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Taking Accountability for our Marketing “Footprint”

Phone_directoryEvery industry produces an environmental footprint and the industry of marketing is certainly no exception.  I was recently thrown into thinking about how to take accountability for our marketing footprint when I was confronted with a marketing tactic that I found particularly objectionable.  The culprit was newly revamped marketing company, CanPages.

I first heard of CanPages this week when they dropped a 5lb marketing flyer on my doorstep while I was at work.  They didn’t call it a flyer, of course.  They called it a new and improved telephone directory for the city of Toronto.  They claim that this CanPages tome was filling a “valuable market need” based on their internal survey of Canadians (pdf) which found that 78% wanted a better directory for their city.  CanPages also own and operate the site, and feeds content into’s

I do remember a day when telephone directories were essential features in my home.  Unfortunately with the advent of the Internet and the myriad of sites devoted to localized and up-to-date information directories, it’s not something I would ever use now.  So for me, the CanPages directory drop was just litter and by putting it on my doorstep they forced me to have put an additional 5lbs of paper and ink into my recycling bin.  As a person trying his level best to reduce his environmental footprint on this planet, this marketing awareness tactic made me angry.  It also got me thinking.  I have a choice:  I can trash these guys in a blog post about the significant impact their marketing model has on the environment.  Or I can see them as brethren in a common cause of trying to create awareness for a product believed to be meeting an important customer need and then offer whatever assistance I can to help them to succeed.  I decided to do both.

First, the trashing part

An unwanted phone directory dropped involuntarily on a doorstep as a marketing tool is just plain and simply not environmentally responsible.  How not responsible?  Well, according to the CanPages website, in Toronto alone, they dropped 1,000,000 directories on doorsteps like mine. At 5lbs each, that’s 5,000,000 lbs of paper and ink (2500 tons) in just Toronto alone.  To put this into perspective, I looked up the environmental impact of paper production on the web and found out the following:

So, all this to say that for every person like me who gets the CanPages directory and either doesn’t want it or never uses it, there is a significant environmental impact of this marketing model.

This then begs the question:  Assuming there are folks who actually do want and who would use this directory – how could CanPages market their service differently and still get the same or better results without this environmental impact?

Next, we are Brethren: Suggestions on Alternative Marketing Models

Here’s my quick list of tips for an alternative marketing strategy for CanPages:

  1. Widen your view of who your “customer” is.  Right now, in both the text of your web site and in your marketing practices, you clearly see your “customer” as the advertisers who pay you and see households as merely the “consumer” of your product.  I would suggest that you start to see both groups as “customers” and eliminate the word “consumer” from your vocabulary.  For example, you wouldn’t just assume that all advertisers wanted to list in your directory and then randomly start sending out invoices?  No.  So don’t do that to us either.  You will clearly need to change this thinking if you would like to be successful in your online endeavors.
  2. Speaking of online – how about trying harder to build out a viable on-line strategy.  Your sites are what I would call a “good start”.  Clearly there are a lot of us who would prefer to access your “better directory service” through your online product over your paper based service so perhaps more energy spent here would yield you better returns for your paying advertiser base.  I’ll invite some of the professional OneDegree folks to offer you some tactical advice here.
  3. Move to a Permission based model.  I know it will seem like a risky extra cost to actually hire folks to get on the phone or to walk the streets and ask people if they would prefer to receive your directory before just leaving it on their doorstep but the other side of this model is that I would actually feel better about you because you gave me a choice.  If I’m not home, why not leave me a note saying that you will be dropping off the directory on a certain date and give me a website (and phone number) so I can voice my preference to not have the directory.  This also has the benefit of starting a dialogue with you about your on-line services.

  5. Turn the negative environmental aspect of your business into a positive and actually use it to your advantage over your competitors.  Most businesses have some unavoidable environmental consequences to their operation, telephone directories especially so.  You have the opportunity to take accountability for your “footprint” and to do something about it.  Here is a link an NY Times article which lists of number of companies and advertisers in your business taking steps to be more environmentally responsible. Imagine if you were to offer to pick up your competitors’ directory when you dropped off your directory and then committed to donate its weight in new forest growth.  Wow, would my impression of your company change!

Ok, that’s enough ranting from me.  I now feel as though I’ve done my part in support of the environment and in support of my Marketing Brethren. I encourage others to weigh in as well.

Photo credit: DetailTwo by brutal.


  1. miro
    miro September 12, 2007

    110% in agreement
    In fact I was thinking the same thing when I got my copy.
    In fact I actually get 3 different white/yellow pages dropped on my door step and if anyone is listening –
    I throw all of them away – so save yourself some money.
    I use the internet to find what I’m searching for.
    If they really want to stand out – they need to follow through on the find vs search positioning – and develop a better search engine that delivers on that promise.
    Find means (to me) the ability to search for specific items and then ‘find’ the businesses that carry those items within a shopping zone, ideally within a price range, or if items are on sale etc..
    I think the find strategy actually gives them the ability to develop a powerful local portal in support of small and medium sized businesses

  2. Rick Couture
    Rick Couture September 12, 2007

    Also agreed – I get 2 different paper phone directories each year and one goes straight into the recycle bin – how wasteful….

  3. Al
    Al September 13, 2007

    This is not that simple.
    The internet is not well enough organized to replace the print products, especially when it comes to local search.
    I think Canpages has a much better search website than yellowpages but i still use fairly often the print book. it’s so much faster than the internet.
    What i have done actually is trash the old yellow pages which have this silly scoping.
    It is way too easy to bash the “old” print media but they are still very useful. and I bet it will remain like that for quite some time.
    Also, last time I checked, trees were a renewable resource.
    As a matter of fact, the only entities that invest in replanting trees are from the paper industry. Prettu much all the countries that have lost their paper industries have also lost their forests (look at Europe!). Do you think governments will invest in maintaining forests? It’s way down in their list of priorities.

  4. Rob Cottingham
    Rob Cottingham September 15, 2007

    Al, while I’m a fan of the printed word as well, let’s not kid ourselves. The forestry and paper industries’ success at reforesting has been mixed; government and community pressure played at least some role in reducing the amount of logged forest deemed NSR (or not satisfactorily restocked).
    And it’s not like you cut down the trees and phone books fall out. Consider this additional impact:

    • Large network for roads for logging
    • Fuel use to transport logs to mills
    • Massive requirements for water at pulp mills
    • Massive requirements for electricity at pulp mills
    • Air and water pollution from pulp mills
    • Fuel to transport paper to printing plants
    • Energy to print, bind and package phone books
    • Fuel to transport phone books to distribution centres and then to your door

    The scientific community has warned we need to make fundamental changes if our civilization is going to avoid catastrophe. The thought that we can’t even give up the Yellow Pages makes me bang my head on the table.

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