'Tis the season for magazines to put out their green issues, and it seems like this April there are more green issues than ever before. After scanning the newsstand, we selected six publications that appeal to a range of people — music hounds, new moms, fashionistas, and more. Here’s our take on which issues are worth reading, and which greenwashed* mags are better off going directly into the recycling bin.
(*Each magazine received a “Greenwashing Grade”; the higher the grade, the better the eco coverage.)
Appeals to: Still-listening-to-CDs music fans who want to know what mainly established (read: old news) green musicians and major labels are up to.
Greenwashing grade: C
Highs: Good across-the-board trade tips for rockers, promoters, and industry types trying to go green. There's advice on everything from merchandising (soy-ink posters and organic cotton tees) to instruments, with a frank look at setbacks, like how stickers are still being printed on PVC-paper because no alternatives are available. There's even advice for raising the money to go green: Auction off a set number of tickets like Bonnie Raitt, and set that money aside; or devote a portion of ticket sales to an “eco-fund."
Lows: We can't tell if the extensive coverage of the record labels is good or bad, considering how terribly most of them are doing in their efforts to go green. Yes, Universal has cradle-to-cradle desks and workstations, and Warner Music seems devoted to greener practices, but a description of EMI sums up the sluggish industry perfectly: "EMI recycles paper in 90% of its global offices, glass in 40% of its offices, metal in 47%, electronic equipment in 77%, and toner cartridges in 90%.” Golly. Also, though Billboard should be commended for devoting so much attention to biodiesel and the debate over biofuels, it fails to offer answers or a clear point of view on the issue. Finally, why all the talk about a jewel case-free world when unrecyclable and antiquated CDs are the real problem?!
Must read: Loved the cover story on former System of a Down rocker Serj Tankian, who raises real issues in a frank way and is cool precisely because we don't have the foggiest idea who he actually is. He does own a house in New Zealand — not eco for a U.S.-based musician — but he totally redeems himself with the idea of holographic touring!
National Geographic Adventure
Appeals to: Travel buffs and outdoorsy folks. And because of this issue’s cover, Indiana Jones and Star Wars fans.
Greenwashing grade: B+
Highs: Scored an interview with Harrison Ford, who often shies away from the press. The eco-conscious celeb works closely with Conservation International and turned most of his Jackson Hole, Wyo., estate into a conservation easement. And, you know, he’s Indiana Jones.
Lows: Despite the issue’s huge “Best Green Adventures on Earth” cover line in honor of the 30th anniversary of ecotourism, the actual green adventures section consists of only two stories (a Q&A with Ford, which is mostly about his travel, and a roundup of ecotourism destinations). However, the mag picks up the slack by including other stories that may still appeal to green travelers, like 33 great North American hikes and a cycling guide for bike riders.
Must read: “The Big Trip: Green Travel Comes of Age.” This roundup of 10 ecotourism destinations takes a refreshing angle by focusing on how ecotourism has benefited these places in terms of the environment and indigenous peoples. The locales are divided into three categories: Eco Success, or those in which tourism has vastly improved the environment and quality of life; Tipping Point, destinations that are making progress; and Watch List, places in which tourism has hurt the environment. Unlike many greenwashed ecotourism travel stories, this one really focuses on how travel has protected nature, not what luxuries the traveler can expect.
Appeals to: Folks who like news and are behind on the general green trends of the past, um, two years.
Greenwashing grade: D-
Highs: In the 16-ish pages devoted to the environment, Newsweek succeeds in touching on a broad range of topics: politics, energy technology, individual action, education, entertainment (sports and fashion), and country rankings for greenness. It not only offers that little something to sate varying interests, but also illustrates how widespread environmental action is today.
Lows: Coming from one of the most powerful print news media outlets in the world, the cover story on “Environment & Leadership” is alarmingly disappointing. To evaluate the environmental records of the three potential presidential candidates, it essentially copies a page from the League of Conservation Voters and condenses it, then rambles on about the environment becoming a bigger political issue now and how the next president will need to do something about it. You don’t say… The issue also “urges readers to support recycling efforts in their community.” Good advice, but does the weekly magazine, with a circulation of 3.2 million, print its average 84 pages on recycled paper? We don’t know. After six phone calls, two press officers, and multiple emails, they still wouldn’t tell us.
