Good news, everyone! I invented something amazing. It’s made from recycled materials, and we’re shrinking its environmental footprint by 267 percent!
Here’s the best part: while it doesn’t actually do anything, it’s 100 percent recyclable so you can toss it right in your bin!
Pardon the snark, but that’s what came to mind when I read this recent report from the Local Search Association. It’s full of juicy stats commending the industry for using more recycled materials and arguing that phone books are more environmentally responsible than searching on the internet.
Putting aside fuzzy math (while my smartphone does impact the planet, it also does a lot more than just searching for business phone numbers—making the resource-to-productivity ratio much higher than a single-purpose phone book), it is good that these companies are making sure their product fits into the waste stream.
But cutting through the hype, the most unsustainable thing about phone books is that even though most people don’t want ‘em and don’t use ‘em, they still get delivered. No matter how much you shrink the footprint of your product, you’re driving around truckloads of phonebooks that go from doorstep to recycle bin.
Seattle has taken steps: just today, the city announced that 75,000 residents and businesses—over one-fifth of home and business addresses—have opted out of phonebooks. As someone who deals in internet response rates for a living (I handle Sightline’s email products and outreach), I can tell you that for every person who goes online to opt-out, there’s another who wants to but doesn’t (too busy, too lazy, don’t know how).
Now, I don’t want to downplay the city’s efforts. An opt-out system is certainly better than no system at all. The fight city officials went through to get it is commendable. And we’ve successfully opened the door to stemming the tide of yellow pages—420,000 books a year, according to the city. It’s no trivial matter.
The fact that so many Seattlites have said “No” is an indicator of just how unpopular these books are. If the phone book publishers really cared about sustainability, they’d make an opt-in system.