During its 20 years in operation, The Santa Barbara Independent has distinguished itself with the speed and diligence with which it has embraced a host of environmental passions. But when it comes to the mundane details by which such causes are put into meaningful practice, The Independent’s customary speed and zeal has been notably lacking. There have been some exceptions, however. Bicycle commuting has not merely been allowed at The Independent, but actively encouraged. Bike racks are provided, but theft-conscious employees may park their bikes inside and close to their work stations. Bike-inflicted scuff marks are tolerated with accommodating grace, and twice a year, the newspaper’s bicycle commuters receive stipends, free of charge, that cover the cost of bicycle repairs and replacement bike parts.
And although no formal program is in place, most of the paper’s bike commuters know they can borrow a car when an emergency arises. As a result, many Independent workers ride their bikes to work, including most of the news department. But since it started, the initiative has not been expanded to encompass and encourage employees who walk to work or who ride the bus. And many workers-some of whom might change their habits-remain unaware that the program even exists.
In recent months, Independent publisher Randy Campbell has been seized by a wild hare to improve the paper’s recycling performance. “It’s time to put up or shut up,” he said. To that end, Campbell’s increased the number of recycling bins for which The Independent contracts with BFI. But even so, The Independent still sends twice the volume of material to the Tajiguas Landfill that it recycles. By contrast, state law mandates that municipalities divert 50 percent of their waste stream into recycling programs. In that regard, Santa Barbara County is diverting 63 percent and the City of Santa Barbara is at 67 percent. The Independent-which has long been recycling electronic components and computer parts-could easily increase its diversion rate by placing recycle bins at every employee’s desk. Such blue bins are available free of charge from the City of Santa Barbara.
California law mandates that half the state’s newspapers use newsprint made of at least 40 percent recycled paper stock. Currently, 68 percent of California’s newsprint meets this goal. This program’s statewide success comes in spite of-rather than because of-The Independent’s participation. Typically, a paper product can be used and re-used as many as eight to 10 times. However, some printers contend that recycled paper stock is a pain to work with, creates more lint and maintenance problems for the printing presses, and costs more. However, almost all the state’s big daily papers are printed on stock that’s at least 40 percent recycled. By contrast, The Independent is produced on paper stock that’s only 10-20 percent recycled.
The Independent rents its current digs, and the landlord has made it clear that the newspaper would be financially responsible for making any improvements. That financial fact of life has effectively discouraged any exploration of the roof’s obvious solar potential. For years, the building’s heating and cooling systems have been models of energy inefficiency, but recently, The Independent repaired a defective air conditioning unit that wasted untold kilowatt hours of electricity to keep the thermostat comfortably between 68 and 72 degrees.
Old energy-inefficient computer equipment has been systematically replaced. As a result, many employees are using the thinner LCD computer monitors, which use on average 60 percent less energy than their CRT predecessors. And like all newspapers, The Independent’s photo department has gone completely digital, thus alleviating the need for a host of darkroom chemicals that posed disposal issues as well as health concerns. When it comes to water consumption, The Independent’s toilets are strictly old-school, pre-drought models designed to institutional standards. Little wonder, then, that the paper’s 44 employees consume about 500 gallons of water per month.
The good news at The Independent: There’s nowhere to go but up. Part of the problem is no one person has been assigned the specific task of monitoring the paper’s environmental performance, setting goals, and seeing to it that efforts are taken to achieve those goal. While the newspaper’s management has been open to eco-friendly initiatives, such efforts have been sporadic in nature and ad hoc in their execution and management. By changing that, The Independent could come a long way toward practicing what it preaches.