Sears, Capital One, AmEx Make Watchdog's 'Naughty' List of Direct Mailers

But ForestEthics Says Direct-Marketing Industry Heading in Right Direction

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If the nonprofit group ForestEthics had its way some, of North America's top direct marketers -- including Sears, Capital One and American Express -- would get just as many lumps of coal in their mailboxes this holiday season as direct-mail pieces they bombard consumers with throughout the year.

2008 Naughty and Nice ListClick for PDF
ForestEthics' 2008 Naughty and Nice List

Since it can't serve up that bit of poetic justice, it did the next best thing and put seven of the biggest direct marketers on its "Naughty" list as part of its third annual "Naughty and Nice" catalog environmental scorecard.

Shorter list than last year
Marketers making the "Naughty" list are Sears, Neiman Marcus, Eddie Bauer, Capital One, Chase Bank, Citi and American Express. As a small sign of improvement, the "Naughty" list actually has two fewer companies than it did last year.

Ginger Cassady, senior paper campaigner for ForestEthics, said a company's ranking on the scorecard, which also includes a "Checking Twice" category, is determined by using four criteria -- whether endangered forests are cut to produce the company's catalogs; whether the company uses Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper; the amount of post-consumer recycled content in the company's direct mailings; and the company's efforts to reduce overall paper consumption. The group looked at 21 companies, all of which have either sourced or are currently sourcing the Boreal Forest in Canada for their fiber.

Financial marketers scrutinized
This year the group expanded its analysis to include financial marketers as well. "Sixty percent of the junk mail delivered is either credit-card solicitations or catalogs, and that percentage is split evenly down the middle between the two," Ms. Cassady said.

Ms. Cassady, however, said the direct-marketing industry is an industry in transition and believes it is moving in the right direction on this matter.

"There's a huge trend happening in the industry of a shift toward companies implementing better environmental standards as far as agreeing to stay out of endangered forests and increasing recycled content in their overall paper use," she said. "We are seeing that shift towards reduction but there is still tons of direct mail going out, over 100 billion pieces a year in the U.S., and there is still a huge issue around our consumption of paper."

Discussions with Sears
Although, while there are some that, Ms. Cassady, said are quickly adopting "green" practices, there are others who are dragging their feet and adhering to outdated standards. Ms. Cassady said one of the worst offenders is Sears, which she describes as the largest cataloger without a strong environmental policy. As a result, ForestEthics has been running a yearlong campaign in the U.S. and Canada called "The Destructive Side of Sears" designed to bring attention to the company's non-environmentally friendly practices by running ads in papers and holding demonstrations in its stores.

"We are trying to get [Sears] to become better environmental stewards by implementing stronger paper practices and letting them know this is possible," Ms. Cassady said. She said the two currently have a dialogue going. "We are in some high-level discussions with Sears," she said. "And they are making some progress but they still haven't implemented a strong policy as far as making commitments to staying out of threatened regions, increase recycled content and reduce the overall number of catalogs they are sending out. They need to see that this is good for their business and brand."

Sears did not return calls by press time.

Neiman Marcus, who also did not issue a comment by press time, was one of six companies to get a ranking of four pieces of coal, the worst possible score. ForestEthics, in its study, said the retailer has been giving it "lip service for a couple of years -- endless procrastination."

DMA responds
As for the Direct Marketing Association, Ms. Cassady said the group is using a band-aid approach to address the overall problem of inundation of junk mail and is in opposition to "giving consumers a choice on what they want to receive in the mail" referring to ForestEthics attempts to establish a national do-not-mail registry. "I think we'll continue to discuss these things with the DMA, but right now we are definitely seeing a lot of opposition to things like do not mail," Ms. Cassady said.

In a statement, DMA Senior Vice President of Corporate and Social Responsibility Senny Boone said: "For the last several years, the DMA has been a leader in terms of establishing meaningful environmental standards for the direct marketing discipline and target goals and timetables for measuring success. These efforts include the 'Green 15," a set of sustainable environmental marketing standards; a nationwide Recycle Please campaign; and the July, 2008 announcement by the DMA's board of directors of its first green goal, in the area of list hygiene, for continuous environmental improvement."

With 10 companies on it this year, the "Nice" list, which includes Timberland, Patagonia, Crate & Barrel, Dell, Victoria's Secret, REI, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Williams-Sonoma and L.L. Bean, has one more company on it than it did last year and seven more than it did in 2005, the first year of the scorecard. ForestEthics said of Patagonia, one of seven companies to get a ranking of four caribous, the highest possible score, that the cataloger has the highest post-consumer recycled content in the catalog sector.

Those on the "Checking Twice" list are JC Penney, HSBC, Bank of America and Lands' End.

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