First They Came for the Yellow Pages: Environmentalists Target Phone Books

When most people think about the Yellow Pages... well, do most people even think about the Yellow Pages anymore? Actually, you'd be surprised. Nearly 75% of Americans referred to the Yellow Pages for a phone number or business recommendation last year. Even given all of the Internet resources that are available right at hand, most adults chose to look up essential information in that gigantic book that most people born after 1995 remember only as a makeshift booster seat. Even in the face of rampant technology, the Yellow Pages soldiers on as one of the most used local resources and one of the most effective means of direct marketing to consumers.



But learning that about the Yellow Pages takes a bit of research--research that liberal city councils across the country aren't doing as they undertake a massive war on what they deem not only an irrepressible nuisance but an environmental disaster as well. That's right, of all of the societal ills local governments could address, they're looking to take on the Yellow Pages. San Francisco, of course, has already led the way, and Berkeley, Alameda, Cleveland and other cities would like to follow suit. According to BanthePhoneBook.org, a site set up by those who seek to see the Yellow Pages (radical environmentalists among them) banished from existence, nearly five million trees are murdered per year just to bring you reliable information about plumbers and personal injury lawyers.

But is banning the phone book really the best way to save trees? A quick rundown of some key statistics puts two very key holes in the "ban the phone book" theory of environmental reclamation. First, as it turns out, the Yellow Pages aren't actually made from five million fresh trees, cut down in their peak to bring the phone book to your door. They're actually made from mostly recycled material or the byproducts of other paper manufacturing, non-toxic dyes, and inks, and unused directories are "upcycled" into other things. You know that coffee cup that your non-fat soy latte with non-dairy whip comes in every morning, that says it comes from "90% recycled materials?" It's likely made out of your old phone books.

And although city councils and environmental groups like to pretend that just because elementary school students and hipsters practically see their laptops as a fifth limb, not everyone uses Google search and Yelp to locate local resources. The Baby Boomer generation, which makes up a huge chunk of American disposable income (and holds nearly 50% of American wealth) uses the Yellow Pages at a staggering rate. Almost 85% of Boomers picked one up last year to search for a name, address or local resource. And as for that "perpetually connected" generation, Gen Y? Nearly 66% of them used Yellow Pages last year. Nearly 50% of all consumers turn to the Yellow Pages first to get information on businesses in their area. And, of course, that's leaving out specific statistics on the population that liberals most often forget to consider--lower-income populations. Lower-income populations without continued access to the Internet are the most in need of a resource for directory assistance.

Of course, usage statistics are only one part of the puzzle. What most of the organizations looking to ban the Yellow Pages forget is that the book's editors are actually profit-driven, which means in order to maximize their return on investment, Yellow Pages printers keep a close eye on who is using and who is not using their materials. The Yellow Pages actually has an opt-out resource that consumers can use to discontinue delivery of the directory to their home.

But, of course, all of that is reasonable and rational, which many city councils are not.

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