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To kick off 2009, NCE this week launches a new bid to reduce the magazine’s carbon footprint. Antony Oliver explains the plan and highlights the challenges of carbon measurement.

Every week a new issue of NCE is planned, researched, written, edited, illustrated and laid out before 55,000 copies are printed, packaged and posted to civil engineers across the UK.

Each month another 19,000 copies of NCE International head off to readers around the world from Europe to Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. It’s a reasonably big exercise and after nearly 30 years of experience and technological improvement we have got pretty efficient at it.

Yet while we certainly now have a very good idea of what the whole process costs financially, it is clear that we know almost nothing about what the process of producing and distributing NCE costs in terms of carbon.

Given the rapid change in the attitudes of governments, businesses and individuals across the globe to the concept of carbon reduction and carbon accounting, it is clear that we need to do something to turn this ignorance around.

Climate change is now an accepted phenomenon as is the fact that mankind’s relentless and increasing consumption of fossil fuel is the primary cause. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – primarily carbon dioxide – is now a global priority.

As last month’s United Nations summit in Poland demonstrated, governments around the world are moving on from the original Kyoto agreement and are now showing real commitment to setting and meeting meaningful CO2 reduction targets.

The UK government is leading the charge with some pretty bold targets including a 20% reduction in CO2 below 1990 levels by 2010 with an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 now included in the new Climate Change Act published at the end of November.Most recently we heard the new Committee on Climate Change urge the adoption of tough intermediate targets of up to 42% by 2020.

Perhaps even more significant is the forthcoming government Carbon Reduction Commitment trading scheme which will challenge non-energy intensive UK businesses to start to measure and report their carbon emissions by as early as 2010.

And for many companies this concept of carbon measuring will not be new. In fact it is fair to say that companies around the UK and across the world are clamouring to rebrand themselves as carbon neutral.
But does it actually mean anything?

Well if done properly, the answer is yes.
Companies, products or services that have chosen to make no net increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases are vital to the chain of social responsibility, influence and action needed to turn around the current rise in emissions. But of course, unless such carbon neutral claims are justifiable and measureable, they can be worth very little. And there are a huge number of so-called "green-washing" businesses out there, claiming big and delivering little.

Hence, while becoming carbon neutral may be a longer term aspiration for NCE, it is not currently on our radar as a specific target. Right now the goal is around carbon measurement and carbon reduction. At the heart of this project is NCE’s relationship with the Guardian Media Group (GMG), which last March purchased NCE’s parent Emap with private equity company Apax.

GMG, and the Scott Trust which owns it, have clearly stated aims to consider the impact of its business on the community and, with funding from the Carbon Trust, is developing a sustainability strategy with the aspiration to become carbon neutral. NCE is part of this project and has been working with GMG’s consultant Faber Maunsell to develop the group strategy and actions which will reduce our carbon footprint and help us to become a more efficient business along the way.

To do it properly is a complex process. However, advice, support and even site visits are available to all businesses from the Carbon Trust - for details.

NCE is at the start of a journey and this analysis represents the current state of our thinking and of our ability to measure, monitor and so reduce our carbon footprint. It is by no means to be considered the complete picture or a finished work.

Over the next 12 months we will carry regular updates on progress, successes and setbacks. This will involve questioning the assumptions made and deciding whether we need to invest to follow more formalised measurement procedures such as, for example, specified by the industry standard PAS 2050. However, along the way this process should help us, as a team, to improve performance. Perhaps it may also inspire other businesses in the civil engineering community – if not already doing so – to follow suit.

Click here to view NCE's plan

A carbon footprint is...

  • A measure of the impact on the environment of human activity in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced

  • Measured in equivalent units of CO2

  • The footprint can be measured for an individual, an organisation, an event or product

  • The carbon footprint is a subset of the ecological footprint, which includes land use, natural resources, emissions and waste

Government targets
The Climate Change Act came into force on 28 November 2008 with some challenging targets. On 1 December the new Committee on Climate Change, chaired by former CBI director general Lord Turner, published its first report urging even tougher interim targets.

20% - target cut in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2010

24% - target reduction in CO2 below 1990 levels by 2020

1%-2% - percentage of GDP in 2020 that emissions reduction will cost

80% - target cut in greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2050

Establishing a baseline: click here to view the challenge of measuring carbon footprints

What would help cut NCE’s carbon footprint?

  • Better recycling

  • Better travel planning

  • Print on recycled paper

  • Print out less emails

  • Install lights that turn off automatically

  • Move to a smaller, more energy efficient office

  • Reduce office copies of NCE


  • To calculate NCE’s carbon footprint a tool developed by consultant Faber Maunsell as part of the Guardian Media Group sustainability project has been used along with a second tool developed by NCE’s printers Polestar to look specifically at magazine production. The accuracy of all output figures relies on the quality of data input and the assumptions made when setting footprint boundaries.

NCE's annual carbon footprint = 252t CO2 equivalent

The office= 20.5t
NCE is based in Emap’s Greater London House (GLH) office which houses a total of 1,200 Emap staff and 2,300 other staff from other tenants. NCE has 20 full time equivalent staff across editorial, sales, marketing, production and finance. Figures at this stage have been calculated by allocating a proportion of the seasonal totals for the business or building.


