For its October issue, Esquire is planning a literally flashy cover to commemorate the mag’s 75th anniversary. One problem: the electronic issue will also produce a massive carbon footprint, which doesn’t look very good in this age of eco-friendly businesses (Even the mag’s offices are green!).
According to Portfolio‘s Jeff Bercovici, green issues aren’t selling so well these days, so in some ways, it makes sense for Esquire to go in the opposite direction. But still, perhaps to counteract the damage, editor David Granger et al should donate at least some of the proceeds to an environmental organisation.
Fastcompany.com: An article in the New York Times earlier this week described an effort by the legendary print magazine Esquire to make “a nod to the digital age” by using something called E Ink on its cover. That’s pretty much what it sounds like: electronic ink, so the cover can blink like a Times Square billboard, as opposed to a staid old highway billboard.
One problem: Did anyone stop to consider the environmental implications?…
Editor David Granger described it as “a 21st-century technology” combined with “a 19th-century manufacturing process.” Can’t argue with the second part, at least. The article goes on to note that this process is expensive, and hence requires sponsorship from a Ford SUV (not exactly a 21st-century technology itself). But what about the other cost… the carbon one? Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show it’s not small, and Ford’s not picking up the tab.
Let’s start at the beginning. According to the article, “The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China”… Next, the devices will be shipped to Texas… From there, the little magic doohickeys will make their way to a Mexican maquiladora (where the work conditions are certain to be just lovely—ditto the Chinese factory) to be inserted by hand into the magazine covers (1.28 tons from Houston to Monterrey, Mexico), and from there, the completed issues, about one-third heavier than normal, will travel about 1,400 miles to the magazine’s distribution centre in Kentucky (11 more tons). Oh, and because of the delicacy of the electronics, they’ll have to travel in refrigerated trucks. Certain kinds of refrigeration units can consume a half gallon of fuel per operating hour – that’s an additional 10 gallons for that 20 hour trip—per truck. So for 5 trucks (let’s say), the refrigeration adds about another half a ton. Then the blinking magazines go to their final destinations.
So… the total outlay in greenhouse gas emissions for this little experiment—again, this is based on loose estimates—comes to 150 tons of CO2 equivalent, similar to the output of 15 Hummers or 20 average Americans for an entire year, and a 16% increase over the carbon footprint of a typical print publication (based on calculations by Discover Magazine, Time, and In Style). The potential environmental impact of the E Ink covers increases even more when you consider that the units are designed to be disposable after one use and they’ll make it more difficult or impossible to recycle the paper portion of the magazines.
On that last point, at least, Esquire has a response, telling Jeff Bercovici through a spokesperson: “There will be instructions in the issue detailing how to dispose of the cover and its components properly but, frankly, we don’t expect anyone to throw it out.”
June 2006 cover photo from esquire.com
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