Corporate sustainability support for National Geographic’s recycled paper strategy



Alan Kao

T: +1 978 449 0324

We provided strategic and technical support for NGS decision making around the use of recycled paper in the iconic National Geographic magazine.

Working with the Senior Vice President of Communications and the Chief Sustainability Officer for the National Geographic Society (NGS), we provided strategic and technical support for NGS decision making around the use of recycled paper in the iconic National Geographic magazine.

We completed a detailed lifecycle analysis to evaluate the environmental impact of using recovered fiber versus virgin fiber, considering the diversity of pulp mill energy sources and efficiencies.

Our results indicated that there was a benefit in all of the 14 environmental impact categories studied to using de-inked pulp versus virgin bleached pulp (either mechanical, or kraft or a kraft/mechanical blend). Categories studied included total CO2 equivalent (i.e., global warming potential), carcinogenicity, eutrophication, wood use and other elements.

In addition to our technical role, we facilitated stakeholder engagement, informing and incorporating input from both local and internationally prominent environmental advocacy groups.

The stakeholder group identified four key areas where data variability and assumptions might affect results:

  • amount of energy used in pulping
  • fuel mix used in pulping
  • environmental impact characterization method used in the model
  • method for allocating recycling benefits in the model

Our analysis shows that, even considering the range of possible values for each of these areas, recovered fiber still has a consistently lower environmental impact for a majority of the categories studied. However, we determined that within the boundaries and limitations of this study, we cannot show that it is better to use recovered fiber in an alternative product. It is possible that a future analysis at an individual mill level may indicate that a specific grade of de-inked pulp used to displace a similar grade of virgin fiber pulp for one product may have greater or lesser impact than displacing virgin fiber pulp for another product, but this would be only applicable to the specific mills involved.

We also completed an economic evaluation of availability of recovered fiber and possible market implications of diverting recovered fiber from existing uses. Ultimately, NGS decided to incorporated recovered fiber into the magazine.

“Lisa Grice and the team did a terrific job of working through a very complex set of questions, and National Geographic hopes that the resulting report contributes to the industry’s body of knowledge on the subject,” said Hans Wegner, Chief Sustainability Officer for the National Geographic Society.

Green America, the nation's leading green economy organization, covered the project. 




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