The Environmental Editorial Office

As reflected in CSE annual meetings, the science-editing community seems increasingly aware of environmental issues. How can we help ensure that our own publications and offices are environmentally responsible? This article provides suggestions and identifies sources of further guidance.

Paper Selection

Although some journals and other publications have become all electronic, paper still has advantages and appeals. In publishing, changing the type of paper may be an obvious move to enhance environmental responsibility. But some publishers worry about possible effects on cost and quality. “Many people have this idea that switching to recycled paper will be quite costly, which isn’t the case,” says Sue Silver, editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment. “More and more types of recycled paper are becoming available, and it’s much more affordable.”

Silver notes that she has challenged others to tell the difference between an older journal issue that did not use recycled paper and a newer issue that is printed on recycled paper; none have been able to tell the difference. “Quality and cost are the two biggest myths that I’ve encountered about using recycled paper. With a little extra work, you can get around that and still print a high-quality publication that looks just as good as a publication that was printed on other paper,” Silver says.

Silver has worked hard to ensure that her publication uses paper that is environmentally responsible. Since the launch of Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment in 2003, the journal has been printed on papers with varying amounts of recycled content (from 10% to 100%); it now has settled on a paper that is 30% recycled and 70% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)– certified. FSC (www.fscus.org) is a nonprofit organization that was established to promote and encourage the use of sustainable forestry practices worldwide. Silver says that she hopes her publication can one day go back to 100% recycled paper. (The 100% recycled paper that the journal had used was discontinued.)

Finding a high-quality recycled paper for a publication requires the same amount of effort that it would take to choose a nonrecycled paper. First, one must familiarize oneself with the options available and see how they suit the needs of the publication. Online resources that can help in this regard include the following:

  • The PaperCalculator, provided by the Environmental Defense Fund (www.edf.org/papercalculator), allows one to compare the environmental impacts of different paper types. It generates a report about the amount of waste that is produced from the paper that a publication is using or plans to use. Factors that are considered include wood use, net energy, greenhouse gases, wastewater, and solid waste.
  • The Web site of Conservatree (www.conservatree.org), an organization “dedicated to converting paper markets to environmental papers”, answers commonly asked questions about recycled paper and can assist in paper selection The Web site also includes a glossary that can aid in choosing paper.
  • Metafore, an environmental organization, has developed a project, Paper Working Group, that aims to increase the amount and affordability of environmentally preferred papers. The organization’s Web site (www.metafore.org) offers in-depth information that allows one to compare the performance of environmental paper products.
  • In cooperation with others, Green American, a consumer organization that promotes environmental sustainability, has published a guide, Different Not Difficult (www.greenamericatoday.org/PDF/GuideDifferentNotDifficult.pdf), that addresses many common myths about recycled paper and other environmental aspects of publishing. The guide includes questions to ask about types of paper, manufacturing processes, and inks, to name a few.

Derek Smith, of Derek Smith & Associates (www.paperleadership.com), speaks around the world about the importance of an environmentally responsible publishing industry. Smith says that there are important steps that a publication should take to become more environmentally responsible.

Smith emphasizes that publications should ensure that they use paper that comes from sustainably managed forests. Suitable types of forest certification include FSC, SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative), and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). Smith says that the percentage of recycled fiber should be as high as possible, but that very high percentages are not well suited for some paper grades. “It must be added that the mills producing the recycled fiber and the amount of energy used in the production of the recycled fiber are also important,” Smith says.

Smith notes that the environmental profile or carbon footprint of the pulp mill and paper mill that produce the paper should be favorable. He says, however, that few publications have made major changes in this regard. Smith did mention that Williams-Sonoma publications “are outstanding in terms of environmental protection” and that L. L. Bean also has shown “major progress in this regard”.

Smith says, “I am not aware that any publishing company has taken all the steps I have outlined, but I am convinced that at some point we should be looking from forest to publishing doorstep for complete environmental performance and not just a partial one.”

Environmentally Responsible Workplaces

Publishers and others can take a variety of steps to promote environmental responsibility in the workplace. Energy use is one of the biggest concerns. If natural light isn’t readily available in the office, energy use can be cut by using compact fluorescent light bulbs, which last longer than incandescent light bulbs in addition to saving energy. Appliances that meet the standards of Energy Star (www.energystar.gov), a US government program helping individuals and businesses to protect the environment through energy efficiency, have become popular and increasingly affordable. Switching to Energy Star–compliant products—such as computers, printers, photocopiers, fax machines, scanners, microwave ovens, and refrigerators—in the office can save money. Appliances that are plugged in draw some energy even when not turned on; therefore, unplugging small appliances at the end of the work day may be worth considering. It’s also important to set heating and cooling at environmentally responsible temperatures and to consider reducing the amount of heating or cooling when the office is not use.

Offices should provide conveniently located recycling bins to encourage recycling. They can also consider using ecofriendly products, such as office furniture made from recycled material. Paper can be conserved by setting printers to print double-sided or using scrap paper that would normally be thrown out. One can also reconsider types of shipping materials. Sue Silver mentioned that Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment was previously sent in a plastic bag, but when one subscriber canceled a subscription because using the plastic bag was environmentally unfriendly, Silver reconsidered how the magazine was shipped. Now, the address label is attached to the cover of the journal.

Keeping electronic records saves paper and ink, in addition to storage space. Shorter work weeks can also save energy, for example, by reducing the number of commutes per week. One option can be for employees to telecommute on some days. Another is for employees to work fewer but longer days. For some employees, such options also can increase quality of life.

Whether you publish a journal or just have a personal editorial office, these are steps you can take to promote environmental responsibility.

Making a publication or editorial office environmentally responsible is not challenging, as some are quick to assume. From development and refinement of copy, through production and distribution, to recycling or waste disposal, the scienceediting community can do much to use resources wisely. With careful choices, we can often pursue environmentally preferable options while maintaining or even increasing quality, economy, and convenience.

Barbara Mendoza, a graduate student in science and technology journalism at Texas A&M University, wrote this article while a Science Editor intern.