Sustainability Policy

Last updated: November 16, 2015

The National Geographic Society believes in the power of science and storytelling to change the world and our coverage of environmental and social issues has committed us to conducting our business as sustainably and responsibly as possible both in our direct actions and in our impacts through our suppliers, licensees, affiliates, and partners.

National Geographic Society asks that employees, suppliers, licensees, affiliates, and partners use this Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Policy as a guiding principle in the production and distribution of any National Geographic-branded products or services.

Corporate Responsibility Statement

National Geographic activities and services will be legally and ethically conducted by treating employees, environments, and cultures with respect. We will minimize negative environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions by seeking local, organic, and sustainably-sourced resources, using recycled and recyclable content when possible, and minimizing waste of energy, water, food, and other resources. All products used in National Geographic activities and services should follow the same high standards as National Geographic branded products.

Transparency Pledge

National Geographic pledges to conduct its corporate responsibility and 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.

Product and Service Guidelines

National Geographic products and services should always aim to be of the highest quality to engage consumers and members in our efforts to care for our living planet, explore new frontiers, reveal our human story, and protect critical species. The National Geographic Society will always seek to give back to the communities and environments that enjoy and help create National Geographic products and services. We embrace customer and employee feedback to help us continually improve our offerings.

Because the National Geographic Society is committed to conducting our business as sustainably and responsibly as possible, we seek to minimize the negative impacts of our activities, products, and services. We encourage our suppliers, affiliates and partners to do the same.

National Geographic branded products should be legally and ethically produced with active concern for the people involved in the manufacture 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 the time of employees. Recycled and recyclable content should be used whenever feasible. When virgin materials are necessary, they will be legally and sustainably sourced and their extraction should be done with the utmost care and attention to the impacts on the environment. Paper should come from certified forestry sources, never from old-growth or high-conservation-value designated forests, and should never be bleached with elemental chlorine.

Environmental Impacts

National Geographic products, activities, and services should be designed or conducted in such a way as to minimize negative environmental impacts.

Greenhouse Emissions

To combat global climate change, National Geographic’s primary environmental 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 and take steps to reduce:

  • Our use of electricity, natural gas, and water.
  • Our waste, which is reused, recycled, or composted as much as possible to divert it from the landfill.
  • The emissions of all of our buildings and rental office space.
  • The emissions of our business travel.
  • The emissions associated with our products, including magazines, books, catalogs, direct mail, CDs, DVDs, films, digital media, and the activities and services we provide, such as travel programs.

We know that National Geographic products, activities, and services all come with some emissions burden, so for emissions we cannot eliminate we seek independently audited and certified carbon offsets, including projects supporting the work of our Explorers.

Reuse, Recycling, and Composting

We make a concerted effort to reduce all types of waste in our operations. For the waste we do produce, we believe in reusing all that we can and recycling or composting that which cannot be reused. National Geographic facilities manage assets in a manner consistent with best practices, all local, state and federal regulations and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) requirements. When buying office or building supplies, we seek materials made from recycled products when feasible. To ensure that office and building materials are reused, recycled, and composted efficiently and properly, employees of the National Geographic Society are asked to abide by NGS Reuse, Recycling, Compost, and Disposal Procedures. We encourage these same practices in our tenants, customers, suppliers, licensees, affiliates, and partners and encourage the reuse and recycling of our products when our customers have finished with them.


We measure, manage, and reduce energy use at National Geographic facilities in order to create more efficient and safer workplaces as well as to maintain the performance of our headquarters as United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) Gold Certified and Energy Star rated. To do so, we need the help of all employees in our buildings, and therefore ask them to abide by our Energy Policy for National Geographic Headquarters.

Business Travel

We encourage sustainable business travel practices in our operations:

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

Supplier, Licensee, Affiliate, and Partner Resource Use

To share the world and all that is in it, 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. National Geographic is committed to working with its suppliers, licensees, affiliates, and partners to ensure that 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 engage in conservation and efficiency measures for their water and energy use, to increase the utilization of renewable energy sources, and to minimize waste.

We expect all our suppliers, licensees, affiliates, partners, and their third-party manufacturers to use clean manufacturing processes in the creation of NG-branded products.

We select supply partners who practice clean manufacturing and demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement in pollution prevention and source reduction 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.
  • Have an active, ongoing training program in which their employees are encouraged to participate.
  • Commit to using recycled-content products where practical as part of their materials-sourcing practice.
  • Maximize their use of recycled fiber where practical and possible.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Clean Manufacturing

Suppliers who provide manufacturing services to the Society are expected to follow Resource Efficiency and 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.
Paper Sourcing

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.

