NEW YORK – Between the ease and convenience of digital hand-held devices, the omni-present use of wi-fi just about everywhere you go, and the common knowledge of the waste and environmental damage they cause, you’d think that pretty much the entire planet would have given the infamous scourge known as the print yellow page directory the old heave-ho long ago.
And, for the most part, you’d be right, as the vast majority of consumers these days are far more likely to turn to Google or an online Yellow Pages site than to dig out a heavy, outdated tome and spend minutes leafing through its ineffective pages for a listing that may not even be accurate anymore. Between opt-out programs and most phone companies finally getting the message, print yellow page delivery has vastly fallen by the wayside in most industrialized parts of the world. One notable exception, surprisingly enough, is Australia, where it’s been recently announced that – despite the wishes of much of the populace – phone book delivery will continue in the Land Down Under well into the foreseeable future.
During the early days of the internet boom, the yellow pages in Australia were not affected to any real degree, given that the technology had not progressed to the point where citizens could summon the world wide web using a tiny, hand-held device; at that time, most people still had to crack open a book to find a phone number of a given business, leading Sol Trujillo, head of one of the country’s leading publishers Telstra, to exclaim “Google schmoogle” when asked if he had any concerns about the impact of the internet upon the print directory business. In recent years, however, the print industry has acknowledged the harm done to their business by the web, but despite the lesser usage of phone books overall in Australia, publisher Sensis noted that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
In fact, Sensis recently announced that, despite dwindling usage, they will continue to produce phone books for at least another decade; their reasoning being that, despite the dip in readership, there are still advertising revenue to be had from specific areas of the public, and while it’s still there, they will do what it takes to get it. This flies in the face of the fact that more and more Aussies are engaging in opt-out services, or are just straight-up throwing the books right into their trash cans when they arrive on their doorsteps. In fact, Sensis’ public relations team actually spends a not-insignificant amount of time responding to Twitter posts on their account from customers either attempting to opt-out of delivery, or who are relaying stories of how their brand-new copy of the yellow pages went right into the trash.
The great concern here is not only the inconvenience to their own customers, who have to waste their time to circumvent the delivery of these unwanted books to their homes and places of business, but the environmental impact of Sensis’ decision, which is quite considerable when you look at the facts of the pollution and resource drain that the creation and disposal of phone books are responsible for, using the United States as an example. Treehungger.com reports that, annually, an estimated 650,000 tons of phone books are distributed to America’s 100+ million households. At an EPA estimated national recycling rate of 18%, only 117,000 tons of phone books are recycled each year, many of them on the day that they are received. In addition, Treehugger also reports that greenhouse gas emissions from producing these phone books produces 1,474,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalents, and uses up 44.2 billion liters of water, in addition the loss of forest, the eutrophication of rivers, and more.
This is only a fraction of the harm that print phone directories are heralding into the environment; there are countless examples more, from deforestation to landfills choking on thousands and thousands of rotting copies of phone books, rotting in their plastic delivery bags that were never even removed before being flung unceremoniously into the trash.
Hopefully the people of Australia will soon get their point across to the phone companies that print directories are neither needed nor wanted in the digital age. With the harm and waste they are causing each and every day, it’s a wonder that any civilized country still makes use of them when just about anyone can whip out a cell phone and find the phone numbers they need in a matter of seconds. It’s understandable that companies such as Sensis are just trying to make a quick buck, but wouldn’t it be better to evolve with the times and discover new revenue streams that are also kind to the planet and the wishes of their customers at the very same time?