Protest inside a Victoria's Secret store in San Francisco. Victoria's Secret is one of the largest catalog mailers - since we ran our campaign on the company's forest impacts, they've continued to take strides towards sustainability

The Issue - Encouraging companies to adopt more environmentally responsible paper practices

When our campaign began around 2000, most companies had no idea where their paper came from. In general, we found that less than 5% of the copy paper, catalog paper and junk mail we tested came from recycled fiber. That means that 95% of it came directly from forests.

Our goal has been to transform the pulp and paper industry in the US – and a decade into our work, we’ve achieved some astounding results: recycled paper mills in the US have been operating at record levels; and some of the biggest logging companies in the world have agreed that an area of Canada’s Boreal forest the size of Texas will be protected from industrial logging. In 2009, we signed the Boreal Forest Conservation Agreement, the biggest forest protection agreement in the world, and a direct result of our Paper Campaign.

Transforming practices of major corporate paper users

The first target of The Paper Campaign was office supply giant Staples. After two years of public campaigning, including an ad in USA Today, the Paper Campaign concluded its campaign against Staples in November 2002. Staples announced a groundbreaking environmental policy that protects endangered forests and increases the overall recycled content of its paper from less than 5% to over 30%. Within a year, Staples’ two leading competitors – Office Depot and Office Max – announced environmental policies; these companies continue to strive to meet or beat Staples’ industry-leading commitment.

Victoria's Dirty Secret campaign ad

After transforming the environmental practices of the office supply sector, we turned our attention to the catalog industry.  Each year, catalog retailers mail out around 17 billion catalogs. That’s 59 catalogs for every man, woman and child in the U.S. – averaging 200 for every household.

In the fall of 2004, we launched a campaign against catalog giant Victoria’s Secret. After two years of intense campaigning, we announced a major victory with Victoria’s Secret in December of 2006. The company agreed to increase recycled content in its paper, to give preference to FSC certified paper, and not to use paper from endangered forests. According to a 2009 report conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 88% of paper purchased by Victoria’s Secret was either FSC-certified or post-consumer waste paper. An impressive progress report for a giant direct mailer!

In 2011, ForestEthics announced new commitments from several big corporate paper users – including AT&T, Sprint, Discover and USAA – to improve the environmental performance of the paper the companies purchase for everything from direct mail to office copy paper.

Learn more in our 2011 Green Grades evaluating the credit card, insurance and telecom sectors >>

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