On Monday, November 25, 2013, The Globe and Mail and Washington Post distributed the first North American magazine made with 60% wheat straw paper.

My teenage daughter came back from the movies on the opening weekend of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. On the kitchen table, she saw the cover of the magazine Corporate Knights and recognised the actor she had just seen mere hours ago.

Seeing her confused grin, I said to her, “He also invests in a company making straw paper.” She shrugged; this information didn’t fit the Haymitch Abernathy character she had just seen.

Corporate Knights (CK) approached The Globe and Mail this past August about a possible sponsorship in the form of insertion and distribution support for their upcoming “Straw Issue,” a magazine printed on paper made from straw.

To produce it, Corporate Knights had partnered with Jeff Golfman, president of Winnipeg-based Prairie Papers Ventures and the 2013 3M Environmental Innovation Winner for the purpose of printing a large distribution magazine on Prairie Paper’s new Step Forward Professional Grade paper.

The Globe and Mail not only agreed to sponsor the distribution of this special issue of the magazine, but also extended its distribution to the Globe’s Air Canada programme, which includes all Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges in Canada, as well as New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Frankfurt.

This issue needed to be seen by business executives around the world, and The Globe and Mail was happy to assist. 

Woody Harrelson also shared his opinion and made himself available for questions. Read his op-ed in The Globe and Mail and his Q&A with Corporate Knights.

Other partners included Staples Canada, Earth Color, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, and Canopy (see press release).

Our industry support is important. Here’s why.

It may be counter-intuitive for most North Americans, but demand for paper is actually growing worldwide. Paper consumption has doubled in the past 20 years and is expected to double again over the next 20-30 years.

While many of us are building extensive Web sites or distributing digital replica newspapers onto tablets, “three billion trees a year are cut down to make paper,” Golfman says.

And yes, a non-trivial amount is dedicated to newsprint making.

But newsprint is eco-friendly, right? Think again.

Like many others in different industries, news media professionals tend to avoid certain uncomfortable facts relating to the industry’s environmental footprint. For example, just because newsprint is highly recyclable doesn’t guarantee that it is recycled properly or even recycled for that matter.

Canopy offers some fact-checking on its Web site section, entitled Dispelling the Myths About Newsprint. The following are my favourite ones: 

  • Myth: Newsprint is mostly recycled content. Although recycling increased greatly in the 1990s, the rate of recycled content in newsprint in North America has stalled at 20%. And there are no industry standards or targets in sight. Other parts of the world are doing much better.
  • Myth: Newsprint is made of woodchips, a waste product of the lumber industry, so it’s an environmentally friendly product. In the southeast region of the United States, newsprint is one of the highest volume paper products. About 5 million acres of forests are logged every year.

    Deforestation is a problem for us all to solve. Newsprint is not solely a by-product of the lumber industry and thus does not absolve the news media’s responsibility for its environmental impact.

    Newsprint, however, could include more non-wood fibres. About 20 years ago, tests demonstrated that newsprint could be manufactured with 20% non-wood fibres.

Straw paper has come a long way, and it’s time to pay attention.

Wheat straw is an agricultural waste (ag waste) that farmers usually burn. Using ag waste as fibre in paper is well-established practice. but only in recent years has the process been perfected to make it usable on a mass scale.

That is why the CK “Straw Issue” is a big deal.

The CK magazine was printed on Step Forward Paper Professional Grade (from Prairie Paper), which is made up of 60% wheat-straw waste and 40% Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified wood fibre. It was produced using Earth Color’s current printing and binding machines.

Wheat straw paper is economically competitive compared to recycled paper. However, the outcome is quite different. When compared to the previous CK magazine printed on recycled paper, the “Straw Issue” is whiter, feels softer to the touch, images are sharp with good skin tone and colour balance.

Make a difference! Get to know this medium better. 

Newspaper managers and senior executives should learn about the possibilities of straw fibers and encourage the development of the industry to create economies of scale.

Here are a few opportunities to learn more:

    • On the manufacturing of straw paper, read Tyler Hamilton’s excellent piece here.

    • Get a copy of the CK magazine and see for yourself, inquiries@corporateknights.com.

    • Hear Jeff Golfman talk about straw paper (video).

Strong leadership is essential.

We have to thank The Globe and Mail’s publisher, Phillip Crawley, for his support of this project. It is a practical example of how a media company can take a leadership role in developing and encouraging business practices and products that are environmentally and economically sustainable.

Says Crawley: “At a time when the newspaper business and the newsprint industry are going through a period of rapid change, it is encouraging to see the spirit of innovation alive and well like this. The Globe and Mail works with partners like Canopy to highlight the progress that enlightened producers can achieve, so we applaud Corporate Knights for trying out its ‘Straw Issue’ with customers. We know that Globe readers are always interested in smart new ways of using resources. We look forward to further collaboration in testing out sustainable solutions.”