Williams-Sonoma plants its catalogs in the environmentally friendly camp

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Taking a strong position on the thorny issue of paper use by catalogers, Williams-Sonoma Inc. said recently that it soon would source more than 95 percent of the paper used in its catalogs from environmentally friendly, sustainably harvested sources.

But the San Francisco-based multichannel merchant will not increase the amount of recycled paper it uses. The company now uses 10 percent post-consumer recycled content in its flagship Williams-Sonoma book.

"It is very difficult to obtain a consistent supply of top-quality and affordable post-consumer recycled fiber," said Oliver Clode, director of marketing finance, who noted that virgin fiber remains necessary to produce the high-quality paper in Williams-Sonoma catalogs.

"Consequently, we firmly believe that it is even more important to focus on the source of that [virgin] fiber while also promoting the recycling of our catalogs," he said.

Williams-Sonoma will procure its paper from sources certified by The Forest Stewardship Council, Washington. The nonprofit group uses independent, third-party audits to certify fiber sources and is widely recognized in the paper and direct marketing industries.

Though Williams-Sonoma's paper production process will not change, the company will have to implement new tracking, inventory control and labeling processes and systems.

"Every piece of wood used in our catalog paper production needs to be accounted for and tracked through the supply chain - from FSC-certified forest through the printing process," Mr. Clode said. "There are definitely some upfront costs in getting all parties certified and implementing these system changes. But in the grand scheme, these costs should be negligible as new efficiencies are achieved through greater visibility and transparency throughout the supply chain."

Once Williams-Sonoma depletes its remaining inventories of non-FSC paper, it will begin promoting the FSC Mixed Sources logo on the back covers of its catalogs, sometime in first-quarter 2007. The back cover also is used to encourage customers to recycle its catalogs.

"Internal surveys show that 60 percent to 80 percent of our customers currently recycle our catalogs, and our goal is to achieve 100 percent through continually building awareness around this issue," Mr. Clode said.

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