Green: The Color of the Month for Doomed Print Publications?


Vanity Fair once got its color chart done, and for a few years, it looked very becoming in green. In May 2006, it birthed the first of three star-studded eco issues. The book’s cover featured four Hollywood power players shot by Annie Leibowitz and was entirely devoted to the environment. Julia Roberts as Mother Earth? No wonder Annie went for a mythological imagery. It sells. And so does green.


See the pretty green phat-pack celeb spread? I’m not sure Angelina’s neon wig is even a color found in nature. But this addition was needed to break up all the wonky talk. It sells. Maybe more than green.

- - - -

But after three years, Conde Nast killed the annual green edition, arguing the eco movement is so ingrained in the news that a dedicated issue wasn’t really needed. A fair weather friend is Vanity, indeed.

“It’s so last year,” is how the UK’s Independent dismissed the move, pointing to slipping coverage of climate change and other concerns on the media’s agenda as the economy takes center stage. The economy is surely front and center at Conde, since it folded four of its magazines, and is at risk to lose more in a climate of social media, e-readers and emerging blogs.

Green Trend Still on the Shelves

Despite Vanity Fair’s retreat, newsstand shelves remain remarkably heavy on eco covers, from hard news weeklies like Newsweek and Time to business journals like Fortune and flatten-your-belly titles Elle and Glamour. But cynics and media insiders highlight the irony between the pages, arguing the magazines are more about making green than protecting it.

- -

As Dan Gainor, director of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute points out: “Fortune has a 10-page special advertising feature. Newsweek, Time and others turn thoughts of climate change into climate dollars with environmentally friendly ads.”

It all begs the question: Are green issues just marketing greenwash aimed at saving the dying rags?

Apart from design magazines that are home on green turf, such as Dwell and the recently bedded Metropolitan Home, reader reaction to the trend has been largely negative. We are most suspect of the fashion journals, which have always been sympathetic to fur, waste and digital make-overs. Regarding the Vogue green issue, Jezebel observed: “Despite its Style Ethics page and photo shoot of Cameron Diaz in organic hemps and cottons, the green this month’s Vogue really cares about comes from a wallet, not a tree.”


A Jezebel “Cover Lies” graphic.

Besides editorial, there is the business of green practices, and print magazines fall short here, as well.

In its feature, Deconstructing Vanity Fair’s Annual Green issue, Mother Jones (which prints on recycled paper) hammered at the inconsistencies in the 2007 issue: These included the estimated CO2 emissions from flying Leonardo DiCaprio, Annie Liebowitz and an entourage to Iceland and Germany to shoot the polar cover (89 tons); Features printed on glossy paper (2,35o tons of pulp emitting 2, 300 tons of CO2); Actual green content (117 pages), ads (150 pages; 7 for SUVs, 4 for hybrids).


Can magazines by their very nature avoid these inconsistencies in an effort to do good? Well, dozens of magazines hailed as “paper heroes” by Green America Today have converted to recycled or post-consumer paper. But by checking them out (here), you will find the majority are green in nature: Adbusters, Sierra, The Herb Companion, Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times.

It boils down to putting your money where your mouth is, and prioritizing living things over corporate dollars. It figures neocons like The National Review write opinion pieces such as It’s Not Easy Reading Green. It’s also not so easy being insured and changing our health care system. But guess what? For both print media and our planet, these kind of real changes are do or die. Read all about it on the web.

Images: Mannobhai, Business Insider, Treeugger, Vanity Fair, Environmentalleader, Jezebel, Mother Jones

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.