Standards for Measurement

Kudos to Verso Paper Corp., for participating in National Geo's effort to determine how many carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) are emitted from the production of a 12.3-oz. issue.

According to the paper producer's portion of the study, only 1.27 pounds CO2e are released. When factoring in printing, distribution, packaging, and other activities associated with magazine development, the number only rises to 1.82 pounds of CO2e. The paper company's press release noted that the total figure is the same amount of emissions for a standard car with a 20 mpg rating driven just under 2 miles.

It's been awhile since I held this beloved geography periodical. Does 12.3-oz. seem reasonable to you? The number of pages might have been more meaningful but I am surprised that the emissions are this low. To temper any doubt, the project included Harmony Environmental, which served as the independent consultant responsible for compiling and analyzing the data, performing the calculations, and delivering the results.

In this age of transparency I want to know all the steps of the process. (The National Geographic magazine carbon footprint lifecycle analysis study included contributions from the planting and harvesting of trees, paper manufacture and printing, and magazine delivery and final disposal.) According to my research, no standard currently exists for measuring CO2e from publishing a magazine.

The press release states: "Where opportunities existed for following globally accepted standards, the protocol for conducting the study followed the Green House Gas Protocol Corporate Standard published by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development." What process was used when those opportunities were not available? Verso had already assessed emissions from one mill and had to start over with another mill to account for differences in facilities and paper grades.

I want to know the science behind the measurements. Is it based on modeling or actual emissions metering?

I have considered undertaking this assessment of Environmental Protection's carbon footprint as a magazine compared to its emissions as an online title. But I have discovered that the process is quite complex, many suppliers will not have this information readily available if available at all, and of course life cycle analysis is not free.

The reward doesn't seem to balance the hassle factor. Is that your thinking?

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Jun 23, 2009