Must read: “Iceland has Power to Burn” by Daniel Gross is nestled smack in the middle of the environmental story lineup, but it’s the one to read. Gross reports a thoughtful and original piece on Iceland’s use of geothermal power and how this is attracting international blue chip businesses to build there. The country strives to become 100 percent fossil fuel free, and is already 80 percent of the way to meeting that goal.
Appeals to: Readers with a base knowledge of renewable energy and climate change.
Greenwashing grade: C-
Highs: Contains seven environmental articles, including four features. In “The Edge of Extinction” Michael Shnayerson reports on the dire plight of global warming’s poster child, the polar bear. It might not be the most original story, but it’s an engaging article that examines how melting ice, poaching and oil drilling are driving the creatures toward extinction. And kudos to Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele for their investigative piece, “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear."
Lows: When we saw Madonna on the cover, we were curious — who knew she was an environmentalist? Well, we were snookered. The corresponding profile made no mention of any eco efforts — not even switching out incandescent light bulbs for CFLs (which, admittedly, we would’ve mocked). Another disappointment was the conspicuous lack of recycled paper and soy-based inks.
Must read: “The Next President's First Task- A Manifesto” by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., outlines how to save our nation from falling into the grips of a cruel master — carbon; it states that just 19 percent of the Southwest’s most barren desert could supply electricity to the entire nation.
Appeals to: Women looking to start greening their wardrobes and cosmetics drawers, and for those interested in the psychology of environmentalism.
Greenwashing grade: B-
Highs: This is ELLE’s third green issue — they’ve been at it as long as Vanity Fair has — and once again, they’ve one-upped Vanity on recycling— 10 percent post-consumer. The issue offers a fun Q&A with NFL linebacker Dhani Jones, who was so inspired by An Inconvenient Truth that he spent three days getting certified to teach Gore’s slideshow himself. While the bulk of the issue touches on the environment, neither the cover nor the content shouts it out too loudly. Guest editor Laurie David contributed an excellent essay on climate change and sustainability.
Lows: Madonna as “green” cover girl? Two strikes: One, for having the same celeb on the cover as Vanity Fair does for its green issue; and two, um, how is she eco? And really, a style dos and don’ts piece on “wearing too much green” (the color, not eco fabrics)? Finally, beware of occasional cases of blatant greenwashing — i.e.: smashbox lip gloss touted as being green just because the plastic tube it comes in is recyclable, as opposed to recycled.
Must read: Cathi Hanauer’s fantastic essay on how the too-rigid environmentalism of her 20s became an obsessive disorder and sucked the joy out of life. Wait — it might sound like a downer, but it’s funny! She earns top marks for humor, eco honesty, and coining a new word, “green-orexia."
Pregnancy & Newborn
Appeals to: Expecting and new parents newly interested in going green.
Greenwashing grade: B
Highs: The thoughtful issue is packed with easy-to-follow advice for adopting green practices, covering everything from flooring to food to baby fashion. Pregnancy weighs in on the diaper debate (cloth vs. disposable), offers tips for creating an eco-friendly nursery (freshening up the walls? Make sure to use nontoxic paint or PVC-free wall coverings), and suggests healthy, organic snacks for tots and ‘rents.
Lows: The fashion section is called “Spring Forward,” but it’s decidedly a step backward. Of the 16 pages brimming with clothing, shoes, purses, and jewelry for moms, not a single one highlights eco-friendly styles — a marked contrast to the numerous organic tees, onesies, booties, blankets, and more highlighted for babies.
Must read: Jessica Reece’s feature looks at what “going green” really means, and the choices that really matter. The goal isn’t to scare parents into adopting green practices (though there are some sobering facts about exposure to toxins), but to arm them with enough info to make small changes that make a difference. For example, after explaining why organic foods are better (backed up by scientific studies and experts), Reece offers a list of the “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies you should always buy organic (based on pesticides), and those that aren’t critical to buy organic.
This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.