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Why our pages are whiter and our operation greener

By David Wilson

My father was a newspaper publisher, and when I was young, it meant I spent a lot of time loitering around the various papers where he worked. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, newspaper offices and the printing plants attached to them were not exactly temples of environmental purity. Reporters and editors smoked like chimneys — cigarettes were part of the uniform, along with fedoras and short-sleeved dress shirts — and the newsrooms, where I loved to watch the teletype machines spit out wire-service reports, were permanently bathed in the haze of second-hand tobacco smoke.

The back shops, where pages were assembled and the day’s news printed, were downright toxic — the air laden with fumes from molten lead, ink and solvents. Recycling? Forget about it. Leftover newsprint, tons and tons of it, was piled in a truck and dumped at the landfill.

Mercifully, a lot has changed in publishing since then, partly because of economics and partly because it dawned on the publishing industry, as it dawned on many other industries, that wasteful and dangerous practices were a threat to a fragile planet.

It’s been two decades since anyone lit up a smoke in Observer House, and recycling has been a way of life in the office for years. We got rid of our bottled-water cooler last fall. But perhaps the biggest advance in the magazine’s environmental stewardship is one that you’re holding as you read this. Starting with this issue, we have changed to a coated paper stock made entirely of post-consumer recycled fibres. It is also 100 percent recyclable. The newsprint stock we were using until now was also 100 percent recyclable but only contained about 10 percent recycled fibres.

The new paper is called Leipa, after the small mill in Germany that makes it. It’s a new-technology paper that is slowly but surely winning converts here and elsewhere. Other Canadian publications that have made the switch include the University of Toronto Magazine, Outdoor Canada, Explore, Cottage Life, Canadian Workshop and some editions of Canadian Living.

Leipa paper is forest-friendly — it’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification — and it reuses waste paper that could otherwise end up in landfills. The plant that makes it employs a closed-cycle water loop that means no effluents are released back into the environment. And the use of recovered fibres to make the paper consumes about one-fifth the energy required to manufacture similar-grade paper from trees.

Yes, it’s more expensive than newsprint but it looks a lot better and will enable us to make changes to our graphics, which will mean an easier-to-read, more appealing magazine. So we see this switch as a win for readers and the environment.

Recent paper industry surveys suggest that an overwhelming majority of Canadian readers believe publishers should use environmentally friendly papers. Moreover, a significant majority of readers actually have more confidence in the integrity of publications that use them. So expect more publications to move toward paper like this.

Sometimes the degradation of the environment can seem a little overwhelming. But now and then there are glimmers of hope. We don’t expect or want any laurels — after all, we’re supposed to be good stewards — but I’ll be happy if you consider what we’ve done a bit of good news.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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