Supply chain responsibility

EoF News / 17 January 2007

( US newspapers are beginning to source newsprint from China for economic reasons, but may be ignoring sustainability in the processIn a move to buy favour with Wall Street, several US newspaper companies have announced plans to begin importing newsprint, the cheap paper on which newspapers are printed, from China.

Although the paper may be cheaper than from the industry’s usual suppliers in Canada, the groups beginning to use Chinese newsprint seem to have ignored the responsible sourcing and sustainability implications of their decisions.

The Tribune Company began testing the paper from China at the Orlando Sentinel in November and said it expected to be using it at its largest newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, by January. Gannett, the biggest newspaper chain in the US, and the New York Times are also looking to China for newsprint. Gracia Martore, Gannett’s chief financial officer, says the company is pleased with the paper it tried out and expects to become a buyer.

She told analysts in October that Gannett “should see some good amounts of volume coming in from China starting at the beginning of the [new] year”. Legally logged? The news is music to the ears of investors, since only personnel costs rival those of newsprint in this stagnant industry. Even factoring in the added cost of shipping, Chinese newsprint is less expensive for many US publishers, especially those with papers on the west coast.

The New York Times says the decision is “mainly a cost rationale”. But environmental groups worry that where Chinese paper is concerned, even fewer assurances will exist that the pulp comes from legal logging in certified forests than for Canadian suppliers. While consolidated Canadian newsprint producers have been shutting mills, China has been ramping up production. But since the 1998 moratorium on domestic logging in China, much of the country’s timber and wood products come from Myanmar, Indonesia and Russia – all widely suspected of at best turning a blind eye to illegal logging.

Jim Ford, policy director at the environmental group Forest Ethics, says Indonesia is a major source of fibre for China and that unsustainable sourcing there is a serious problem. But Ford worries even more about fibre for Chinese newsprint that originates in Russia, where he says there are a multitude of sustainability issues in the forest sector.

The Tribune says the newsprint it plans to import from China will only be a fraction of its total consumption and the New York Times insists it is still just obtaining paper samples and reviewing the trials of other publishers. But both companies declined to address Ethical Corporation’s concerns about whether they had considered the responsible sourcing and sustainability issues related to newsprint from China.

The New York Times would not confirm the percentage of its newsprint coming from China and whether its sources there would be considered “major” suppliers. If so they would be subject to the paper’s published environmental policy requiring suppliers to commit to certify their forestlands and adhere to sustainable forest management standards. Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. This knee-jerk financial decision may keep Wall Street at bay for the short-term, but if US newspapers have not already considered the long-term responsible sourcing implications, they should.