Norm Thompson bullish on recycled paper

In the November 1999 issue of Catalog Age, Norm Thompson president Becky Jewett wrote in an Executive Forum column that the apparel and gifts cataloger was “committed to reducing our ecological footprint.” And the $174 million company has put its money where its mouth is with a major test-mailing using recycled paper, conducted with the Boston-based Alliance for Environmental Innovation (AEI).

“We’d like to see if we can have an impact on the catalog industry,” says Norm Thompson chairman/ CEO/owner John Emrick. The Hillsboro, OR-based cataloger, which produces its namesake apparel catalog, the outdoor apparel and sporting goods book Early Winters, and the home gadgets title Solutions, has been testing both recycled coated groundwood and coated freesheet with 10% post-consumer waste.

Norm Thompson actually conducted its first recycled-paper test with the cover of Early Winters last January. “We were pleasantly surprised that there was no falloff in response,” Emrick says. (Recycled paper typically doesn’t reproduce images as cleanly as nonrecycled paper.) “Then we started talking to The Pew Charitable Trusts about how the use of recycled paper might impact the catalog industry.”

Pew steered Norm Thompson toward the AEI, a joint project of the nonprofit group Environmental Defense and The Pew Charitable Trusts that regularly funds eco-friendly projects from various industries. The AEI had been seeking a cataloger willing to test recycled paper.

Sustainability and growth

The test is the cataloger’s effort “to operationalize our company’s commitment to sustainability,” says its corporate sustainability manager, Derek Smith. In other words, Norm Thompson aims to make recycled materials and environmentalism a way of life while allowing for growth and maintaining profitability. Norm Thompson’s sales rose 24.3% in 1999, from $140 million in ’98.

The cataloger’s paper test, which started with a May mailing of the Solutions title, will involve several other Solutions and Norm Thompson books throughout the year, culminating in a full results report to be cowritten by the AEI and the cataloger just prior to the holiday season.

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