New PSI “Report Card” Shows Phone Book Publishers Lag in Environmental Responsibility
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Posted by: Rachel Rose Belew
Boston, Mass. – Fourteen of the nation’s largest publishers of Yellow Pages telephone directories have earned either failing or poor grades for their efforts to be more environmentally responsible, while a fifteenth received a mediocre grade, according to a new report card issued by the nonprofit Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. (PSI). The Sustainability Report Card for Telephone Directory Publishers: Yellow Pages shows that, despite the industry’s improvements over the years, it still has much work to do to reduce its environmental, social, and economic footprint.
“While there are clearly a few leaders in some of the performance categories that we evaluated, and while the industry has taken meaningful steps to reduce its impacts since 2007, overall, publishers’ efforts to be more sustainable are highly varied,” said Scott Cassel, chief executive officer and founder of PSI, noting that the publishers’ grades are subject to change if PSI receives additional performance data. “We hope that, by shining the spotlight on the best and worst performers, our report card will spur the industry to provide better information to the public and to change their practices in the most critical areas.”
PSI evaluated each publisher in three key performance areas:
- Acceptance of Consumer Opt-Out Requests: Many people do not want to receive telephone directories to begin with, but opting out can be a convoluted process that does not always yield desired results. PSI graded publishers based on how easy it is for consumers to find and use opt-out information, and on whether the publishers honor opt-out requests that come from sources other than their own industry-run program. What PSI found is that most publishers do not accept opt-out requests from independent sources, which makes it impossible to know the total number of opt-out requests they receive and how many of those requests they are actually honoring.
- Support for Recycling: Every year, U.S. taxpayers pay roughly $60 million to collect, recycle, and manage their unwanted phone books. PSI graded publishers based on their actions to reduce this financial and managerial burden on local governments, as well their efforts to educate consumers about where and how to recycle their phone books. PSI found no evidence of significant efforts by any directory publishers to reduce the financial burden of municipalities to recycle phone books.
- Sustainable Production: The production of phone books uses an estimated 4.7 million trees—or about 14 football fields’ worth of forest—annually. PSI graded publishers based on whether they used post-consumer recycled paper, sustainably sourced paper, plant-based inks, glues, and dyes, and other environmentally responsible methods of production. What PSI found is that most publishers do not specify the percentage of post-consumer paper used in phone book production, and they do not back up their claims of sustainability practices with third-party verification.
Five of the fifteen publishers earned overall grades in the C-range:
Only one publisher—the Dayton, Ohio-based The Berry Company—earned higher, with a final grade of B-.
Nine publishers received grades of “Fail/Incomplete,” as they ignored PSI’s repeated requests for data and because public information about their practices was unavailable. These include Choice Directory, Great Lakes Community Directories, Haines Publishing, Mueller Publishing, Sunshine Media, SureWest Directories, USA Northland Directories, User Friendly Media, and Valley Yellow Pages.
Only one publisher—the Houston, Texas-based Best Media, which earned an overall grade of C—responded to PSI’s request for information. For the rest, PSI collected data by polling its nationwide network of members and partners, asking them to find a copy of their local telephone directory and answer a series of questions about it. Fifty people (each representing a PSI member or partner) from 20 states across the country responded, providing detailed information about their local directories. While this approach yielded a narrower set of data than what PSI could have obtained from the directory publishers themselves, PSI was nevertheless able to gather enough information to produce a report card for five of the fifteen directory publishers.
“We were disappointed that more publishers were not interested in being transparent about important sustainability issues,” said Cassel. “That said, we are more than willing to adjust their grades, as appropriate, should the industry provide us with the requested information, and should that information warrant a higher score.”
The report card, which also aims to help guide publishers along their sustainability journey, provides a series of recommendations for the telephone directory industry, including:
- Being transparent about sustainability efforts;
- Accepting third party opt-out requests;
- Taking financial and managerial responsibility for directory recycling;
- Committing to using more than 40 percent of post-consumer recycled paper; and
- Achieving third-party certification or validation of their sustainability claims, including those related to paper sourcing, ink use, and recycled content.
The Sustainability Report Card for Telephone Directory Publishers: Yellow Pages is part of a larger PSI awareness campaign about phone books and "junk mail” that is geared toward reducing paper waste at the source. Other elements of the campaign include PSI’s two infographics, The 411 on Unwanted Phonebooks and Garbage In, Garbage Out: Stopping the Unwanted Flow of Junk Mail.
About the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI)
The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) is a national, membership-based nonprofit committed to reducing the health, safety, and environmental impacts of consumer products across their lifecycle with a strong focus on sustainable end-of-life management. Headquartered in Boston, Mass., we take a unique product stewardship approach to solving waste management problems by encouraging product design changes and mediating stakeholder dialogues. With 47 state environmental agency members, along with hundreds of local government members from coast-to-coast, and 95 corporate, business, academic, non-U.S. government, and organizational partners, we work to design, implement, evaluate, strengthen, and promote both legislative and voluntary product stewardship initiatives across North America. Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/ProductStewardship. Follow us on Twitter @ProductSteward.