Today’s market and its shift toward becoming eco-friendly has prodded many companies to move beyond simply stating their catalog is printed on a paper stock which utilizes X percent of recycle materials. Many companies are beginning to look beyond what role they play within their local marketplace and are seriously evaluating what impact they are having on the world’s environment. It’s no longer enough to offer the tongue in cheek statement: “Help save a tree and pass this catalog on to someone who can use it.”

To be labeled “green,” you must put in place the initiatives necessary to reduce the environmental impact of your total catalog operation including: eliminating packaging waste, reducing overall weight, lowering production energy consumption and eliminating potentially harmful or hazardous materials from the production and distribution chain.

There is a double benefit to be realized. First, you will initially reap the cost efficiencies that many of these eco-friendly initiatives naturally employ. Second, you will find your actions will be conforming to the growing consumer awareness about the environment and how we are to conduct business responsibly. Yes, this also includes the business-to-business market.

Life Cycle Analysis
Being environmentally responsible in a business sense requires you to look closely and evaluate the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of your catalog program. Steve Belletire, associate professor of industrial design at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, defines LCA as “an environmental science methodology that results in the quantitative assessment of the total environmental impacts that a product or system produces throughout its entire life cycle.”

How does this pertain to your catalog? If you stop to consider, your catalog’s LCA starts with the extraction of raw materials and continues through to the end of a catalog’s life cycle — inevitably the trash can. What steps can you take to ensure your catalog program is as green as can be, and receives glowing reviews on its LCA? Plan early and stay committed through to the end. These instructions for eco-friendly excellence also apply to every other facet of your catalog program. Here are a few key ideas to get you started:

1 - Re-evaluate and rethink
When was the last time you really thought about the impact your catalog will have, other than on your customer or the bottom line? Have you stopped to consider what new technological changes (i.e., digital press vs. traditional press) have occurred in recent years and how your program could benefit? Look at your program as a whole and ask yourself some questions you may have thought unnecessary in the past:
  • Are you producing the right quantity or too many?
  • How many times per year is it necessary to distribute the same catalog to the same customer list?
  • Could you possibly realize better efficiencies in the layout of your catalog and thus reduce its physical size?
2 - Material selection
While considering which paper stock will best display your selection of products for sale, also take into account ways you can implement low-impact materials into your catalog program. There are many different styles and grades of paper stock to choose from, and just as many questions to consider when selecting which one is right for your catalog program. Be sure to keep a paper stock’s environmental impact (raw material, manufacturing process, etc.) as part of your selection criteria. Each paper stock has its pros and cons as they relate to your catalog program and its overall LCA. If given the opportunity, select the recycled or reused materials.

3 - Optimized production
Look for and partner with a printing company that shares your enthusiasm for preserving the environment. It should offer efficiency in production by avoiding exorbitant overrun percentages, as well as utilize organic or less environmentally damaging materials in its manufacturing process. An excellent print partner can also provide expert advice for sourcing a paper stock based on recycled or renewable materials criteria. You may even want to ask the press company if they implement procedures for minimizing manufacturing waste and energy used during production.

4 - Distribution efficiency
How are you bringing your book to market? Even some of the most minute details (i.e., how you mail your book) can offer some of the biggest impact on a program’s overall success. By utilizing a co-op mailing for your catalog’s distribution, you will discover not only cost savings but also unique ways to lower fuel usage and shipping efficiencies. You can also look to reduce catalog and packaging weight by exploring local production facilities.

5 - Streamline catalog lifetime
Stop and consider what impact your soon-to-be-released catalog will have on the catalog currently in use among your customer base. Are you overwhelming your customers with too many catalogs and inadvertently conditioning them to discard each piece as soon as they receive it?

Are you able to better schedule the releases of new catalogs to allow for a greater impact and acceptability among recipients? Just how time-sensitive is the content within your catalog (i.e., pricing deals, limited-time offers, etc.)? Can you possibly provide a catalog to your customers that establishes a great foundation of your product offering and then reserve time-sensitive offers for more eco-friendly channels (i.e., emails, postcards, etc.)? What will be the final destination of the catalogs left in your warehouse at the end of the program? Will they be recycled or simply thrown in the dumpster?

No quick tricks
Ultimately, any eco-friendly or green guidelines you hope to implement into your catalog program must be strategies that are grounded in your business model. To truly succeed, you must have full commitment at all levels and not look to market your effort as a quick ploy to gain new “green” business. Those consumers who are truly concerned about environmental issues will see through your misguided efforts.

To stop and discuss how to make your catalog program green seems, at face value, to be an oxymoron. How can a catalog program be environmentally conscious? It will require a little thought and a lot of commitment; but in the end, it can be rewarding in more ways that one.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your customers to help you in your eco-friendly efforts by simply encouraging them to reuse your catalog over and over again.