Our latest phone book arrived today. I picked it up off the welcome mat, carried it through the house, out the back door and deposited it in the recycling bin. Pulling the plastic wrap off the thing, I noticed a little card affixed to the front of the book. It’s called the “ecoFinder”:
It’s a little card with advice on how to dispose of things like batteries, old phone books and the like. Apparently it’s also promoting a directory of “over 1,500 environmentally responsible businesses” that’s new to this year’s phone book. Or maybe the directory is just a pilot project in Quebec? I’m a little unclear, based on the media release. Hang on, here’s a hilarious release mentioning the directory in Victoria’s phone book, as well as the “noteworthy” news that “the residential and alphabetical business listings has been increased from 6 to 7 points”.
This is a classic case of greenwashing. Aware of their reputation as a big waster of paper, the Yellow Pages Group is trying to deflect attention toward their ham-handed efforts to ‘green’ their brand.
I was at a friend’s place last week. They lived in a big apartment complex, and the phone books were arrayed around the edges of the foyer like sand bags holding back a flood. If my own Yaletown apartment is any measure, dozens of those phone books end up in the recycling bin.
You Can’t Opt Out Yet
This is the first phone book we’d received at our current address. I decided I’d call the Yellow Pages Group and opt out of future phone books. Here’s the thing: you can’t.
It’s 2009, and you can’t choose not to receive the phone book. In July, 2007, Annie Marsolais, a Yellow Pages Group spokesperson said there were no plans to implement an opt-out program: “The print book is here to stay because there are advantages to the format.”
Less than two years later, the Yellow Pages Group has changed their tune. Ms. Marsolais recently said (and I’m translating with my dodgy French), “since certain people expressed a desire not to receive our directory anymore, in 2009 we’ll put in place a mechanism which will permit people to remove themselves from the list.”
It’s pretty shameful that it’s taken them until 2009 to apparently consider an opt-out process.
The Arguments For Phone Books are Dwindling
A couple of years ago, I remember wholeheartedly agreeing with Lee’s proposal that phone books should go from opt-out to opt-in. There’s some interesting debate in the comments, but just like newspapers, the writing’s on the wall. The yellow pages needs to transform itself, or die.
One of the more robust arguments is that phone books are a basic service that everybody, even those without internet access and cell phones, enjoys. That’s true, but it gets less convincing with each passing year. Consider that, in 2007, 73% of Canadians had internet access. That’s up from 57% in 2003. I suspect that we’ve nearly reached 80% in early 2009. At what point does the phone book simply have too few users?
To a lot of Canadians I know, the Yellow Pages is just a huge brick of junk mail that arrives all at once. I recognize that they use recycled materials to print the book, but there’s still a ridiculous amount of waste in the manufacturing, distributing and waste management of the books. The Yellow Pages Group is proud of the fact that they publish about 30 million directories. That’s pretty much one for every Canadian. I wonder how many of them never get opened.
How long do you think the Yellow Pages will last? 2012? 2020?