It Pays to Engage the News Media

Popular Science Publishes More Balanced Article on the Sustainability of Paper Products

The magazine Popular Science has shown the potential that a major news outlet can have in enlightening its readers when it approaches issues like the sustainability of paper with a sense of balance and a commitment to science. In April, Two Sides responded to an article in the publication, “Modern Paper Use is Wildly Unsustainable,” that was anything but balanced. We suggested that Popular Science should hold up its articles “to the illuminating glow of real authoritative data and pick up the phone to ask industry scientists or a school of forestry if any of what the authors claim makes sense.”

The publication did not respond directly to Two Sides, but they were clearly paying attention. Sometime after we sent our letter to the editors, they said in an update to the original story that in response to reader feedback they were subsequently “interviewing experts about sourcing, processing and recycling in the US paper industry.” Their resulting article published yesterday, “Where Does Your Paper Come From,” is a far more balanced piece by an accomplished journalist who did her homework.

She interviewed experts, including Gary M. Scott, a professor of paper and bioprocess engineering at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Ronalds Gonzalez, an assistant professor of supply chain and conversion economics in the Department of Forest Biomaterials at North Carolina State University. She also cited facts from a variety of credible sources, including the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, the American Forest and Paper Association and the Forest Products Association of Canada. Papermaking technology has seen significant advances since some of the linked information in the article was published, particularly the information on bleaching and water use, and the writer draws some conclusions that we do not agree with, but the overall portrayal of the industry reflects the realities of forestry and papermaking.

Let’s be clear. We’re never going to be satisfied with the mainstream media’s view of the paper industry or their need to cite organizations who have proven unfair to us. For example, the story also includes the ENGO perspective with links to published reports by the National Resources Defense Council, Environmental Paper Network and others. However, if we continue to engage with journalists covering our industry, we stand a better chance of getting fair coverage from honest news outlets. When the media present the facts, it becomes clear that paper is inherently sustainable – in fact, one of the most sustainable products on earth.

Read the May 20 Popular Science article here.