Life Cycle Carbon Footprint of the National Geographic Magazine

Submitted by: Phil Riebel 10/01/2012

A partnership between National Geographic magazine and its paper supplier (Verso Paper Corp.) and printer (Quad/Graphics) helped determine the publication's carbon footprint and identify opportunities for further environmental improvement.

El caso de estudio

Purpose - Climate change is an urgent and serious global problem. Life cycle assessment methods may be used to evaluate the life cycle carbon footprint of a product, such as the National Geographic magazine. The results of the study provide the publisher and material suppliers with information to reduce life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study also informs consumers of the GHG emissions associated with the product. The purpose of this study was to document the life cycle carbon footprint of the National Geographic magazine.

Methods - Currently, there is no international standard for conducting a product life cycle carbon footprint. Both the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the World Resources Institute's Greenhouse Gas Protocol are working to develop standards. The study followed the ISO standards for life cycle assessment (ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006).  The Greenhouse Gas Protocol, A Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard also provided guidance.

Results - The study showed that the life cycle of the National Geographic magazine produces about 0.82 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents per life cycle of the average magazine.  The amount of GHG emissions per life cycle of each magazine produced is about the same amount of GHG emissions produced by driving an automobile (8.5 km/liter gasoline) for about 3 km. 

Discussion -  High quality, geographically and temporally representative data for the study were provided by National Geographic, Verso Paper, and Quad Graphics. These data are specific to the magazine life cycle and account for about 88% of the total energy results and about 75% of the total GHG emissions for the entire life cycle of the magazine.  The study includes extraction of raw materials from the earth, processing of raw materials, fuels, intermediate products, transportation steps, manufacture of paper, printing, distribution of the magazine, and final disposition.

Conclusions - The results indicate that opportunities for improving the carbon footprint of the magazine are more likely to be found within the manufacturing and printing of the paper. These two steps account for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions. Including recycled fiber into magazine paper did not improve the carbon footprint of the magazine. Incorporation of groundwood did impact end-of-life emissions from disposal into landfills.