Catalogers adopt green paper policies

Is the catalog industry turning green? For years, catalogers have drawn attention from activists for their heavy paper usage while many in the industry insisted that it wasn’t economically feasible to switch to more environmentally friendly paper. Then last week Limited Brands became the third major cataloger since early November to take strides in its use of post-consumer waste recycled paper and virgin pulp from responsibly logged forests.

The parent company of Victoria’s Secret joined Dell, which on Nov. 7 said it is using an average of 50 percent recycled content paper in its marketing publications and getting 15 percent to 20 percent of its paper from Forest Stewardship Council-certified sources. Williams-Sonoma Inc. said recently that it soon would begin sourcing more than 95 percent of the paper in its catalogs from environmentally friendly, sustainably harvested sources.

“There is a trend in the catalog industry” toward recognizing the importance of an environmentally friendly paper policy, said Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, in a teleconference last week to discuss the Limited Brands announcement.

While Dell, Williams-Sonoma and Limited Brands have been demonstrating what catalogers can do, “L.L. Bean, J. Crew, Sears and Lands’ End have been sitting on the sidelines, and they now need to meet the challenge,” Mr. Paglia said.

Limited Brands committed to eliminating the use of pulp from Canada’s Boreal Forest and British Columbia, shifting its main Victoria’s Secret catalog to 10 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper or at least 10 percent FSC-certified content during 2007, as well as overall catalog paper reduction through more efficient mailings. The Columbus, OH, company currently mails 350 million catalogs annually, down from 360 million several years ago.

Though these figures seem small compared with what Dell and Williams-Sonoma are promising, Limited Brands also is committing to continued improvement of its environmental policies.

“We made a decision early on that we did not want to set targets that we felt we could not live up to,” Limited Brands representative Tom Katzenmeyer said in the teleconference. But “we are committed to being more efficient at this over time.”

The company agreed to have its progress audited annually by an independent third party and have the results made public.

Part of the problem is that the supplier industry isn’t always on board with these policies.

“We’re hoping to raise the bar on the availability of environmentally friendly pulp,” Mr. Katzenmeyer said. One way is by committing to a preference for FSC certification. The company also partnered with one of its main suppliers to shift four of its mills to FSC.

Limited Brands’ policy came about after ForestEthics, San Francisco, held 750 protests in front of its stores during the past two years. ForestEthics “had to do what they had to do to get our attention,” Mr. Katzenmeyer said.

However, Limited Brands quickly decided to work with the group, even inviting Mr. Paglia to its annual shareholders meeting in 2004. ForestEthics “helped us understand how to better work with our suppliers to get to a better place,” Mr. Katzenmeyer said.

“This is a partnership that has come about through conflict and misunderstanding on both sides,” Mr. Paglia said. “Everyone worked hard for the opposing parties to each give a little bit.”

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