Count the cost of a story

The accepted practice for evaluating the true environmental impact of any product or service is to measure its cradle-to-grave resource consumption and deliver a whole ‘lifecycle analysis”, writes Stuart Qualtrough

Manufacturers like Walkers Crisps and retailers such as Tesco are using this method to label packaging with carbon measures or so-called green health indicators.

The Carbon Trust pioneered this voluntary labelling programme but what would happen if it became mandatory for every product and service to carry a carbon ‘health warning”? And what shape will the newspaper and broadcasting industry be in to meet these demands of the future?

As a hypothetical exercise to identify the eco-challenges that lie ahead, try imagining the carbon cost of an average feature or news story. As a former national reporter, I’ve covered many high-profile news events and court cases and could only make a wild guess at the carbon indicator of each story that appears in each newspaper every day.

From the initial travelling to cover a police investigation, through to attending remand and committal hearings, the process of gathering background material, endlessly recharging mobile phones and powering up laptops, the notepads, the carbon-belching miles from doorstep to doorstep, county to county, and occasionally country to country, and, of course, the entertaining.

The carbon outlay for a story is huge – and that’s even before the newspaper is printed and shipped out, via another resource-consuming logistical journey, to the newsstands and the readers’ breakfast tables. A newspaper that carried a cradle-to-grave carbon calculation of each article and its editorial processes would soon identify huge savings it could make in energy and financial resources.

The era of delivering energy audits has already arrived, in the shape of annual reports and CSR protocols. Despite the current credit crunch, more and more institutional investors are seeking out ethical business models for their clients. But how long will it be before the pressure to promote green switches from the shareholders to the Government and organisations are obliged to deliver energy-neutral products and services?

Carbon-offsetting is a convenient way of brushing energy consumption under the carpet. Maybe the time has arrived for newspapers and magazines to start looking at the cradle-to-grave environmental impact their operations have while it’s still voluntary.

And imagine a world of submitting carbon expenditure sheets along with your expenses.

Stuart Qualtrough is director of eco news organisation Greenwire

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