Environmental issues have made it to the top of the news agenda as perhaps never before, and journalism regularly holds governments and companies accountable for their environmental promises. But what role does the news media as an industry have in the fight against climate change? How can we measure and reduce the environmental impact of the industry?
The session “After COP26 – what’s next for ‘green media’?” of the World News Media Congress 2021 provided two perspectives on how news publishers approach environmental sustainability: firstly by taking a national perspective by discussing the actions taken by the press in France, and secondly from the point of view of an individual publisher, Schibsted.
The session also featured a presentation of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network, a new programme by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that aims to help newsrooms develop their climate journalism – read more about it here.
France: regulations to reduce environmental impact
“It must be said again and again: press is different from other medias in terms of footprint, because we are basically the only one that is not intangible,” said Piere Petillault, Director of Alliance de la Presse d’information Générale, the French news media association.
Newspapers’ environmental impact has reduced greatly because of digitalisation and more recently the decreased sales caused by lockdowns and disrupted mail delivery during the Covid crisis. But the reality is, Petillault said, that unlike TV, radio, and online news, newspapers with print editions “are putting a lot of waste on the market.”
With this in mind, there are two external factors that push the French press to address its environmental impact: regulations that are the strictest in Europe, Petillault said, and the fact that public funding – an important part of publishers’ business model – is conditional to their environmental measures.
Concerning environmental regulations, the most important one – AGEC (anti-gaspillage pour l’économie circulaire) – requires news publishers with print products to contribute to Citeo, the French company charged with waste paper recycling. Currently most of these contributions are paid in kind with publishers providing Citeo with advertising space (used to educate the public about recycling), but this will change in 2023 when publishers need to start directly funding the company.
Commitments regarding advertising
In addition to regulations, French publishers have taken voluntary commitments to reduce their environmental impact. Petillault said that the mix of regulations and voluntary initiatives has been effective: for instance, France banned plastic packaging at the beginning of this year, but a lot of research and development took place much earlier helping to solve the many related economic and operational questions.
Finally, Petillault addressed the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat, or the Citizens’ Convention on Climate, a panel of 150 people that produced environmental legislative and regulatory proposals which the French parliament passed in May 2021.
The French media industry made new commitments last year to address the new bill, focusing specifically on advertising:
Checking environmental claims in ads: Publishers verify ads with environmental claims, and in case of doubt, submit them to the ARPP, the self-regulating organization of the ad industry.
Monitoring the press’s contribution to public debate on environmental issues: The results of the first annual survey on the topic are currently being analysed, with a report coming later this year.
Training: Industry professionals can learn through a dedicated learning module about the role that advertising and the press have in environmental issues.
Awarding ad campaigns: Advertising campaigns with an exemplary environmental dimension will be highlighted thanks to a new award (yet to be implemented).
Schibsted: Holistic approach to assessing sustainability
Moving from a national perspective to an individual company, Schibsted is perhaps one of the most forward-thinking publishers when it comes to the issue of sustainability. Markus Ahlberg, the company’s Head of Sustainable Business Development, talked about the Norwegian media group’s approach.
Ahlberg listed four “guiding stars”:
Walk the talk: “Given the business we’re in, it’s crucial for our trust and transparency that we do what we expect from others,” he said.
Sustainability is an innovation perspective: Becoming more sustainable is a chance to look into your organisation and understand the changes that are needed to meet the future in a sustainable manner.
Impact & doing – not communication & feeling: Publishers should focus on maximising their impact and actually doing things, “in contrast to talking about sustainability and feeling good about it.”
Avoid the carbon tunnel: We should avoid having a tunnel vision on carbon, but a holistic approach is needed to move forward.
Schibsted has set a clear target for itself, based on the Paris agreement: Ahlberg said the company aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030 (compared to 2018).
“So far we’re on a good track, as a result of a decrease in our use of paper and ink, and efficiency in our waste management.”
Measuring the footprint of the whole value chain
Ahlberg pointed out that counting of carbon emissions is still an immature area in many ways, and more research is needed. One related initiative was a collaboration between Schibsted along with other media companies and the University of Bristol.
The project’s goal was to understand the CO2 emissions that are generated throughout the digital value chain of a news media company, from content creation to consumption. “Thanks to ours operating in the Nordics, with very low carbon emissions per kilowatt hour, the footprint of our digital news is pretty low compared to our printing,” according to Ahlberg.
Finally, Ahlberg said that a lot of indirect carbon is generated when managing materials and waste. He gave some related guidelines for decreasing emissions:
Focus on the overuse of paper, ink and waste, and explore opportunities for efficiency in printing plans and what kind of paper you buy.
Cooperation – map and share insights with peers.
Use insights from machine learning to minimise print and optimise distribution.
Cost reduction – environmental footprint is often related to cost reductions, and understanding the relationship between the two is a good starting point in transitioning to a lower environmental footprint.
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