Feb 23 2009

EcoView – The (Un)sustainability of Phone Books in A Digital Age

Published by at 10:52 am under EcoView,environment,sustainability

We need an opt-in program for phone books to make sure we’re not producing a product that few people want, that mostly goes straight into the recycling bins. As longtime readers of this blog will note, I’m a bit cranky on this topic, starting a Facebook page on it, The Yellow Pages Must Be Stopped, last year to protest what I see as an obsolete product for a digital age.

I was on CBC radio this morning (if someone can find a link to it online, please send me it!) and my take on this issue is outlined in today’s CBC online, Residents demand companies end phone book deliveries:

Jonathon Narvey was tired of seeing stacks of directories sitting unused in his apartment lobby, so he went online to share his gripe with others and started a Facebook group called “The Yellow Pages must be stopped.”

“I understand they are recyclable and I understand they’re made from recycled products, but the energy that goes into making a product that very few people want just seems to me a huge waste of resources,” Narvey told CBC News.

Now that the listings in the books are published online where most people can easily access them, Narvey wants to see providers change their distribution so people would have to request a book to get the printed version.

Seems like a good idea, yes?

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “EcoView – The (Un)sustainability of Phone Books in A Digital Age”

  1. Chrison 23 Feb 2009 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for pushing this. We had a stack of yellow pages sitting in our apartment lobby for 2 weeks before the building manager recycled them. Less then 10% of them were picked up.

  2. Kencon 23 Feb 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Perhaps you missed these comments from Ian Andrew Bell in his The Yellow Pages: Adapt or die article (http://www.ianbell.com/2009/02/23/the-yellow-pages-adapt-or-die/). Mr. Bell presented all sides of the discussion but nicely articulated the frustration why pundits like you that decry the printed products cant’ accept the fact that people use them:

    “….But unfortunately, the Yellow Pages business is not yet the death march that the Web 2.0 kids have hoped it would become. … This may say a lot more about the new media of web, telephony, and mobile and their capabilities than it does about the old medium of schlepping giant books door-to-door for punters to thumb through.

    For one thing, the Yellow Pages is still the number one tool used by consumers to find local business; the industry continues to forecast growth in the bellwether US marketplace from $10.3 billion in 1996 to a projected $18 billion by 2010 — yes, some of their revenue comes from online, but that number is pegged at between 25% and one-third.

    Oh. And people still (gasp!) turn to their Yellow Pages more frequently than anything else for finding products and services that are local to them. According to research released a couple of months ago from Knowledge Networks, nearly half (48%) of consumers report print Yellow Pages as the resource they turn to most often for information on a business or service, and more than three-quarters (77%) use the print Yellow Pages overall….”

  3. jnarveyon 23 Feb 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Here’s the thing, Ken. I suspect the Yellow Pages numbers are bogus.

    Number one tool used by consumers to find local business? If that’s so, how is it that 8 or 9 out of 10 Yellow Pages books in my residential building and the building of everyone I know are thrown out? How are people using the Yellow Pages to find local business when the directories they had the opportunity to use went straight into the blue boxes?

    The statistics do not match reality. That puts the methodology and results of the polling in doubt.

  4. Raulon 24 Feb 2009 at 11:10 pm

    As someone who conducts research on environmental behavior, I can also concur that the statistics sound inflated.

    @Kenc – where did you find those statistics? I am actually quite tempted to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation on how many people go online to get their information (over 65% according to a recent ComCast survey) and then calculate how many of those actually are looking for a product or service (I’d be willing to guess a solid 50% given that Gallup polls indicate that over 75% of people go online to look for products or services) – that means that, at the very least, 30% of the population don’t EVER need a Yellow Pages. And these are very conservative estimates.

  5. Ian Bellon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:18 am

    While I too would like to stop seeing Yellow Pages sitting on my doorstep and in the lobbies of apartment buildings, and so agree with your movement’s long-term objectives, you’re basing your case on a faulty premise.

    Your anecdotal story of piles of phonebooks flies in the face of numerous independent and industry-adjacent studies that reveal that the vast majority of North Americans still turn to the Yellow Pages to find businesses. See my post on the subject, which cites numerous research sources:


    It’s true that the internet has substantially encroached on this behaviour, but the assimilation is far from complete. Remember that not all of us are educated, urban white males with virtually ubiquitous access to the internet and a high technical proficiency. Not everyone should be forced to make the same choices you do.

    We need to develop accessible alternatives which allow neophytes to conveniently find services with minimal environmental impact; we need to advocate “opt-in” policies for print Yellow Pages; and the Yellow Pages companies need to refocus on more hyper-local versions of their print publications.

    These are a start.

  6. jnarveyon 25 Feb 2009 at 10:31 am

    Hey Ian. I already read your post and found it to be very informative. I saw others were quoting it as well. Well done. A great article.

    But whether or not people are using the Internet (and I hope your were joking when you suggested that all Internet users with high technical proficiency were urban white males. Funny!) to find businesses is almost a tangental part of my criticism.

    All I’m suggesting is that the publishers of these bulky directories recognize that their current business practice appears to be extremely wasteful. Large numbers of these books across North America go straight into recycling bins. Even if the publishers are using green materials, the waste of energy seems perverse.

    I’m glad you agree that an opt-in program is needed, and I love your suggestions about creating hyper-local versions of print publications. Sounds like we’re just about on the same page, actually.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply