Has the age of the green magazine finally arrived?

After decades of languishing at the back of the rack, environmental publications are amazed to find a huge new market thrust upon them. Sophie Morris reports on their organic growth
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The Independent Online

Resurgence, Britain's oldest environmental magazine, was created more than 40 years ago to meet the dangers of "giantism", according to the editor, Satish Kumar. "Bigness is the cause of environmental disruption," he says. "Everything is about growth – economic growth, educational growth, transportation growth, and supermarkets like Tesco becoming big."

Green magazines are currently something of a growth market themselves. The biggest is The Ecologist, which was launched in 1970 and has piled on readers since Tyler Moorehead took over as publisher in 2003. It now has a circulation of around 30,000 and is even available to buy on the shelves of Tesco.

"We didn't solicit that distribution channel," Moorehead says, explaining that Tesco came to The Ecologist asking to stock the magazine. "Our view for a long time was that there was a contradiction, for obvious reasons, but it's a channel that already exists. Perhaps if their customers read the magazine and look at the alternatives they would start spending a lot less time in Tesco."

A few years ago only clued-up greenies knew to visit specialist shops to find The Ecologist, but the vogue for all things environmental has spilled over into our magazine consumption. Resurgence and The Ecologist have been joined by a host of publications covering similar material, though each title has its own specialisation. Green Futures publishes for the business community, Green Parent for families; New Consumer guides readers towards sound shopping choices. Resurgence covers spiritual as well as environmental issues. Where The Ecologist has a long history of campaigning on climate change, the new kid on the block, Pure Living, is taking up the animal rights ticket.

"The market has changed dramatically in the last four years," confirms Moorehead. "We certainly consider ourselves a consumer magazine now and not a niche publication. We operate like a commercial consumer magazine."

The Ecologist's profile has been raised considerably by its celebrity director and former editor, Zac Goldsmith, David Cameron's adviser on green issues. Moorehead says he welcomes the competition from other magazines because it has helped the sector to grow.

"Where potential partners and advertisers were thinking it was a niche subject, it has now become something they really need to think about," he says. "It has helped our visibility and made the whole topic easier."

All these green magazines vet their advertisers for their eco-credentials. Advertising an airline, for example, would be out of the question. The Ecologist runs ads from various ethical-investment firms, such as Jupiter, Henderson and The Co-operative Bank and other companies "that are sizeable but ethical", says Moorehead. Resurgence has a radical approach to advertising: it places all the ads at the back of the magazine in order not to interrupt the copy.

In 1998, when Goldsmith became editor and started to take the magazine mainstream, WH Smith stopped carrying The Ecologist following a controversial article condemning the environmental track record of genetic engineering company Monsanto. WH Smith has since resumed stocking the title and The Ecologist has continued to hector Monsanto, proving that a whiff of libel won't send these eco-warriors running for the hills.

Satish Kumar, for his part, is opposed to "green consumption" and happy for Resurgence to stay small – with a circulation of around 15,000 – and out of major distributors. Its resistance to large advertisers means 70 per cent of its revenue comes from subscriptions, and most of the writing is donated for free. Despite this greener-than-thou image, Kumar calls The Ecologist a "really good, politically strong sister magazine" and says he is also a fan of Green Futures.

Pure Living launched this year and its first issue faltered. The editor, Britt Collins, believes that this is because the magazine wasn't available in larger stores like Borders, and has made sure the second issue, due out this week, will be.

"I wanted something that was politicised and a really good read, to compete with the newspaper supplements. I don't want to preach to people and I hate that whole hippie element of being green. I'm a vegan and I've supported animal rights all my life, but I'm not a hippie."

Pure Living's style is flirtatiously rebellious in the face of staid greenies. The model on the cover of the first issue looks like she's just rolled home from a long night in a seedy jazz bar and – shock horror – she's smoking. Issue two features Tatjana Patitz, the supermodel and reclusive maker of wildlife films; Al Gore and Hillary Clinton; and the White Stripes. Reverend Billy, the leader of the Church of Stop Shopping, is a columnist, and Pure Living has even poached The Independent's own green goddess, Julia Stephenson.

Its unique selling point, though, is the animal rights slant, which sets it apart from other environmental publications and leads Collins to believe she has no direct competitors. New Consumer, she says, is "more listy and less features-led", Resurgence "very academic and very conceptual". She hopes Pure Living is "a little more readable and accessible" than The Ecologist. "But there is definitely space for competition and rivals," she says. "Independent magazines need to support each other but in terms of the features we have The Independent is the closest thing to us."

Collins looks across the pond for inspiration. "The smaller American indie magazines can be quite progressive. In some ways they're a step ahead of us and quite experimental. The only thing I see as a competitor is Mother Jones in San Francisco, an American magazine without the glamour or the gloss but with a similar political slant to us."

Pure Living doesn't look like a budget publication edited for free in the twilight hours, but Collins, whose first taste of working for magazines was on a music fanzine at college, describes current environmental publications as a "movement" rather than commercial enterprises. Pure Living's print run is just 5,000 and Collins says she wants to "keep the quality high and build it up organically". She points to very successful magazine genres, such as indie music and lad mags, as examples of the potential for a massive new market.

"Mainstream publishers don't often experiment," she says. "They didn't touch indie music mags for a good five years and the men's magazine market exploded once Loaded was doing well. Now they're really struggling. The climate and focus has changed and I think the time for a green magazine is now."

Moorehead agrees: "It is still a real challenge but the market has come to our feet. The main thing we're trying to do, and I think other magazines are doing as well, is to let people know being green isn't about denial."

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