It made me think, what is the purpose of an annual paper directory, the numbers and addresses could easily change over the year, making them constantly outdated. Each of the companies who send out the phone books offer a free online version and a charged phone service, so why on earth in this day and age, forty years after they launched does Yell UK need to send out 28.4m directories a year. Especially when their website receives 33m queries a month and their phone service attracts 16.9m calls a year. Is their motive financial you may ask, well it could be, here's the figures;
In the year ending 31 March 2007, the yellow pages had 450 000 unique advertisers, 254 000 of which only advertise in the printed version. The other 196 000 advertise online or a mixture of both. On average each unique advertiser spent £1 335 in that financial year, leading to the Yellow Pages generating a minimum £339.1m in revenue from printed advertisements, with a potential maximum of £600.1m (or £12 to £21 per directory distributed).
So it would appear that Yell make the majority of their revenue from print advertising, forcing them to distribute directories, and by distributing to every business or household nationwide they can command a credible fee for providing this service, yet from the figures on their website it would appear that if you want to be found, it would be more advantageous to advertise only on their website, because who really wants to break their back lifting the directory to spend 4 hours searching through the thing, finding the right section to find the company that you really want, to realise that you could have done it in 2 seconds online.
But this still does not give the answer to the question in the title of the post, How Many Trees Died For Our Telephone Directories?
The Reduce CO2 blog tried to answer this question on their blog, and came up with 384 000 trees per year. However using the more detailed figure of 28.4m directories distributed, taking the average of 1.6kg (RCO2) and 2.3kg (mine) for each directory, giving 1.95kg (Yell publish over 114 different directories in the UK of varying weights, this is a very rough calculation to get a precise figure you would need the weight and number of copies issued for each). This results in 55 380t of paper.
Taking UK government figures I used in a previous blog post about how to stop junk mail, it would be reasonable to assume that the Yellow Pages phone directory in the UK requires in its production ...
- 941 460 trees,
- 1.72 billion litres of water,
- 221 520 mega watts of electricity (producing over 100 000 tonnes of CO2),
- 144 000t of air pollutants, and;
- 127 374 cubic metres in our landfills (assuming we don't recycle any, but we pretty much do recycle them)
As my article was a little one sided, I contacted Yell.com to give them the right of reply against my criticisms, and I thank Jon Salmon from External Relations for his response;
"The reason that the directories are produced and delivered is that there is a clear and strong demand for them, reflected in the fact that they are used almost a billion times a year with 86 per cent of users agreeing that they are very useful.
Similarly, for advertisers the Yellow Pages directory represents a very significant source of sales leads for their business and supports the growth of these businesses in their local economy.
You suggested also that the directory was an "environmental faux pas". This is most definitely not the case.
Our Yellow Pages directories are produced with full consideration of the potential environmental impact. They contain 51 per cent recycled fibre content, with the remaining virgin fibre used in their production coming from forestry waste, e.g. sawmill chips and offcuts from logs obtained from sustainably managed forests and used predominantly by the wood and timber industry.
Old Yellow Pages directories can be recycled when the new updated edition is delivered annually, into cardboard, packaging, insulation, animal bedding and paper.
In a wider context, we have also been regularly acknowledged for our work on environmental issues. For example, we have been registered to the ISO 14001 standard for six years, and have been awarded two Queen's Awards for Enterprise for our approach to sustainable development in 2002 and 2007 and have been included in several global and international Socially Responsible Investment(SRI) indices.
I hope this clarifies some of the background to our Yellow Pages directories, as well as our operation in relation to the environment."
I certainly don't disagree with the majority of the response, Yell does give alot back to the environment. And I do admit I used the Yellow Pages book for the first time in about 3 years yesterday, when a friend asked me where a town was whilst at work, although I could have connected to Google maps on my phone I opted to use the Yellow Pages as it was convenient at the time.
Energy use is also a factor in the production of the big Yellow Book which I also hope if not already considered will be in the future. If you have to make use of their services use their online phone directory which is exceptionally fast and efficient at finding the companies with up to date information and request that you do not wish to receive a printed version.
So how can we stop this environmental faux pas?
- Contact Yell to request that you do not wish to have a directory delivered to your home or work, and instead use their online service
- If you are an advertiser, you could refrain from advertising in print, and alternatively advertise online