Last updated: October 20, 2023
Sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.1 A sustainable organization must embrace a holistic way of thinking that considers how we can create social and environmental value through our actions, while limiting negative impacts from those actions on communities, wildlife or natural resources.
For National Geographic, sustainability is an essential component of the brand and is reflected in our storytelling, products, brand activations and nonprofit work. The existence of the people, places, and wildlife that we explore and celebrate depend on our decisions and actions. To combat climate change, resource depletion, pollution and social inequities we will make conscious choices about who and what contribute to the creation of our products, experiences, and supplies and we will consider carefully the short- and long-term consequences of their creation, use, and disposal on communities and the environment. Any individual, organization or company collaborating with or doing business with National Geographic, such as service providers and manufacturing suppliers, must be evaluated for their commitment to social and environmental principles, and National Geographic products, activations and promotions must be evaluated for their potential social and environmental impacts. For clarity, “National Geographic” includes the Society, and its licensee, NGP/Disney and their licensees.
Consistent with our core values, National Geographic embraces sustainable development and continuously evaluates impacts that are most material to business activities, including:
- Preservation of cultures and habitats
- Protection of endangered species
- Mitigating climate change
- Minimizing the use of toxic materials and finite natural resources like oils, gasses, metals and plastics by finding alternatives
- Replacing, replanting and regenerating renewable resources like wood and water
- Prioritizing durability, reparability and recyclability in the products used and created in order to reduce waste
- Eliminating as much as possible the creation of pollutants and unrecoverable waste
Potential sustainability risks for the National Geographic brand from a particular product, service, activity, or activation can stem from a wide range of social and environmental issues:
- Carbon emissions and energy intensity
- Water scarcity
- Waste generation
- Biodiversity and conservation impacts (in oceans and on land)
- Deforestation and forestry
- Raw products
- Supply chain
- Human rights
- Racial, gender, socioeconomic and regional impacts
- Child labor
These sustainability guidelines follow five core principles of responsible social and environmental conduct for National Geographic employees and any business collaborations. We expect our licensee, NGP/Disney, and their business collaborators to comply in the production and distribution of any National Geographic-branded product, service, activity or activation.
Commitment to Sustainability
National Geographic’s goal is to source and use only materials that are certified to be legally secured, sustainably harvested or manufactured, made without use of illegal, forced or child labor and traded freely on the open market. We especially look for materials that are sustainably made, manufactured using renewable materials and renewable energy, minimize negative environmental impact and can be recycled where they will be used, sold or discarded.
Threatened or Endangered Species and Animal Treatment
National Geographic requires that no National Geographic-branded products are made from threatened, endangered or illegally sourced or imported animals, plants or forest products. National Geographic strives to have no animals, plants or forest products used when their use is questionable from an ethical or conservation standpoint.
National Geographic-branded interactions with animals should:
- adhere to conservation status requirements2 as well as local and international regulations.
- address ethical or conservation concerns with a goal to assist in the mitigation of both.
- be responsible in the display of natural behaviors.
- minimize handling of wild animals and use approved handling methods.
- not disturb wild animals or habitats.
- not promote or encourage the keeping of exotic animals as pets.
- be done with attention to the safety of the animals and those interacting with them.
- ensure that no animals are used for testing of any National Geographic-branded products or services.
For clarity, the Disney Live Animals in Entertainment policy aligns with this section of the “Sustainability Guidelines”, which includes monitoring for partners’ compliance, aligns with these guidelines. If Disney makes any changes to the Live Animal policy, the Society will have the opportunity to determine if such change applies prospectively to National Geographic-branded products.
The manufacture of paper for National Geographic-branded magazines and books, and any other products derived from trees, which affects both air- and water-borne emission at the site of the paper mill, account for some of the biggest environmental impacts among National Geographic-branded products.
In respect to sustainable paper sourcing, National Geographic therefore seeks to:
- Minimize paper consumption.
- Eliminate all paper products containing irresponsibly or illegally harvested fibers.
- Maximize the use of recycled fiber sourced from legally certified operations and use it where practical and possible.
For National Geographic products, services, activities and activations, all business collaborations, including third party manufacturers, are to use paper made only from legally sourced wood and to refrain from using wood sourced from old-growth or internationally recognized high-conservation-value forests as well as forests that have been designated unique ecosystems or officially designated as containing an endangered species. National Geographic expects all business collaborations and any third-party manufacturers’ paper procurement policies to support the general goals of environmentally sustainable fiber use, reducing pollution and conserving natural resources through recycling and waste reduction.
National Geographic expects paper suppliers for National Geographic products, services, activities and activations 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.
For paper supplied to National Geographic or used in National Geographic-branded products, services, activities and activations:
- No paper may be bleached with elemental chlorine.
- Paper suppliers are expected to certify their own forest holdings and encourage their suppliers to pursue certification.
- Paper suppliers are expected to replant forestland or encourage self-propagation of indigenous trees as quickly as possible while simultaneously encouraging preservation of old growth forests. Replanting is not a substitute for rectifying a failure to preserve.
- Paper suppliers are expected to use best forest management practices, as described by one of the certifiers listed in the “Forestry Certification” section below, on the forests they own, lease or buy from.
- Paper suppliers should ensure they understand forestry regulations and abide by them.
- Paper suppliers will stay current on international certification protocols.
- Paper suppliers will work with certification agents and support certification efforts.
National Geographic supports the growth of forest certification worldwide while protecting the rights of indigenous people and ensuring the protection and preservation of unique stands.
National Geographic strives to buy only certified paper products. We currently recognize the following forestry certifications: Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC); Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI); and American Tree Farm System (ATFS), 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. Our goal is to have 100% of the fiber used on National Geographic-branded print products certified by at least one of the above certifiers.