  • Purchased on a lowest cost rather than on lowest carbon basis Monthly Emap consumption in Jan 2007 was 166,283kWh. Estimated NCE usage for Jan 2008 = 2771kWh.
    Equivalent CO2/month = 1,488kg


  • We estimate the magazine generates 0.3t of waste a month, most of which is recycled. Our landlord’s figures suggest that this amount is only 0.2t and that half of the waste from the building waste is landfilled. Clearly more work needs to be done to find how much NCE throws away each month but at this point we will assume a figure of 0.3t.
    Equivalent CO2/month = 38kg

l Monthly gas consumption in Jan 2007 for the whole GLH building was 173,514kWh. Estimated NCE proportion for Jan 2008 = 992kWh.
Equivalent CO2/month = 184kg

Current good practice

  • Intelligent lighting systems

  • Centralised multifunctional print stations.

  • Time controlled lighting.

  • Involved in meetings with building landlord

  • Video conference and canteen screens switched off when not in use

Potential opportunities

  • Install automatic lighting controls in meeting rooms

  • Resurrect the staff “Green Group” to champion sustainability

  • Remove local controls for the heating and cooling.

  • Install water saving devices

  • Use PC energy saving settings

Business travel= 42.7t
A survey of NCE staff business travel trends over the last two months has identified the following monthly averages for October and November:

Car: 2071km – 443kg CO2
Aircraft: 22,301km – 2,688kg CO2
Train: 3,973km – 239kg CO2
Tube: 2,263km – 147kg CO2
Motorbike: 226km – 24kg CO2
Bus: 227km – 17kg CO2
Bicycle: 523km – 0kg CO2

Equivalent CO2/month = 3.6t

The largest contributor to NCE’s business travel footprint is air travel. During the period surveyed, NCE staff made four long haul and one short haul flight - only continuous monitoring will determine whether this is a representative average.

Current good practice
Travel around the UK and across the world is a vital part of NCE’s business. However, we already have adopted some good practice measure:

  • train travel is encouraged over car

  • train travel is encouraged over air.

  • tube travel is encouraged over taxi.

  • only two members of NCE staff have company cars – both produce less than 151g CO2/km.

Paper and print = 188.3t
NCE and NCEI are printed on two types of paper - Novapress Silk 70gsm for the text pages and Gallery Art Gloss 130 for the cover. The paper is manufactured by StoraEnso in Helsinki and transported to the Polestar printing works in Colchester. It is a mix of renewable fibre, recycled paper and recycled packaging materials.

Magazine printing

  • Each year we print 46 issues of NCE with a 57,500 print run and 12 issues of NCEI with a 12,900 print run. The average NCE issue size over October, November and December, including supplements, was 60 pages and for NCEI was 36 pages including the four cover pages. Using the carbon footprinting tool developed by Polestar, the total equivalent C02 per issue for paper manufacture/delivery and magazine printing/finishing was:

NCE = 3.95t per issue
NCEI = 0.54t per issue

This is the most carbon expensive part of NCE’s business and offers the greatest potential for savings.

Current good practice

  • use of modern outsourced printing with the latest technology.

  • volume of published pages each week is closely controlled.

  • paper stock is certified as using sustainable wood fibre

The concept of firms and individuals offsetting their carbon emission by paying money to invest in low carbon developments is controversial to say the least.
To some it is simply a means for the rich to buy a way out of their social responsibilities. To others it is a genuine way to redress the global financial and carbon imbalance that can actually help drive economies and improve lives in the developing world.

The reality is that there is no simple solution. However, if used properly and carefully as an additional tool rather than a means in itself towards carbon footprint reduction, offsetting should not be discounted. In fact, according to the Forum for the Future and Clean Air-Cool Planet’s recent report "Getting to Zero" it is currently impossible to become carbon neutral without it.
"High-quality offsets do result in genuine emissions reductions," explains the report. "However,
the emphasis of any neutrality strategy must be to reduce baseline emissions, and organisations should, therefore, look for permanent emissions reduction options higher up the hierarchy."

Click here for the carbon management hierarchy

Unlike newsprint, magazine paper requires a high content of virgin wood fibre to maintain its quality. Hence there is much debate right now over precisely what constitutes a sustainable magazine paper and in particular how you prove it.
Last year across the Guardian Media Group the average percentage of recycled fibre in its magazines was just 15%. However, the use of virgin fibre is considered sustainable provided the wood is sourced from approved timber suppliers.
While there are many national forest certification schemes, there are only two recognised international schemes:

  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC)

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

In addition there is the European Eco-Label which covers magazine paper only. But equally critical is being able to establish a so-called "chain of custody" for your paper product. This provides proof that, from forest to end user, it is possible to trace and audit how much wood fibre in your product is derived from a certified forest.

Currently 70% of GMG’s virgin fibre is from certified sources and it has set a target of increasing this to 90% by 2010.

Meanwhile, fully recycled magazine paper is possible and in fact NCE will be trialling a new fully recycled paper in February. However, it requires careful selection of recycled products and often uses more power – hence carbon – in the manufacturing process than similar paper with a higher content of sustainably sourced virgin fibre.

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