At Nickelodeon Magazine, More Than Just the Slime Is Green

Every second, a tree in the United States is logged to produce magazine paper, resulting in 35 million trees being cut down each year. Our industry pollutes the air and contaminates the water, and we are a substantial contributor to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The magazine industry only began investigating its true environmental impact a few years ago, and large publishers have only recently decided to do something about it. For years, we happily went to work every day, ordering thousands of tractor trailer loads of virgin paper, trusting the paper industry to police itself, believing that paper production was not that bad for the environment. We were wrong. But we’ve also discovered that publishers can do a lot to drastically reduce our industry’s environmental impact.

Nickelodeon is part of the Kids and Family division of MTV Networks. We produce content for children all over the world—on-air, online, and in print. Nickelodeon Magazine has a total audience of more than seven million readers—readers who are increasingly concerned about global warming. We know this through research we’ve conducted and from letters we’ve received from kids. During the fall of 2006, after having seen An Inconvenient Truth, and then reading an article that changed our lives, we decided to clean up our act. Here’s how we did it:

On Thursday, October 25, 2006, the New York Times published “The Hidden Life of Paper and Its Impact on the Environment.” By the next day, we had designated a point person to spearhead research and development for our environmental initiative. It needed to be someone’s job to do the research, or it wouldn’t get done.

Figuring out the basics of “green” publishing became the second objective. We started with a Web search for nonprofits and foundations that had published research we could access. An invaluable resource for us was “Different Not Difficult: How to Make Sustainability Happen,” a guide created by Aveda, Co-op America, the National Wildlife Federation, and Quad Graphics, which outlined sustainability principles for the publishing industry. With this guide, we moved to the third step of our process: setting initial goals. 

These initial goals were broad, far-reaching, and, in some cases, a bit dramatic. Our initial goals included everything from “using recycled paper” to “influencing other divisions of our company to develop green policies.”

The next thing we did was to get technical by doing in-depth research and forming partnerships. In order to get valid, comprehensive information, it’s important to partner with people who know what they’re talking about. This includes groups who are not voices of industry, as well as important industry pioneers who’ve already taken the plunge. A pivotal partnership for us has been with the Magazine PAPER Project, a division of Co-op America’s Woodwise Program. They help us vet the claims of paper manufacturers, tell us what other publishers are doing to become greener, point us toward other third-party research and resources, and serve as a hub for publishers trying to lessen their environmental impact.

Once we became “experts” and had relationships with people who could answer our questions, it was time to redefine our initial goals, then work hard to realize them. Some of our initial goals have been easier to achieve than we thought. For instance, we wanted Quebecor World to have our printing plant become Forest Stewardship Council certified. Not only did they get our plant certified, but they did it company-wide. Other goals are not yet achievable—for example, printing with 100 percent vegetable oil-based inks turned out not to be possible on our presses. We also concluded that using as much post-consumer recycled fiber as possible in our stocks would have the greatest positive impact. This goal moved to the top of our list (95 percent of our paper consumption in 2008 will be on recycled stock). Comprehensive research helps you establish priorities, and it turns pie-in-the-sky aspirations into concrete, achievable objectives.

Although partnerships with third-party groups are indispensable, identifying vendors with expertise, integrity, and commitment to your goals is crucial as well. Your vendors already have direct relationships with product suppliers, so they can take your requests to their suppliers, and bring back the products you want.  Our paper buyer at Lindenmeyr Central has been an invaluable partner in converting our inventory from virgin to recycled paper, and works with us on a daily basis to find new green resources that meet our budget.

In order to put more muscle behind your efforts, you’ll need to sell your green initiative to upper management. Here are some tips: a) Share the success stories of companies whose programs you’d like to emulate, including the positive advertiser and consumer response they have received; b) have a strong understanding of the facts and know what the cost implications are for your business—(remember: going green can actually save money); c) get your group excited by sharing news and accomplishments. Going green is contagious, and in our experience, nearly everyone is happy to be a part of it.

After securing the support of upper management, it is vital to your initiative to create an environmental stewardship policy and make it public. This is critical, because it makes your initiative official. Be sure to create a flexible set of goals that will evolve as new technologies and resources emerge. Put your goals and priorities in writing, and formally roll them out to your vendors, upper management, coworkers, and customers. We present our policy in a variety of formats—from complex documents to simple messaging, depending on our audience. The important thing is that we talk about it. A lot.

We at the Nickelodeon Magazine group are now in the final and ongoing stage: continuing hard work and research to expand our goals and accomplishments. Going green requires solid research, hard work, and leadership. For us, it was the conviction of our readers that inspired us, and it is a concern for our future that motivates us to push ourselves and our industry toward environmental sustainability.

This was excerpted from PR News' Going Green: Case Studies in Outstanding Green Business Practices, Volume 1. It was written by Lori Crook, group production director for the Nickelodeon Magazine Group and Jennifer Alt, production manager for Nickelodeon. To order the guidebook, please visit