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Sustainable media through cooperation

Cooperation is a precondition for sustainable development. In 2012, Alma Media built sustainable media through interaction with readers, media customers, employees, investors and other media companies. An environmental study commissioned by Alma Media to provide the first comparable data on the environmental impacts of print and online media attracted a great deal of interest both in Finland and internationally.

“As media begins to span across multiple channels, we need more information on the environmental impacts of digital media. The concrete and reliable information on the environmental impacts of online media obtained through Alma Media’s study has been useful for the entire industry,” commented Helene Juhola, Director of Development for the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry.

British media companies have engaged in systematic efforts for several years to build a sustainable future for the industry. As the emphasis in environmental matters has traditionally been on carbon footprint studies, Alma Media’s study has provided new information even for pioneers in sustainable development, such as Guardian News Media.

“Guardian News Media is planning to transform itself into a digital-first company, which means that the environmental impacts of our digital media will grow and must be managed as responsibly as our traditional newspapers. Alma’s environmental assessment of its digital media products and the Guardian’s digital carbon footprinting  provide great insight for our sector,” says Christopher Hodgson, Environment and Sustainability Manager for Guardian News Media. “However, because digital sustainability is an emerging science, individual media companies need to join forces to understand the best metric for digital sustainability as well as minimising it. This will mean finding smarter way to engage with our new digital supply chain and audiences.”

Alma Media has made use of the study to mitigate the environmental impacts of both its own operations and those of its readers and online users. A significant proportion of the Group’s environmental impacts stems from the buildings and their energy consumption. Environmental aspects were taken into consideration at every stage of planning Alma Media’s new head office, which is home to all of the Group’s Helsinki-based operations.  The company applied for LEED Gold certification for the building in 2012. The Group’s printing and distribution unit Alma Manu has made use of the study in designing its new printing facility.

“Knowing what aspects of our operations have the greatest environmental impacts gives us an excellent starting point for improving our environmental efficiency. We are now at the final stages of building a new printing facility in Tampere. The environmental study and the way we have incorporated it into our design process gives us added confidence that the printed newspaper will continue to play an important role in the sustainable media landscape of the future. We are applying for LEED environmental certification for the new printing press, which will make it one of the first – if not the first – printing facilities in the world to have such certification. We are also continuously improving the environmental aspects of our operations by boosting the energy and material efficiency of our production,” explains Jussi Pekkarinen, Alma Media’s Quality and Environment Manager.

In addition to the direct impacts of its operations, a media company has an indirect impact on society and the environment through the content it provides. The impact media content has on the behaviour and actions of its audience is known as its brainprint. Alma Media took up the brainprint challenge by launching an environmental fact campaign. The Group’s regional and local newspapers, as well as Kauppalehti, published a series of advertisements in 2012 to communicate the results of the environmental study and highlight the ways readers can reduce the environmental impacts of their media consumption, thereby contributing to building sustainable media.

The thoughts and actions evoked by the “Reading is an environmental act” campaign were surveyed by a reader panel. According to the results, approximately one half of the respondents found the advertisements interesting and positive. A substantial proportion of readers stated they had received useful new information from the advertisements. This was precisely the objective of the campaign: to offer readers environmental information, thereby promoting sustainable media consumption such as the recycling of printed newspapers and the energy-efficient browsing of websites.

“Being an avid reader, just the title of the advertisement alone made me think. The content of the advertisement was very useful. I intend to tell my grandchildren about the information I received regarding the environmental impacts of print and online media,” stated one 73-year-old female Aamulehti reader who took part in the panel.

Alma Media employees were informed of the study at the Sustainable Media Roadshow, which made stops in Helsinki, Tampere, Pori and Rovaniemi to present the results of the study along with other themes related to sustainable media. The environmental impacts of media interested employees not only in their roles as media consumers, but also because they recognise the growing interest their customers have in the subject.

“Making responsibility a competitive advantage of Alma Media motivates me as an employee. It is a natural continuation of the role newspapers have traditionally played in promoting wellbeing in their respective regions. I am delighted to see our company take a pioneering role in corporate responsibility,” enthuses Hanna Kivimaa, Marketing Director at Alma Regional Media. “Being part of the implementation of the environmental study was an eye-opening experience that taught us to look at everything we do in a new light. I am confident that our focus on investigating corporate responsibility issues and developing our business in a sustainable manner will be key success factors for Alma Media in the future.”

The study attracted a great deal of interest among Alma Media’s partners. In addition to a theme seminar related to responsible marketing and advertising, the study also led to deeper cooperation with the media company Aegis Group plc. The mutual objective of the project launched in late 2012 is to make consideration for environmental aspects a key component of the advertising purchasing process.

“We’re pleased that Alma Media has taken the first steps towards measuring and reporting the carbon footprint of media and media consumption. Their study makes for interesting reading and goes beyond the usual clichés to throw a refreshing look into the relative impacts of media consumption,” says Frank Krikhaar, Global CR Manager for Aegis Group plc. “As a result of the environmental study, we’re excited to be partnering with Alma Media to put the initial findings in practice. Measuring and reporting is a good first step, but we’re working together to take concrete action based on environmental information in the marketing value chain.”

The study led to cooperation not only with Alma Media’s customers, but also with suppliers and subcontractors. Investments in environmental matters made by printing plate manufacturer Agfa Graphics have helped Alma Manu reduce the environmental impact of its operations. The study provided the plate manufacturer with valuable information to support its environmental strategy and communications.

“It’s about time to bring the consumer a balanced view on the environmental impact of printed and digital information, Only few people realise themselves for example that the digital data centres worldwide use 30 billion Watt of electricity, representing roughly an equivalent of 30 nuclear power plants, where of only 6 to 12% are used for computations, the remaining power being used by idle back up capacity. (article) Pioneer LCA studies, as performed by Alma Media and VTT are important steps to create awareness and need all the support and follow up they can get,” stated Peter Verschave, Director Global Safety, Health & Environment, Agfa Graphics.

A common characteristic of the partnerships spurred by the research is the desire to build a sustainable future that includes both print and digital media. The habits of media consumers and the environmental impacts of media are now fairly well known. The next step is to combine these views to make sustainable media consumption a natural part of the daily life of consumers. The “Shaping Markets for Sustainability” project, launched under the leadership of VTT Technical Research Centre in early 2012, includes a media sector component focused on this challenge.

“Alma Media’s study provides an excellent starting point for the project, as it allowed us to obtain an in-depth understanding of the environmental impacts of various media products and also provoked broad-based discussion on the subject,” points out Minna Nors, a VTT Researcher involved in the Shape/Media case study. “Consumption habits have a considerable influence on the ultimate impacts of a product or service. We have observed that there are clear differences between consumers with respect to their media habits and preferences. Communications on the subject should be credible and succinct, highlighting sustainable practices and choices in ways that apply to the daily life of different types of consumers. It is a challenging topic, but this project and our partnership with Alma Media will help us accumulate information and knowhow to support the entire industry,” Minna Nors explains.

In addition to cooperative projects and communications initiatives, the results of the study were used to reduce Alma Media’s own direct environmental impacts.

    -Jussi Pekkarinen

    -Hanna Kivimaa

    -Peter Verschave