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Environmental Group Claims to Reveal Victoria's Secret

A confrontational environmental group called Forest Ethics is taking Victoria's Secret to task for using only a small percentage of recycled paper in the 390-million-plus catalogs it prints yearly.

The San Francisco-based group began a national campaign yesterday called “Victoria's Dirty Secret,” in which it claims that Victoria's Secret, a division of Limited Brands, Columbus, OH, prints catalogs on “predominantly virgin paper” from endangered forests. The effort will consist of demonstrations and other actions by grassroots environmental groups nationwide, print ads and a Web site, victoriasdirtysecret.net.

A copy of the ad on the Web site features a woman in black bustier brandishing a chainsaw next to pictures of a deforested area.

The group asserts that two years of research has revealed a link between the paper that Victoria's Secret buys from International Paper, Stamford, CT, and the deforestation of the Canadian Boreal, the third-largest forest wilderness in the world.

“The naked truth is that the 1 million catalogs mailed daily by Victoria's Secret are destroying some of the world's last remaining old-growth forests and threatening endangered species,” Tzeporah Berman of Forest Ethics said in a statement.

When asked for a response to Forest Ethics' claims, a Limited Brands spokesman deflected the question to International Paper.

“We have a policy against using trees from endangered forests,” said Jenny Boardman, International Paper's spokeswoman. The area in Canada where it cuts down trees has been designated an industrial zone by the Canadian government, she said.

Forest Ethics hopes its tactics encourage Victoria's Secret to drastically increase its use of recycled paper.

Since the start of 2004, Victoria's Secret has used 10 percent post-consumer waste (PCW) paper in the 24 million clearance catalogs it distributes yearly, according to a statement about Limited Brands' environmental practices that was posted to its Web site on Oct. 13. The company “will expand the use of 10 percent PCW and higher-content PCW paper based on feasibility and the availability of quality PCW paper,” the statement said.

Generally, catalogers don't use more recycled paper because it is costlier than virgin paper, the supply is limited and the quality quickly diminishes, said Louis Mastria, director of public and international affairs for the Direct Marketing Association.

The high cost of recycled paper is a direct result of its limited supply, Boardman said. International Paper thinks the answer is to increase the amount of recycling in the United States. This would make it possible to produce more recycled paper, which would lower the price, she added.

Victoria's Secret isn't the only company Forest Ethics has targeted. The organization claims to have led a successful campaign against Staples that resulted in it raising the overall recycled content of its paper from less than 5 percent to more than 30 percent.

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