Saturday, March 03, 2007


A story by Sherry Chiger in the Multichannel Merchant (a catalog industry information source) recently said:

"...a renewed emphasis on the environment and sustainability is part of the zeitgeist."

She noted that Victoria's Secret, Williams-Sonoma and Dell have recently moved to green their catalogs. But she also discusses a critical issue for catalogs: reducing the amount of paper they use, eliminating paper catalogs in favor of online sales and elminating print catalogs altogether. Some developments:

-- The Disney catalog has been eliminated in favor of onleine sales.
-- Sharper Image has reported that it will decrease its catalog circulation by 30% in 2006.

A related article from Chief Marketer report entitled “Precision Marketing Is a Green Initiative,” by Jeff Zabin discusses paper reduction as an important environmental initiative.

Some interesting quotes from his article:

"Consider: This year alone, marketers in the U.S. will have sent out more than 114 billion pieces of direct mail, including catalogs, credit-card solicitations, and coupon packets. This represents an increase of 15% from five years ago. The cost of producing and distributing all these marketing materials? Approximately $59.6 billion—more than five times Wal-Mart’s net income. And that’s up more than $4 billion from last year.

And yet, as every marketing professional knows, most of that mail is thrown out nearly as quickly as it arrives. In fact, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), only 2.15% of mailed ads lead to a sale—or, for that matter, to any type of response from recipients. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in a single year Americans dispose of more than 3.6 million tons of what can truly be labeled junk mail.

Beyond getting plowed into landfills, where it might take a millennium to decompose, the 97.85% of direct mail pieces that would seem to serve no other purpose than to keep marketing vendors and the U.S. Postal Service busy obviously have an enormous environmental impact. By some estimates, more than 100 million trees are needed to produce them. The paper pulp processing requires some 50 billion gallons of water. And then there’s the toxic ink and nonrenewable energy that goes into printing, sorting, and distribution."

More interesting still, Zabin notes that the Direct Marketing Association's justifications and pronouncements on the green-ness of the junk mail and catalog industries "a dubious claim, in my opinion, based on what I’ve seen, and it represents a somewhat feeble attempt to respond to the consumer rallying cry around environmental responsibility in light of the fact that more than half of all direct mail is tossed into the wastepaper basket without so much as even being opened."

I guess there is reason to hope that there is a new zeitgeist in this industry.

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