IEEE Spectrum Gets Greener

Spectral lines

3 min read

What does it really mean to go ”green”? It’s more complicated than you may realize. Environmental impact is hard for any business to measure in meaningful terms, but it’s a particularly fiendish task for print publishers.

As you might have guessed, some very nice trees have to be sacrificed to bring you the print edition of IEEE Spectrum . But that’s hardly the extent of our environmental impact. Logs must be trucked to paper mills, paper mills must be run, inks must be produced, printing presses must be operated. Magazines must be transported to the far corners of the globe. Come to think of it, reporters must be dispatched to the far corners of the globe, too, on fuel-guzzling jumbo jets, to ensure that there are stories worth printing and that they’re not all about one country or one subject.

It’s always good to start the New Year on a positive note, and so we’re happy to announce that beginning with this issue, we’re moving to a more environmentally friendly paper. On the table of contents page, you’ll see our seal of approval from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, one of the organizations that ensure that our paper is harvested from forests that are managed in a sustainable way. It also means that 100 percent of the paper fiber used to make the magazine comes from these sources. We will also continue to explore other ways to lessen our ecological impact in the coming year.

We love magazines and books, and you probably do, too. But the ugly truth is that publishing is a pretty toxic business. Some say that in the United States alone 39 million trees a year are used to make magazines. And then there are the petroleum-based inks and the hard-to-recycle waste by-products and atmospheric pollution that result from putting ink to paper on a press.

Nevertheless, since the 1990s, paper manufacturers and printers and publishers, working together, have been striving to make things better. They’ve moved to partly soy- and vegetable-based inks (you might have noticed more smudging on your fingers—get used to it!). They’re now choosing from an expanding array of paper options, mixing ”virgin fiber”—fresh-from-the-forest tree material—with recycled fiber and fiber from sustainable forests, which are maintained to meet standards set by the previously mentioned Sustainable Forestry Initiative ( and also the Forest Stewardship Council ( Besides overseeing responsible forest-management practices, these groups also monitor the protection of water resources, biological diversity, and sacred or historical sites as part of their accreditation process.

Our own printer, Quad Graphics, has been a leader in this area since the 1970s. They recognized early that going green can make fiscal as well as environmental sense if managed properly. Reducing waste and making the most of the materials you have can increase output and profit—in theory, anyway. For now, the costs are still slightly higher. Like organic food, ”green” paper is more expensive. We moved to vegetable-oil-based inks several years ago, but paper has been a different issue, and frankly, paper made the old-fashioned, environmentally unfriendly way was cheaper. But now, with traditional paper prices on the rise, paper fiber that comes from well-managed forests makes economic sense.

Some of you may ask, why not give up the paper edition altogether and just produce a digital edition? Sounds good at first, but to our knowledge no one has yet measured the environmental impact of publishing on the Internet or of creating electronic devices like the Kindle or the Sony Reader for digital reading—not to mention the fact that some of us still like to thumb through the pages rather than the pixels of a magazine, and do it in bed or on a train. Or maybe even on a fuel-guzzling jumbo jet.

In the meantime though, we’re pleased to be able to move our print edition a step in a sustainable direction. There’ll be more steps in this journey. Some of you will even help us on our way, designing better portable readers and more-efficient trucks and presses—and, of course, less-thirsty jumbo jets.

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