Backpacker's Carbon-Neutral Project

Last fall, we showed you the many ways that climate change is altering the wild places we love. Now, a look at what BACKPACKER is doing to reduce the magazine's impact.

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What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We Did

There’s no online calculator for carbon-footprinting a magazine. So we worked with our climate partner to invent a process and get it done.

In our Global Warming Issue last September, we promised to examine BACKPACKER’s climate impact and come back to you with a plan for reducing our footprint.

For help, we enlisted Cooler, an energy auditor (and more) whose methods are backed by decades of research–and by scientists at the National Wildlife Federation, NRDC, and Environmental Defense. Thus began an effort to document every facet of our printing, production, and distribution. Cooler made us count every pound of paper. Every trucking mile to 20,000 newsstands. Air travel for writers and sales reps. Therms of energy used to heat our offices. And so on until our calculators were smoking.

After months of digging, we turned over reams of never-before-compiled data. Then, led by Michel Gelobter, former director of Columbia University’s Environmental Policy Program, Cooler used its expertise in climate analysis to assign a specific carbon value to every part of our supply chain. The result is a detailed baseline of BACKPACKER’s energy use–and an initial road map for reducing our contribution to global warming.

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We Learned

Analysis of every phase of BACKPACKER’s production yielded a carbon footprint for the magazine. Here’s what the number means–and where the energy is spent.

A carbon footprint, if you’re new to the term, is a measure of the total fossil-fuel energy consumed and released by a person, product, or business. An example: To footprint a car, you would calculate the fuel economy, the energy needed to acquire and assemble the parts, and the emissions–plus you would factor in a slice of the automaker’s energy overhead (office electricity, corporate travel, etc.). Out would come a number, expressed in pounds or tons of CO2, the most prevalent of the three major greenhouse gases that scientists blame for rising temperatures.

In 2007, BACKPACKER’s footprint totaled 2,305 metric tons, or just over 5 million pounds of CO2. The charts below offer two close-to-home comparisons, but the simplest way to look at it may be this: A single copy of the magazine last year resulted in 1.12 pounds of greenhouse gases (GHG) being released into the atmosphere. If you’re a subscriber, that amounts to 10.1 pounds per year. (Which you could negate by walking or biking 8 miles you’d usually drive.)

The primary components of BACKPACKER’s carbon footprint didn’t come as a surprise. Paper is nearly half of the total, and distribution is another quarter. We were surprised, though, that staff and writer travel has a bigger impact than the printing process itself.

A few magazines have gone carbon-neutral (Surfing), studied their paper consumption (Time, InStyle), or offered readers the chance to pay for subscription offsets (Outside). But until other titles conduct complete energy audits like ours, we can’t say how we compare. (Editors: Call us. We can help.) Here’s what we do know: By making immediate cuts, we’ve reduced our footprint by 12% for 2008, to .99 pounds per copy. And we’re investing in offsets rather than asking you to–because we think it’s the right thing to do for the environment.

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We’re Doing

With this issue, we’re implementing changes that cut our footprint by 12%. We’re also investing in verified offsets that make BACKPACKER carbon-neutral.

1. Paper cuts

For years, BACKPACKER has been printed on 10% recycled stock. It’s pricier than regular paper, but an effective way to limit impact. Unfortunately, strong demand and the dollar’s decline has sent the price of papers with higher recycled content soaring. Experts say that supply should increase (and prices decline) in the next few years, but in the meantime we’re taking two other steps that will yield sizable reductions. First, we’ve switched to a lighter-weight recycled stock that drops our paper use by 150,282 pounds a year. Second, we’ve moved our regional pages to the web, cutting another 218,640 pounds (bonus: you can now see all six regional sections online). These changes will eliminate 590,177 pounds of CO2 annually–the equivalent of saving 25 acres of forest.

2. Digital editions

You asked; we acted. After our Global Warming Issue, a number of eco-minded readers requested digital copies of BACKPACKER as an alternative to their print subscriptions. So we partnered with Zinio to make complete digital editions available online. Besides reducing your footprint, they go anywhere a laptop can and let you link directly to contests, manufacturer catalogs, and special features on our new website (such as maps, videos, and menus). To download a free trial offer of this issue and last month’s Gear Guide, go to

3. Quality offsets

What we can’t change, we’ll pay to offset. Does that mean we’re buying guilt relief? No way. We’re addressing our impact through a program of real reductions and investments in sustainable energy development. With each issue, we’ll send Cooler a check to fund initiatives like the farm project below; the dollar amount–well into five figures annually–will support GHG reductions equal to our total footprint. All offsets will meet the strictest criteria: direct, additional, positive, and verifiable.

4. Waste reductions

BACKPACKER’s headquarters in Boulder is becoming a zero-waste facility. What does that mean? Nothing leaves the building headed for a landfill–every scrap is recycled or composted. Working with a local environmental agency (check for ideas and resources near you), we’re training our staff–and custodians–to fill the right bins. We’ve also swapped bulbs, moved to 100% recycled supplies, turned down the heat, and developed a mostly paperless workflow.

5. Commuting goals

We need to fly to bring you great hiking stories, but planes burn heaps of fuel. To compensate, our staff is committing to ride, walk, or bus to work at least 25,000 miles in 2008. Every mile not driven equals 1.2 pounds of CO2 not emitted. Over a year, that’s a lot of carbon–the equivalent of 11,170 dishwasher loads–and a whopping 350,000 calories burned. Want to join our commuting challenge? Think your staff or hiking group can beat ours? Write to

6. Watchdog

For the last year, our sharpest eyes and ears on environmental issues have been contributing editor Berne Broudy’s. With this issue, she assumes the new post of green editor. From her home in Vermont, Berne will report on climate from a backpacker’s perspective. As a charter member of an outdoor industry group working to establish benchmarks for footprinting hiking and camping products, she’ll also blog on sustainable gear and DIY solutions at

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

Where We Stand

Carbon counts for your home, local burger joint, and favorite magazine

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

What You Can Do

Want to join us in preventing climate change? Here are 6 surefire ways to get started today.

(1) Find your footprint

See for an easy-to-use tool that will help you identify reductions.

(2) Make small fixes first

Cutting carbon can actually save you money. Go to for 100-plus practical ideas for home, office, car, travel, and trail.

(3) Zero your waste

Fill your bins, cancel junk mail (, and read The Rodale Book of Composting ($16).

(4) Download a digital edition

We’ve posted two free issues at Like what you see? Buy a subscription and get BACKPACKER delivered to your inbox.

(5) Shop

Our partner’s online mall offsets all purchases–from clothes to cabinets–at no extra charge.

(6) Change your company

Cut costs and save glaciers by adapting BACKPACKER’s process to your workplace. For help getting started, write to

Cow Power

Our offset dollars support this novel energy project.

Daisy can’t help it: She farts, and the planet gets warmer. That’s because methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. To mitigate her exhaust, we’re investing in Holsum Dairy, a Wisconsin farm that captures the gas and converts it to electricity. Holsum’s efforts are proving that dairy farms can produce enough energy–and GHG-free fertilizer–to support a small community. For an NPR report on Holsum, go to

What We Did | What We Learned | What We’re Doing | Where We Stand | What You Can Do

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