Readers of graphic arts trade journals know Don Carli as an astute commentator on marketing and technology trends. These days, he's most visible as the senior research fellow for the Institute for Sustainable Communication, (ISC) a not-for-profit group that promotes environmentally responsible practices for the printing, publishing, and packaging industries. A few weeks ago, Carli brought his message of sustainability to the Advertising Production Club of New York in a program covered in an audio report by Advertising Age. Also downloadable as a podcast, the report neatly encapsulates an issue that's worthy of all of the attention that Carli is out to win for it.

In a presentation called "Marketing's Inconvenient Truth: How Carbon Footprints Stalk the Industry," he tells the ad club that "the overriding issue for the advertising industry is carbon emissions." Creating and producing print ads, Carli argues, leaves a trail of measurable environmental impacts that are now "being put on the scoreboard" by clients and others concerned about the damage that insensitivity to carbon emissions could do to their reputations. According to Carli, instantly communicated "brand disaster" is the price to be paid for failing to take environmental accountability seriously.

But what he says is the advertising industry's typical response"”crafting "save-the-bunny" public service announcements"”is no longer sufficient proof of good faith. According to Carli, buyers and producers of print ads have to face the fact that their press runs introduce carbon into the environment in quantities far greater than most of them can imagine.

At the request of one advertiser, the ISC calculated that the production of 161 ad pages running in 25 publications pumped a staggering 451 metric tons of greenhouse CO2 into an already overburdened atmosphere. According to Carli, only one of the magazines, Time, had made a reckoning of the carbon-generating effect of its print manufacturing: 2.9 pounds of CO2 per copy. Multiply that output by the hundreds of millions of copies comprised by all magazines, and the dimensions of Carli's "inconvenient truth" become alarmingly clear.

Remedies are available: Carli says the advertiser mentioned above could have offset all of that carbon production by spending $2,500 on a solution devised by the ISC and, another not-for-profit. He advises the ad club that with the right policies and practices, "the industry could eliminate at least 10 million tons of CO2 emissions within 10 years. We could become a net producer of carbon offsets. We could become carbon-negative."

Carli doesn't let non-print media off the hook. Computers and broadcast apparatus run on vast amounts of generated electricity, and "the electrons aren't free." It's up to responsible practitioners in every medium to insist that all sources of energy consumption be identified and that steps be taken to reduce or neutralize the consequences.

Carli's message is compelling, and the priorities of groups like the ISC are urgent. In the printing industry, "environmental awareness" usually exists only in the context of what must be done to avoid inspections and fines. Sustainability turns the spotlight on what ought to be done to deliver the rewards and benefits that environmentally responsible print manufacturing can bring. Who's listening?