Stacks of paper

Stacks of paper awaiting the printing press.

Photograph by Lynn Johnson, National Geographic

The National Geographic Society's mission is to inspire people to care about the planet. We have long been a leader in green initiatives and coverage of conservation and sustainability issues - and we are committed to conducting our business as sustainably as possible, minimizing both our own environmental impact and the environmental impact of our suppliers and partners.

To combat global climate change, National Geographic's primary focus is to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for which it is responsible. We have made a commitment to identify and measure both the GHG we emit directly and the GHG that our business partners emit on our behalf. We are committed to reducing our impact immediately and exploring opportunities to mitigate our emissions going forward. To that end, we measure:

  • The emissions of all of our buildings and rental office space.
  • The emissions associated with all our products, including magazines, books, catalogs, direct mail, CDs, DVDs, films, digital media, and the activities we provide, such as travel programs.

The Society is committed to meeting the following goals by 2015:

  • Reduce our use of electricity by 5% as compared to our 2011 usage.
  • Reduce our use of water by 10% as compared to our 2011 usage.
  • Reduce our waste sent to landfills by 25% as compared to our 2011 landfill waste.
  • Work with our suppliers to reduce their GHG emissions on our behalf by 5% as compared to 2011 emissions.

Reuse, Recycling and Composting Policy

We believe in reusing all that we can and recycling or composting that which cannot be reused, and we encourage this practice in our employees, customers, suppliers and partners.

When buying office or building supplies, we seek materials made from recycled products. Discarded office and building materials are made available for reuse first to staff and then to external groups. When reuse is impractical, we strive to recycle all recyclable materials such as paper, metal, plastics, glass, wire, building and construction supplies, batteries and carpeting.

We make a concerted effort to reduce our use of office paper. All black & white NGS copiers default to two-sided copying, and all NGS copiers require authorization to print in an effort to eliminate uncollected or unnecessarily repeated print jobs.  We have established a target to reduce copier paper use by 25% by 2015 as compared to our usage in 2011.

We compost organic materials used in our offices, including food waste and all non-recyclable paper such as used napkins, paper cups and paper towels.

We recycle electronic equipment and supplies, either through donation to a deserving user or through a certified recycler. We hold e-cycle drives, allowing our employees to bring their old, personal electronic equipment to us for responsible recycling. We require that our electronic waste disposal company be certified by either the Responsible Recycling (R2) Practices or the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment® protocols.

We encourage the recycling of our products when our customers have finished with them.

Business Travel Policy

The Society minimizes its impact on the environment by promoting "green travel" where practical. Our eco-friendly travel policy encourages:

  • The most fuel-efficient and economical transportation.
  • Travel only when absolutely necessary.
  • Combining multiple tasks into one trip.
  • Teleconferencing, videoconferencing and using Web-based communications tools.
  • Using mass transit in lieu of taxis or rental cars.
  • Sharing rental cars among as many travelers as practical.
  • Using compact or sub-compact cars or the most fuel-efficient option available.
  • Staying in LEED- or green-certified hotels when possible.

Starting in 2013 , we set a goal to buy carbon offsets for all our business travel emissions for air travel, rental cars and hotel accommodations.

Tours and Expeditions

The Society also operates a travel service that offers guided educational tours around the world. It is our policy to make sure these tours are designed and conducted in such a way as to have minimal environmental impact, but we know that all of them do come with an emissions burden of some impact. It is our goal to minimize that impact, and to that end we calculate the emissions associated with our trips and purchase certified carbon offsets to reduce their overall environmental impact. The carbon offsets we purchase are in projects around the globe and are independently audited and certified.


National Geographic is committed to working with its suppliers to ensure their use of resources is sustainable. It is our goal to hold regular meetings with them to review their sustainability policies and encourage them to pursue energy conservation, to increase the utilization of renewable energy sources and to maximize their energy efficiency.

We select supply partners who practice clean manufacturing and demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement in source reduction and pollution prevention that meets or exceeds legal requirements, so as to minimize the environmental impact of their operations on our air, water and climate.

