Editor’s note: This Sustainability Matters post was written by guest contributor Nicole Rycroft, who is executive director of Canopy, an environmental not-for-profit organisation dedicated to protecting the world’s forests, species, and climate.

When Canopy recently placed ads to bring attention to our campaigns in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, and TC Transcontinental magazines, we did so with pride. By doing so, we felt we were reinforcing, in a small way, the notable sustainability leadership that these outlets have shown.

It’s no secret newspapers consume large volumes of paper – much of it originating from endangered forests such as Canada’s Boreal.

Yet over the past seven years, there’s been a steady shift in the environmental performance of the sector. Large media conglomerates, flagship national newspapers, and small alternative papers alike all have stepped forward to develop environmental paper purchasing policies with Canopy and engage their supply chain to advance large-scale forest conservation.

This shift is driving change through the newsprint supply chain back to special places such as the Great Bear Rainforest … and is increasingly capturing the attention and marketing dollars of advertisers. Canopy’s latest report on the sector, “Place Your Ad Here,” profiles these leaders and their actions.

We all know newspapers are undergoing a rapid evolution. There has been unprecedented change with content delivery shifting online and away from print. Nonetheless, print editions are still in large circulation and significant volumes of printed paper remain very important to the newspaper sector.

In 2013, North American newsprint demand was approximately 4.5 million tons of fibre, consuming roughly 50 million trees. Globally, the sector used 30 million tons of newsprint, equivalent to approximately 325 million trees – enough trees to circle the equator 30 times.

All indications suggest more than half of that fibre is coming from biologically diverse and ecologically important forests.

Publishers, editors, and reporters are well aware of the stresses on our forests; they report on the challenges and controversies daily. They are equally aware of the positive role they and their industry can play in securing a future for global forests.

As a result, visionary and progressive leaders in the sector are addressing the role of newspapers in fostering forest conservation, while ensuring a stable and responsible supply of fibre to keep the presses rolling.

Canopy’s 2013 sustainability report of the industry recognises that leadership.

The survey was sent to the top 50 newspapers by circulation in Canada and the United States, as well as select local and international papers. “Place Your Ad Here” highlights newspapers that have taken a leading role in developing and implementing environmental paper-purchasing policies, as well as acknowledging other leading-edge sustainability initiatives.

Newspapers might be consumers of forest fibre but, as our report finds, they also can be champions for change.

Working with Canopy’s experts in developing and implementing environmental initiatives, leaders in the newspaper sector are developing purchasing policies that meet their business needs, enhance corporate sustainability practices, and proactively address their paper consumption.

Each company’s sustainability initiative is structured slightly differently. Some are engaging their suppliers to directly advance conservation solutions for endangered forest regions; others are backing U.S. Forest Stewardship Council certification through preferential purchasing, while others work to increase recycled content.

Every step along the way makes the future of our forests brighter. Each action helps build demand for recycled newsprint, transform logging practices, and secure greater market availability of forest-friendly paper choices.

Just this year, five major global newspaper companies – some of the biggest names in the business – have updated and finalised their newsprint purchasing policy commitments. The Guardian, Torstar, The New York Times, and the Tampa Bay Times joined industry leaders such as The Globe and Mail, implementing change within their companies and advocating for change in our forests.

Gannett (USA Today) also put a policy in place for the first time during 2013, and Canopy hopes to support the company in its implementation so they, too, can join the leadership pack.

First off the sustainability blocks in 2013 was Torstar with its new corporate-wide environmental principles. Captured under the umbrella policy is flagship newspaper the Toronto Star, in addition to 100 community newspapers and other business divisions, Harlequin, and Metroland.

Prominent is the company’s renewed commitment to post-consumer recycled fibre – with approximately 65% of its purchase commitments for 2013 containing an average of 40% recycled fibre.

The Globe and Mail, with its long-standing sustainable paper mandate in place, engages its suppliers on conservation initiatives, supporting solutions in critical forest regions such as Quebec’s boreal gem, the Broadback Forest, and British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

The company’s chief executive officer is active in Canopy Club, a leading forum of CEOs supporting leadership on forest conservation.

The Guardian Newspaper and Media Group, known for its consistently high recycled newsprint levels, included a commitment in its policy to source a high proportion of recycled paper from mills in the UK to support the national recycling infrastructure.

The New York Times will avoid purchasing paper from intact, old-growth forests, and controversial sources, including forests that form the habitat of threatened, endangered, or imperilled species.

Hearst Newspapers is supporting the development of paper made from agricultural residue. While straw-based paper isn’t available for newsprint in North America yet, the company’s interest and encouragement will inevitably help speed the commercialisation of these papers.

Developing a customised policy addressing environmental purchasing standards enables newspaper publishers to set in motion actions that will ensure their supply chain is free from controversial forest fibre and practices. In turn, this increases investor confidence and helps secure broad social license.

A clear and aspirational policy resonates throughout the company, fostering innovation and progressive measures at all levels. When such a policy is incorporated into supplier negotiations, it can lead to tangible supply-chain change and help catalyse large-scale conservation initiatives such as the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.

As print circulation numbers decline and CSR values increasingly influence decision-making, progressive policies in the newspaper sector are taking on greater importance in securing that elusive advertising dollar.

Good advertisements showcase many things about the brands that place them. They creatively hook readers. They sell product and they build brand capital for the companies behind them.

“Place Your Ad Here” helps advertisers select print media partners that reflect their own sustainability and brand goals. The bonus is that their marketing dollars also help support green leadership in the newspaper sector.

If you’re a newspaper publisher, here are actions to aspire to. If you’re an advertiser, check how your media partners perform against this list:

  1. Setting the direction: Adopt a paper purchasing policy with Canopy that sets your company on the path to greater sustainability.

  2. Protecting forests: Actively engage supply chain decision makers to advance conservation solutions for ancient and endangered forests.

  3. Raising recycled: Prioritise the incorporation of recycled fibre into your supply chain and facilitate the collection of high-quality recycled newspaper fibre via closed loop partnerships.

  4. Advancing sustainable forest management: Support suppliers to adopt Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for their on-the-ground operations and, if buying newsprint with virgin wood fibre, give preference to FSC.

  5. Supporting eco-innovation: Help drive research and development and commercial scale production of papers made with straw leftover from the grain harvest.

  6. Encouraging peers: Engage other publishers and supply chain partners to develop their own sustainability initiatives.

  7. Accountability and transparency: Set time-bound milestones and publicly report on progress each year.