In respect to sustainable paper sourcing, we therefore seek 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.

We expect all suppliers, licensees, affiliates, partners, and their third-party manufacturers 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. We expect 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 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.

  • 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 paper suppliers are expected to replant forestland or encourage self-propagation of indigenous trees as quickly as possible.
  • Our 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.
  • 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.

Forestry Certification

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.

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. 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.


Our goal is to source and use only materials that are certified to be legally secured, 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.

Social Impacts

National Geographic products, activities, and services should be designed, produced, or conducted with deliberate consideration for the social impacts of their creation and use.

Product and Employee Safety

Our suppliers must comply with all applicable local laws and regulations for product and 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.

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 and require companies that we work with to comply with the “No Child Labor” policy set forth in this document.
  6. Eliminate discrimination in employment and occupation. National Geographic’s policy requires that we observe all applicable laws governing fair employment practices. Employment decisions are made without regard to age, race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability, as well as other classifications protected by federal, state, District of Columbia, or local laws.
  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 by complying with the Anti-Corruption Policy and Compliance Manual. We follow all applicable national, state, local laws and regulations and require companies that we work with to do the same.


Violation of this policy may, in NGS’s sole discretion, result in the termination of our business relationship with a Licensee, Affiliate, Partner, or Supplier.

No Child Labor Policy

Any supplier that National Geographic works with shall comply in all respects with the No Child Labor Policy set out below.

For the purposes of this Agreement, child labor is defined as the employment, whether paid or unpaid, of any child under the age of fifteen (15) in any position where:

  • The child is kept from attending school and receiving the education they will need to succeed in life. Work shall never come at the expense of a child’s education. In no case shall a child be granted full-time employment before completing the minimum number of years of mandatory schooling, as determined by national Law.
  • The child is exposed to dangerous pesticides, fumes, toxins, chemicals, or carcinogens, or an environment that is unsanitary.
  • National or international laws relating to human rights or working children are violated. In particular, national laws stipulating a minimum working age that exceeds the fifteen (15) years of age required herein must be adhered to.
  • The child is required to operate heavy or dangerous machinery that could lead to an accident or otherwise pose a risk to his/her safety. Heavy or dangerous machinery shall only be operated by adults age eighteen (18) and older.
  • The child is required to work more than three (3) hours per day, more than fifteen (15) hours per week, or more than five (5) days per week.
  • The child is compelled to work or in any way coerced into completing his/her duties.
  • The physical, emotional, psychological, or intellectual development of the child could be jeopardized.
  • The child is not being observed or accompanied by a parent, legal guardian, or an adult member of his/her immediate or extended family. Children who perform developmental tasks or vocational apprenticeships at a family workshop are excluded from this definition of “child laborers”; however, the tasks must nonetheless in no way interfere with the child’s education, safety, health, or overall well-being (regardless of whether the tasks are paid or not), and will still be held to the same criteria outlined above with the exception of the minimum age requirement of fifteen (15) years of age.

All activities that could be classified as child labor under the definition delineated above are expressly prohibited, and Licensee and any Third-Party Manufacturer agree not to engage in any such activities. Further, NGS shall have the continuing right, in order to enforce this No Child Labor policy and reassure both customers and the general public that no children are being exploited in the creation of any Licensed Products, to periodically inspect Licensee’s and/or any Third-Party Manufacturer’s facilities. Advance notice need not always be provided prior to such inspection, so as to preserve the integrity of the inspection process.

NGS Sustainability Procurement Policy for Suppliers/Manufacturers/Third Parties

Policy Statement

The National Geographic Society believes in the power of science and storytelling to change the world and our coverage of conservation and sustainability issues has committed us to conducting our business as sustainably as possible, minimizing both our own environmental impact and the environmental impact of our suppliers and partners. That commitment is our assurance to our customers and members that we provide our products and services in a manner that is consistent with the sustainable use of our resources. Those who supply paper to National Geographic must demonstrate that the wood fiber used in paper manufacturing comes from sustainably managed sources and is produced using environmentally preferable technologies and processes.

By providing a clear and well-articulated policy requiring our paper suppliers to document their performance, and by establishing measurable objectives, we, in turn, can assure our customers that the products they purchase from us are made sustainably, using best practices.


