Rupert Murdoch's unlikely effort to give News Corp. a green makeover.

A journalistic collaboration on climate change.
April 23 2010 10:55 AM

Fair and … Carbon Neutral?

Rupert Murdoch's unlikely effort to give News Corp. a green makeover.

Rupert Murdoch. Click image to expand.
Rupert Murdoch

In the Fox News universe, the world is definitely not warming. Quite the opposite: Climate change is "bunk," a spectacular hoax perpetrated on the rest of us by a cabal of corrupt scientists. But while embracing climate skepticism may be good for ratings, the execs at Fox News' parent company, News Corp., don't see it as good for the long-term bottom line. By the end of this year, News Corp. aims to go carbon neutral—meaning that the home of über-global-warming denialists like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck may soon be one of the greener multinational corporations around.

News Corp. announced its plan in May 2007 with a groundbreaking speech from Chairman Rupert Murdoch. "Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats," declared Murdoch. "We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction." Formerly skeptical about global warming, Murdoch was reportedly converted by a presentation from Al Gore—whom Fox News commentators have described as "nuts" and "off his lithium"—and by his green-leaning son James, who is expected to inherit his business empire. But Murdoch wasn't acting out of altruism. For News Corp., he said, the move was "simply good business." (Fox News barely mentioned the boss's remarks.)

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Murdoch's logic was that higher energy costs are inevitable, given coming carbon regulations and dwindling supplies of conventional fuels such as oil. So why not get ahead of the game? "Whatever [going carbon neutral] costs will be minimal compared to our overall revenues," the media mogul has remarked, "and we'll get that back many times over." The company launched its mission by making a movie based on the cartoon series Futurama the company's first carbon-neutral DVD release in 2007 (carbon savings: an estimated 447.5 tons), followed by the production of the seventh season of 24 (approximately of CO2 saved). News Corp.'s plan, according to manager of energy initiatives Vijay Sudan, was to do the same for the rest of its operations by reducing energy use in its office facilities, moving to renewable energy, and purchasing offsets to take care of the remaining emissions.

So far, so good. But going totally green turned out to be harder than it looked. That's not because News Corp. is a massive emitter—apart from the hot air generated by Fox News, it produces 700,000 metric tons of carbon per year, mostly from printing newspapers, producing films, broadcasting television signals, and operating its 24-hour newsrooms. By comparison, a single coal plant releases millions of tons of emissions annually.

But News Corp. is the second-largest media conglomerate in the world. Its hundreds of interests include film companies like 20th Century Fox, network and cable TV channels like Fox Broadcasting and National Geographic, newspapers like the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, the HarperCollins publishing empire, billboards, rugby teams, MySpace, and those tiny machines that spit out coupons as you walk by the Frosted Flakes at the grocery store.

With such diverse interests spanning continents and markets, simply calculating News Corp.'s carbon footprint became a headache-inducing task. Initially, the company tried using what Sudan called "glorified spreadsheets" to tabulate its emissions. But that, he says, was just not enough information. "You can't manage what you don't measure," says Sudan. "There's not necessarily a lot of insight into where your heavy energy use is if you're a company that isn't a heavy energy user."

So in November 2009, News Corp. turned to Hara, a software firm that helps companies evaluate what founder Amit Chatterjee calls their "organizational metabolism." Companies can use the program to assess their resource use, emissions, and overall footprint; develop plans to shrink that footprint; and run cost-benefit analyses on various strategies to cut emissions. Want to cut solid waste? There's an application for that. Want to determine the solar panel that'll give you the best bang for your buck? There's an app for that, too. The goal is to help businesses assess both the risks and the opportunities presented by their energy use.

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