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Brands, here’s how much your paper sales catalogs are harming the earth

A new report from Elastic Suite quantifies the environmental impact of sales catalog printing.

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As the world of sales and commerce continues to transform amid ongoing pandemic-related challenges and rapid technological transformation, more companies are paying attention to the environmental impact of reducing their overall paper use.

One of the biggest sources of that use? Annual sales catalogs.

A report released today by B2B platform Elastic Suite (owned by Outdoor Retailer parent company Emerald Inc.) quantifies the potential positive impact of more companies move to a completely digital sales environment. 

“Taking greater responsibility for the environmental impact of all aspects of manufacturing, including the printing of B2B sales catalogs, is becoming increasingly important to successfully combat climate change,” said Josh Reddin, CEO of Elastic Suite.

The report compiled data using the Environmental Paper Network’s Paper Calculator to make an educated estimate of the annual environmental impact of B2B catalog printing across 16 different manufacturing verticals (some crossing industries). The outdoor industry is well represented in specific areas including “sporting goods,” “cycling,” “winter sports,” “outdoor gear,” and several others. 

Sales catalog printing requires a significant amount of wood, water, and energy

As outlined by the statistics, Elastic estimates that B2B catalogs use 7.72 million US short tons of wood annually, equal to 46.3 million trees. Further, it takes 56.4 trillion BTUs of energy to process this material (not to mention the 53.5 billion gallons of fresh water), equaling the same energy needs of 67.1 million residential refrigerators running for a year.

Although these numbers are estimates, they do show the immense amount of work needed to reduce the impact of paper catalogs—a sales tool has been a cornerstone of the outdoor industry for decades.

“Awareness is the first step leading to the necessary changes in corporate behavior and adopting a vision toward greener business practices,” said Kim Porter, development coordinator and project manager of Environmental Paper Network North America.

Putting these numbers into perspective, the report estimates that 731,000 acres of forest are disrupted annually through the production of these catalogs, and that that same production necessitates the disposal of 2,730,000,000 pounds of solid waste. 

Interestingly, the report did not take into account the impact of shipping all these catalogs across the world. “We haven’t quite arrived at a way to do that yet,” said Elastic communications manager Kenny Thomas.

Of course, Elastic’s publishing such a report only serves to further its own business, which relies on companies making the switch to an all-digital B2B platform. (Many outdoor companies already have, including The North Face, Patagonia, and Thule.) Still, the report itself sobering, especially given that the data were compiled through a third-party platform available for use by the public.

Despite the negative environmental impact of paper catalogs illustrated in black and white, Thomas said some retailers are still hesitant to switch to digital models. Many shop owners still prefer paper catalogs to mark up as they finalize their seasonal orders, he said.

That kind of resistance, he added, only heightens the need for more of these studies in the near future.