Deforestation is the purposeful clearing of forested land. Throughout history and into modern times, forests have been razed to make space for agriculture and animal grazing and to obtain wood for fuel, manufacturing and construction.
Today, the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring in tropical rainforests, aided by extensive road construction into regions that were once almost inaccessible. Building or upgrading roads into forests makes them more accessible to exploitation. Slash-and-burn agriculture is a big contributor to deforestation in the tropics. With this agricultural method, farmers burn large swaths of forest, allowing the ash to fertilize the land for crops. The land is only fertile for a few years, however, after which the farmers move on to repeat the process elsewhere. Tropical forests are also cleared to make way for logging, cattle ranching, and oil palm and rubber tree plantations.
Deforestation can result in more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. That is because trees take in carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis, and carbon is locked chemically in their wood. When trees are burned, this carbon returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. With fewer trees around to take in the carbon dioxide, this greenhouse gas accumulates in the atmosphere and accelerates global warming.
Deforestation also threatens the world’s biodiversity. Tropical forests are home to great numbers of animal and plant species. When forests are logged or burned, it can drive many of those species into extinction.
More immediately, the loss of trees from a forest can leave soil more prone to erosion. This causes the remaining plants to become more vulnerable to fire as the forest shifts from being a closed, moist environment to an open, dry one.
Replanting is not a substitute for rectifying a failure to preserve.
For manufacturing services for items to be branded “National Geographic,” National Geographic will prioritize business collaborations that follow resource efficient and cleaner production practices including such measures as pollution prevention, source reduction, waste minimization, eco efficiency, reuse of waste, process modification, and awareness of and reduction of the use of hazardous materials – as follows:
- Operate their plants using best available and cost-effective technologies 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, reducing and reusing as much as possible then recycling 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
For clarity, the Disney Product Integrity Program (“PIP”), which includes monitoring for partners’ compliance, aligns with these guidelines. If Disney makes any changes to the PIP, the Society will have the opportunity to determine if such change applies prospectively to National Geographic-branded products.
National Geographic engages business collaborations that uphold and implement the philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle in developing packaging for the products we source.
Our goal is to:
- Minimize the amount of packaging.
- Make packaging from recycled material.
- Make packaging as reusable or recyclable as possible (minimizing or eliminating non-recyclable components such as single-use plastic).
- Consider recycling limitations in the areas that the packaging or packaged product will be used, sold or disposed.
- Actively encourage the recycling of the package.
- Consider alternative packaging options that further reduce waste, such as reusable packaging, inclusive packaging (packaging that is part of the final product) or no packaging when environmentally positive and economically feasible.
Transportation of people and products creates significant GHG emissions and National Geographic business collaborations must manage travel and shipping to reduce unnecessary emissions by:
- Providing and utilizing digital communication tools as effective alternatives to travel.
- Sourcing as locally as feasible.
- Prioritizing and providing time for lower emission transportation options.
- Addressing upstream and downstream transportation within the supply chain.
- Planning ahead and coordinating travel or shipping plans to:
- Move more people or products with fewer vehicles.
- Maximize the use of vehicle space to minimize fuel consumption.
- Plan multi-functional trips and shipments, especially over long-distances.
- Utilize mass transit options.
- Minimize last minute, high emission transportation choices.
Product and Employee Safety
Business collaborations involving National Geographic must comply with all applicable local laws and regulations for product and employee safety in the countries where they operate. Our U.S. business collaborations 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 business deals should include mechanisms to:
- Safeguard employees from exposure to toxic materials and injury and provide safe working conditions.
- Conduct 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 operations and promote these values among employees.
- Comply with all applicable local laws and regulations in the jurisdictions in which the businesses operate.
Human Rights and Ethics and No Child Labor
The National Geographic Society 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.
Disney’s International Labor Standards policy meets these standards, includes monitoring and shall be applied to all National Geographic-branded activities, products, and services created by NGP/Disney and its licensees.
Product and Service Guidelines
All National Geographic-branded products, services, activities and activations will support the mission to use the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.
National Geographic seeks to use sustainability best practices in our operations and to measure and minimize negative impacts. We will seek to engage business collaborations that do the same, requiring them to measure and document their progress toward environmental goals and targets.
National Geographic products, services, activities and activations should always aim to be of the highest enduring quality in design, materials and workmanship. National Geographic products, services, activities and activations should be legally, ethically and sustainably produced with active concern for the people involved in the creation and distribution as well as for the environment from which the materials originate. Manufacturing processes should be clean and efficient, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing waste of energy, water and resources – including raw materials, manufactured materials, funds and labor.
In National Geographic products, services, activities and activations, recycled and recyclable content should be used whenever environmentally preferable and economically feasible. When virgin materials are necessary, they will be legally sourced with the aim to always be sustainably sourced, and their extraction should be done with the utmost care and attention to impacts on the environment. Paper, wood and forestry products should come from certified forestry sources, never from old-growth or high-conservation-value designated forests and should never be bleached with elemental chlorine.
National Geographic seeks to give back to the communities and environments that enjoy and help create National Geographic activities, products and services. We will prioritize business collaborations that support the communities and environments in which they do business.
National Geographic recognizes that responsible environmental stewardship is an ongoing process requiring continuous measurement, learning, adjustment and growth. We embrace internal and external feedback to help us and the organizations we work with to continually improve on our business practices and the products, services, activities and activations we offer.
Certification and Endorsement
2. “Conservation status requirements” encompasses any rules or guidelines of treatment, handling, filming, habitat preservation, etc that may be dictated by the species’ status (endangered, protected, declining – usually based on population level and success, known threats, probability of extinction) whether globally or locally set (e.g. national or regional species protections, CITES, IUCN, etc).↩
Photo credits: Mac Stone