From print to digital, Guardian News & Media is intent on targeting a carbon positive future. Mark Hargreaves reports on the group's initiatives
CENTRAL to Guardian News and Media’s (GNM) business ethos has been its total commitment to environmental issues. It has set a long-term goal to become carbon positive and the company hopes to be able to demonstrate how all of its actions across all of its businesses go beyond merely reducing net carbon emissions.
GNM is now moving beyond just looking at the environmental impact of its print operations and it is addressing the impact of its ‘digital first’ strategy.
Here, PJ takes a look at some of GNM’s current initiatives to reduce its impact across its print operations and what it has planned to identify and mitigate its digital impact.
A systematic approach to sustainable print
At the heart of GNM’s operations is its two Guardian Print Centres (GPCs) in Manchester and Stratford, East London, which print The Guardian and The Observer newspapers and a number of third party publications under contract. Both these sites have been engaged in GNM’s corporate sustainability drive for many years which has seen the company reduce its carbon footprint significantly over recent times.
GPC Manchester operations manager Phil Atkins explains why: “We are never satisfied with resting on our laurels, both Guardian print centres have continued to reduce their impact through a systematic approach to monitoring, planning, testing and implementation. This was only feasible due to the commitment and innovation of our staff.”
In the past financial year, ending March 2012, the company has made significant improvements in energy, water and waste efficiency.
In common with all other national newspapers, The Guardian has been battling against falls in newspaper circulation. This has made it even harder to reduce emissions because of fixed energy requirements such as lighting, heating and water treatment. This makes it even more laudable that total emissions fell by nine per cent across both print sites, following a 10 per cent reduction the year before.
Both print sites installed smart metering for electricity and water, and work has continued to control closely the air that is re-circulated within the buildings, which negates the need to reheat or cool the air from fresh.
GPC London operations manager Danny Couchman says: “During this financial year we will be rolling out a new lighting plan for the production areas, which involves all lights dimming to 10 per cent power when the area is unoccupied.
“This will lead to significant savings, bearing in mind that our print sites are industrial in scale and run 24 hours a day. The initial outlay will be recouped within just two years and there is likely to be a carbon reduction of approximately 500 tonnes a year.”
Across both sites last year, water usage was reduced by more than 15 per cent, equivalent to the average daily use of water for 12,000 UK citizens. Ink consumption across both presses was reduced by 14 per cent.
Tackling a digital footprint
While most people can readily understand and appreciate the impact of print, digital products are typically viewed as being ‘carbon light’ or low impact and, as a result, there has been little pressure for suppliers or businesses to be accountable for the emissions or environmental impacts. Consequently there has been little focus on this area. With its digital first strategy, GNM intends to lead the industry by tackling this area.
GNM environment and sustainability manager Christopher Hodgson says: “Digital is at the heart of The Guardian’s open journalism agenda and our commercial future, which means there will be an increasing environmental impact from our online presence into the future. Delivering our digital products requires energy and produces carbon dioxide emissions so it is important for us to understand more about what drives this demand for energy and what we can do about it.
“We have been working towards creating a digital sustainability strategy, which aims to minimise our digital footprint while also maximising accessibility and the quality of our readers’ experience, improving operational resilience and supporting commercial growth.”
This whole area has proved extremely complex and difficult to assess as there is little detailed research into digital media environmental impacts. Another major issue is that it is not clear where the boundaries of responsibility lie. Is it the computer hardware makers, the networks, The Guardian or the consumers who log on?
To begin to rectify this, GNM has been developing its own research in partnership with Bristol and Surrey universities.
The research project is known as Sympact and is focused on developing a deeper understanding of the energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from digital news media products.
One of the early results has been an analysis on the estimated carbon footprint of providing content for guardian.co.uk as well as analysing the impact of the online audience accessing the content. The results show that the estimated carbon footprint for providing and consuming this content is approximately 10,000 tonnes CO2e, around a third of GNM’s current overall business footprint.
“We are not doing this as a result of regulatory pressure, but to better understand the situation for ourselves and share our findings and approach with others in the industry,” says Hodgson. “The aim is to share the results with the wider media to help stimulate debate and encourage the development of more sustainable digital products and services.”
The research found that depending on what devices were used to access content made a considerable difference. For instance, using a laptop to browse guardian.co.uk for 11 minutes is equivalent to lighting five 11W light bulbs while a tablet uses the equivalent to just two light bulbs.
For more details on the study and its findings, visit www.guardian.co.uk/sustainability.
GNM has produced a list of actions based on the data analysis which will address how to influence behavioural change, suggestions of operational efficiencies and product development designed for sustainability to optimise delivery of content and user experience.
Reaching out to readers
Also key to GNM’s sustainability strategy, is the influence its editorial content or ‘brainprint’ has on society.
Says Hodgson: “Within editorial, carbon positive means using our open and collaborative approach to journalism to reach and engage with a global audience on issues ranging from climate change and resources use to biodiversity and social justice. We do this via general news coverage but also through a number of our specialist websites.
“By educating and informing our global audience, we hope to help create the necessary conditions for political and social change.
“Of course, it’s also important that we operate ourselves in the way we would wish to see others work.”