Tuesday at around noon I met with Chris Chamberlain, VP of marketing of Athens Paper, at the Sunset Grille in Nashville to discuss paper as it relates to the magazine industry. Athens Paper Company is a privately-owned company, founded in 1952, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Chamberlain was kind enough to sit down with me for about an hour to talk about recycling, eco-friendly corporate responsibility and forest sustainability. He’s been with the company for 17 years, but it wasn’t until recently that Athens became certified with the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent organization that "was created to change the dialogue about and the practice of sustainable forestry worldwide. This impressive goal has in many ways been achieved, yet there is more work to be done. FSC sets forth principles, criteria, and standards that span economic, social, and environmental concerns. The FSC standards represent the worldâs strongest system for guiding forest management toward sustainable outcomes." He explains what it means to be FSC certified.
"The idea is kinda like if you were gonna buy corn from a farmer, you wouldn’t buy from a farmer who didn’t replant his corn every year or was destroying his land while he was selling. Now, you might get the cheapest rate from that corn, but it is not the ethically responsible thing to do," says Chamberlain. "The goal here is to move away from pulp that comes from clear-cut forests…Most paper producers are gonna wanna use sustainable practice when they forest, just to make good, economical sense."
However, Chamberlain notes that paper producers regulating themselves is not the best way to make sure sustainability is a top priority. "Do you let the fox guard the hen house? Do you let the paper companies police themselves?" These questions are why groups like FCS have created independent certification for paper producers.
"The goal of these groups is to do chain of custody tracking. To be able to go back to that farmer who owns the farm, to be able to go back to that tree–to see how it was sourced, how it was taken care of, how it was harvested, how it was replanted, even down to details like are they taking care of the indigenous people and animals in that area, if there is a Native American population, are they contributing to that?–it really goes down a lot of levels. They can track that tree to when it becomes pulp at a pulp mill, paper at a paper mill…then track it to the merchant who my stock it on the floor…then finally to the printer, so that are able to deliver it all the way through and say that, ‘This is sustainably forested paper…and I can track it back to that tree."
"Does that mean that every piece of paper we sell is FSC-certified? No," Chamberlain explains. "But when we have bought paper that is FSC-certified…we can hold up our chain of the custody and prove that it can be tracked all the way through us to a printer, so that if the end user specs FSC-certified paper, we can help them, no pun intended, follow the paper trail all the way back to the tree."
"Is it helping the environment? Sure. It is a good thing to be able to track. Is it a marketing ploy? Absolutely it’s a marketing ploy," Chamberlain confesses. "But this has always been a good idea. Paper has always been a product that is easy to recycle and has consistently been recycled…it is pretty efficient…It makes economic sense and it makes social sense. It is an opportunity to take away a potential irritant of the company. I mean, you know you are doing the right thing, but if you can keep Greenpeace and the Rainforest Initiative away from your front door with the signs…If it pushes that irritant next door, then they’ve done their job because they’ve made you change your standard, and they can move on to somebody who is a more egregious offender, and it doesn’t cost you any extra money, go ahead and do it."
What about the mantra that print is dead? The overwhelming influence of the internet on the way people consume media has some people talking big–like saying that magazines are dying a slow death. Chamberlain doesn’t see it. "Demand is down on cut-sized copy paper…But on the magazine side, on the newspaper side, on the book side, no. I think technology is catching up to where it needs to be, but personal preference is no where near approaching that. The idea of taking your laptop to the beach to read the latest magazine is just not that appealing to people…We know the market is changing, but on the publication side it is changing pretty slowly. We are all waiting to see what the next Harry Potter is."
Listen to the full interview: