Editor's Note: Planet vs. Paris Hilton By Bob Sipchen
A BREAKFAST SESSION AT a big magazine conference in Manhattan. I'm on West Coast time. For a moment I think I'm dreaming.
Nope. Two people at my table really are gently chiding a third for choosing a paper cup over a ceramic mug. Then they discuss the environmental advantages of those big, gurgling water coolers over crackly little plastic bottles.
One week last November, the Bionic Woman, the Biggest Loser, and everyone else on NBC went on an eco-binge, so it's hardly news that the magazine world has also invaded Sierra's turf. Newsstands look like vegetable bins there's so much green on the covers. Music magazines. Knitting magazines. Paris Hilton–obsessed magazines. They've all produced special environmental or global-warming issues.
Here's what makes my undercaffeinated eavesdropping surreal: The name tags of the folks at my table identify them as staffers at ... Forbes.
I know something about Forbes. As a reporter, I hopscotched around the country with editor and CEO Steve Forbes on his quixotic "scrap the tax code" bid to be the Republican Party's 1996 presidential candidate. I traveled with Steve's rich dad, the late Malcolm Forbes, on motorcycles, a helicopter, and his private 727 jetliner, the Capitalist Tool.
Neither Forbes struck me as a Bambi hugger.
Yet here were these young Forbes editors sounding positively Carl Pope–ish.
I shouldn't have been surprised. Fortune had a green issue in 2007. So did Business 2.0. And Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
Yes, a comment on Kiplinger's Web site notes: "Your latest issue of the left-wing Democrat B.S. on global warming ... made me decide I will not renew my subscription. P.S. I am 75 years old, and we always called global warming summertime."
Still, something's going on.
Sierra senior editor Paul Rauber figured there'd be eye gouging when he brought together disparate political insiders to discuss the role environmental issues might play in the next presidential campaign. But with even Newt Gingrich voicing concern about climate change, the imagined smack-down turned into patty-cake.
Senior Editor Reed McManus encountered a similar "Kumbaya" reaction when pulling together this issue's package of business-oriented features, as one executive after another acknowledged that incinerating the earth just might be bad for the bottom line.
There have been faddish infatuations with the environment before. Skepticism is in order. Most of these businesses, including magazines, will soon return to their core concerns. Fortunately, many now seem to grasp that a healthy planet is integral to those concerns.