led to a company advertising policy two years ago requiring magazines to have a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled content to qualify for Aveda's ads. (The policy was applied to only one of Aveda's two advertising plans -- the one for healthy lifestyle and environmental magazines. The policy hasn't yet been applied to Aveda's other media plan, for health and beauty publications.)
When it applied the policy, Aveda assumed it would have to write off some of the magazines for a while. But the carnage was minimal, says Aveda media director Rachael Ostrom. "We were thinking that by putting the strategy in place that we would have to leave some magazines for a number of years before making the change," she told me last week. "But we were able to work with magazines much earlier than we expected."
The first to switch was Natural Health, which had been printing solely on virgin paper. "They did the research, and in a matter of 4-5 months came back to us and let us know they were switching to a paper with 40% recycled content," says Ostrom. There was some backsliding, too. Aveda learned that Yoga Journal, which had been using recycled paper, had stopped doing so without letting Aveda know. Aveda pulled its ads and within a few months the magazine returned to the fold.
Can one small advertiser really make a difference? After all, Aveda's $4 million annual magazine ad budget represents less than 0.02% of the $21.2 billion total spent on U.S. magazine advertising in 2004, according to Advertising Age. But this is a case where dollars have a leveraging effect: Although Aveda likely represents only a tiny fraction of any magazine's ad revenue, it can still get a publisher to change.
Equally important is that the idea has spread. Aveda has shared its survey and strategy with other like-minded companies, such as Green Mountain Coffee, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farm, and Timberland.
The acid test will be if Aveda can infect the mothership -- that is, get its parent company, Estee Lauder, to adopt a similar policy for its myriad consumer brands, which include such venerable names as Aramis, Clinique, Donna Karan, Origins, Prescriptives, and Tommy Hilfiger. It's not unprecedented: Some of the environmental packaging innovations pioneered by Aveda are now being adopted by Lauder.
Aveda, for its part, plans to raise the bar over time for magazines, increasing the recycled-content requirement, adding some additional requirements, and rolling out the policy to health and beauty titles.
Already, it's moving the needle, says Frank Locantore, who runs the WoodWise program at Co-op America, and who played a key role in creating the Folio award. "Overall, more magazines are beginning to look into this issue more closely. Small and mid-size publishers are really leading the way and there is a growing swell that I think will become a tipping point in about one or two years, when two to four big magazine make the switch."
Today: Mother Earth News. Tomorrow: Martha Stewart Living.
Update: Click here for a list of the winners.