Our suppliers are expected to:

  • Measure and reduce their GHG emissions.
  • Strive to reduce their environmental impact on an ongoing basis.
  • Reduce their use of energy in the operation of their business where possible.
  • Use alternative renewable energy sources where practical.
  • Demonstrate that they have an active recycling program and are committed to using recycled-content products where practical as part of their materials-sourcing practice.
  • Use only legally sourced and, where possible, certified raw materials in their operations.
  • Subscribe to and participate in credible chain-of-custody certification programs for renewable resources.
  • Have an active, ongoing training program in which their employees are encouraged to participate.
  • Certify that their programs are or can be third-party audited, and that such audits are conducted regularly with senior management signoff.
  • Comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and permits.
  • In the case of paper suppliers, ensure all paper is elemental chlorine free, and this must be documentable.

Environmental Impacts - Clean Manufacturing

Suppliers who provide manufacturing services to the Society are expected to follow Cleaner Production principles as defined in the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) - including such measures as pollution prevention, source reduction, waste minimization, eco efficiency, awareness of and reduction in the use of hazardous materials, reuse of waste, process modification - as follows:

  • Operate their plants using best available and cost-effective technology to comply with all applicable laws, regulations and permits.
  • Share their environmental performance data with us on a regular basis to demonstrate compliance with all operating permits and regulations.
  • Use renewable energy where possible and practical, instead of relying on fossil fuels.
  • Review with us their environmental performance and practices as requested.
  • Identify any hazardous substances used in their operation and work to phase these out where possible.
  • Disseminate information related to hazardous material use to employees and the surrounding community in a transparent way, and engage them in decision making in the use of these materials.
  • Dispose of toxic waste in accordance with the law and best practices, making every effort to ensure these materials are not dispersed into the environment.
  • Account for all manufacturing waste, and recycle all recyclables.
  • Strive for continuous improvement in reducing waste and enhancing the quality of their product.
  • Maximize the loading of trucks leaving their plant with our product, to minimize fuel consumption and emissions.
  • Promote these values among their employees.
  • Comply with all applicable local laws and regulations in the countries where they operate.

Environmental Impacts - Paper

Sustainability is about reducing our carbon emissions as well as making sure we and our business partners protect the environment. Our biggest impact in that regard relates to the manufacture of paper for our magazines and books, which affects both air- and water-borne emission at the site of the paper mill.

We expect our paper suppliers to ensure their operations are compliant with all federal and state laws and regulations, that their forest management practices and harvesting conform to internationally recognized and accepted certification programs, that they monitor and report their air and water effluent, and that they are transparent in this activity.

  • We do not use fiber sourced from old-growth or high-conservation-value designated forests.
  • No paper supplied to us may be bleached with elemental chlorine.
  • Our paper suppliers are expected to certify their own forest holdings and encourage their suppliers to pursue certification.
  • Our suppliers are expected to replant forestland or encourage self-propagation of indigenous trees as quickly as possible.
  • Our suppliers are expected to use best forest management practices, as described by one of the certifiers listed in the "Certified Forestry" section below, on the forests they own, lease or buy from.
  • We work with the forest industry to ensure we understand the regulations, and that our suppliers abide by them.
  • We stay current on international certification protocols.
  • We work with certification agents and will support their certification efforts.

Environmental Impacts - Certified Forestry

Only about 10% of the world's forests are currently governed by any certification standard. One of the best ways to stem the tide of climate change is to plant more forests to act as a carbon sink for GHGs. For the world's forests to be harvested and replanted sustainably there is an urgent need to certify the remaining 90%. National Geographic supports the growth of forest certification worldwide and recently joined several other companies to certify nearly 800,000 acres of privately held forest in Maine to the SFI standard. In 2012, the Society joined the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s Forest Partners Program which has the goal of certifying 10 million acres of forest by the end of 2017.

We recognize the following forestry certifications: Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC); Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); American Tree Farm System (ATFS); and Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which set standards for how forests are managed, harvested and replanted. All subscribe to a chain of custody for tracking the fiber through the manufacturing and use cycle. All address protecting the rights of indigenous people and ensure the protection and preservation of unique stands. National Geographic strives to buy only certified paper products. All Society magazines and catalogs printed in the United States are printed on 100% PEFC-certified paper. While FSC is currently the most widely-recognized forest certification in the U.S., we recognize all of the above certifications. Our goal is to have 100% of the fiber used on other National Geographic-produced printed products certified by at least one of the above certifiers.