The purpose of this policy is to ensure that producers who supply paper and other forest products to National Geographic demonstrate that the wood fiber they use in paper manufacturing comes from forestry sources that are managed in a sustainable manner and are produced using environmentally sound practices and processes. Only suppliers who meet National Geographic’s requirements in this area will be considered as business partners.


National Geographic strongly supports the recycling of all paper products. We are committed to recycling all waste, and we actively promote the recycling of our products by our members and customers. We are committed to using recycled-content products where doing so makes environmental and economic sense (packaging, tissue, cartons, binders, board, etc.).

National Geographic also fully supports and promotes the practice of recycling, wherever possible, other products that the Society consumes, in the most practical and safe manner, and we actively promote the use of recycled materials in our operations.

Clean Manufacturing Process

National Geographic will select supply partners who 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 paper production on water, air and climate. We encourage our suppliers to pursue energy conservation, to increase the utilization of renewable energy sources, to engage in conservation of electricity and to maximize their energy efficiency. For products that require bleaching and brightening, we will show preference to suppliers that utilize processes that are environmentally responsible. The suppliers must comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and guidelines.

All paper sourced from North American paper mills must be elemental chlorine free. The supplier is responsible for documenting its conformity with this requirement.

We also require continuous improvement for key indicators of water quality, water use and air emissions, including greenhouse gases. We require our suppliers to measure and document such improvements by providing a written report annually.


National Geographic fully supports independent standards and third-party independent verification as a means of measuring supplier performance. The goal is to have National Geographic’s key paper suppliers provide 60 percent of their fiber sourcing certified by at least one of the following sources: FSC, SFI, CSA or PEFC. No paper may be sourced from forests generally accepted as being of high conservation value.

Credible Reporting and Verification

Paper suppliers must make available to National Geographic, on an annual basis, a report that highlights their progress towards waste minimization, sustainable forestry practices, clean manufacturing practices and chain-of-custody compliance. As part of this requirement, all processes and data must be independently verified by a third-party audit.

Economic Viability

The desired outcome of our policy is continuous improvement in the environmental impact of the paper industry. Our goal is to have a sufficient supply of sustainably produced paper on the market to meet our needs. A full, comprehensive and periodic review will be conducted by National Geographic’s senior production and purchasing staff to ensure that the products covered under this policy are being produced sustainably, while not jeopardizing the delivery of finished products.

Continuous Improvement

National Geographic recognizes that responsible environmental stewardship is a continuous process. We will engage our paper suppliers in an ongoing dialogue to monitor their performance and to remain informed about opportunities to become increasingly sustainable. National Geographic further challenges our partners to develop new grades of quality paper that offer products that meet the highest environmental standards suitable for use in our products. To this end, National Geographic will give preference to companies that practice and encourage sustainable forest management, that run lower carbon-emitting operations and that strive for continuous improvement in their operations.

Explanation of Terms


An extensive, uninterrupted, naturally occurring stand, most commonly marked by a mix of species and range of ages of trees and undergrowth. It is a bio-diverse ecosystem able to sustain a variety of both simple and complex flora and fauna in a constantly self-renewing cycle. It is comprised of all ages of plants and animals, including decomposing flora and fauna, which together constitute and contribute to the biomass needed to nurture regeneration.

Sustainable Forestry

Managing forest harvesting in such a way as to allow a forest to replace itself with the full range of native species, to maturity, over a specified area so as to have a continuous yield of mature trees on an ongoing basis and at a constant rate. In order for forestry to be truly sustainable, enough new trees need to be planted so that enough mature trees are available to meet the demands of the world’s growing population.

The goal of forest regeneration must be to replicate what is burned or harvested over time. The regeneration of a forest ecosystem should be achieved, where possible, by natural processes, such as self-seeding and preservation of a critical number of original native species, or through the use of accepted forest management techniques, thereby allowing for the complete natural regeneration of an original forest ecosystem to full maturity of all species.

Tree Farms

National Geographic recognizes the important role and value of tree farming and the growing of trees as a source of timber and paper fiber. However, we do not consider a single-species monoculture planted for the specific purpose of being a fiber or timber crop and managed to eliminate all other competing species through the use of pesticides, herbicides and under-story burning to be a forest ecosystem. Such plantations are characterized by the lack of under-story or secondary species, and do not support a full range of flora and fauna typical for a forest setting at a given latitude or altitude. Furthermore, such a crop stand does not provide the essential water-purification function of a forest, so while it provides for essential fiber production, it is not a forest and should not be counted as a forest.

Photo credits: Mac Stone

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