Recycled Fiber

National Geographic believes the best way to meet the world's growing demand for paper is to recycle as much as possible and, where possible and practical, to make new products from recovered fiber. The use of recycled fiber must meet the requirements of the end product, which, in the case of our magazines and books, is, firstly, to have the requisite print quality to reproduce faithfully the spectacular images our photographers capture; secondly, the strength needed to run through a high-speed web press; and, thirdly, the affordability to keep our products price competitive. We are committed to testing the use of recovered fiber in our products so as to establish the proper balance of the above three conditions, with the goal of incorporating as high a percentage of recycled fiber as possible in our products. National Geographic already specifies high-recycled content in many of its products and supplies, including copier paper, cartons and packaging, book cover materials and packaging materials for DVDs, CDs and catalog products.

We work with our suppliers to implement the philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle in developing packaging for the products that we source. Our goal is to make packaging materials and products from recycled fiber where possible, to minimize the amount of packaging, to make that packaging as recyclable as possible (minimizing or eliminating non-recyclable components) and to actively encourage the recycling of the package.

Product and Employee Safety

Our suppliers must comply with all applicable local laws and regulations for employee safety in the countries where they operate. Our U.S. suppliers must comply with all regulations of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The materials they use, including adhesives, pigments, inks, coatings, solvents, substrates, curing processes and packaging, must meet the standards for toxicity established by the CPSC or the lowest threshold established by any of the 50 states, whichever is stricter.

All our suppliers are expected to:

  • Safeguard their employees from exposure to toxic materials and injury, and provide safe working conditions.
  • Conduct their business with an emphasis on reducing industrial accidents.
  • Use non-toxic cleaning supplies wherever possible, as well as non-toxic printing and binding materials.
  • Be open, transparent and fair. Minimize waste, maximize the use of renewable energy, reduce the carbon emissions of their operations and promote these values among their employees.
  • Comply with all applicable local laws and regulations in the jurisdictions in which they operate.


Our goal is to source and use only materials that are certified to be legally secured, certified to be sustainably harvested or manufactured, made without use of illegal or forced labor, and traded freely on the open market. We especially look for materials that are sustainably made, manufactured using renewable materials and renewable energy, are recyclable and have the lowest environmental impact.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act makes it illegal to import illegally sourced plants or animals (forest products included) into the United States, and makes it illegal to import products made from illegally sourced plants or animals. National Geographic requires its suppliers to abide by all the requirements and conditions of the Lacey Act.

Licensees and Affiliates

As part of its mission to inspire people to care about the planet, the National Geographic Society licenses its trademarks and the intellectual property content of its magazines, special issues, books and other publications to various international media companies.

We expect all NG Licensees to use paper made only from legally sourced wood and to refrain from using wood sourced from internationally recognized high-conservation-value forests as well as forests that have been designated unique ecosystems or officially designated as containing an endangered species.

We further expect all our Licensees to use clean manufacturing processes in the creation of NG-licensed print products and require their paper procurement policies to support the general goals of environmentally sustainable fiber use, reducing pollution and conserving natural resources through recycling and waste reduction. We provide them with a copy of our sustainability policy and ask that they use this as a guiding principle in their operations.

In summary, regarding international Licensees, there are three components to NGS's publishing strategy with respect to sustainable paper sourcing. We expect Licensees to:

1. Minimize paper consumption.

2. Eliminate all paper products containing irresponsibly or illegally harvested fibers.

3. Maximize their use of recycled fiber sourced from legally certified operations and use it where practical and possible.

Human Rights and Ethics

National Geographic supports the 10 principles of the United Nations Global Compact based on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. We:

1.     Support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.

2.     Ensure that we and our business partners and suppliers are not complicit in human rights abuses.

3.     Uphold the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

4.     Uphold the elimination of forced and compulsory labor and require the same from our business partners.

5.     Support the abolition of child labor.

6.     Eliminate discrimination in employment and occupation.

7.     Support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges.

8.     Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.

9.     Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

10.  Work against corruption in all forms, including extortion and bribery.

Transparency Pledge

National Geographic pledges to conduct its sustainability efforts with transparency and openness. We expect our suppliers to conduct their business in the same way and require that they provide us with any relevant information as a condition of doing business with us. We pledge that our records on our sustainability efforts will be open, auditable and certified where possible. We commit to being science-based in our approach and to making decisions based on the best information available to us.