Five months after San Francisco-based environmental activist organization ForestEthics launched a campaign against Victoria’s Secret, the cataloger has begun mailing clearance books printed on 100% recycled paper.
The 60-page slim-jim clearance catalogs, printed on recycled paper composed of 80% postconsumer content, hit mailboxes in early March. They come nearly a year after ForestEthics first listed the women’s apparel merchant on its catalog “blacklist” in May 2004. In October the organization zeroed in on the company as the focus of its paper campaign, says ForestEthics director of communications Kristi Chester Vance.
But the decision to print the 24 million clearance books it mails annually on recycled stock is not the result of pressure from ForestEthics, says Anthony Hebron, a spokesperson for Victoria’s Secret parent company, Columbus, OH-based Limited Brands. “Early last year when we first met with them, we told them that we were moving in that direction,” he explains. “We’re just fulfilling a commitment we already said we had made.”
Vance applauds Victoria’s Secret for taking this first step, but she says that the clearance books account for just 10% of the 395 million catalogs the company mails each year. “We’re very happy with the step taken to put the clearance catalog on this very good paper, but until they address the paper [they are using] for the 90% of the catalogs, not just the 10%, and meet the demands of the campaign, it will continue,” Vance says. ForestEthics’ campaign includes protests organized outside Victoria’s Secret stores nationwide.
The organization wants Victoria’s Secret to stop buying paper sourced from endangered Canadian and U.S. forests; to disclose a timetable to achieve 50% postconsumer recycled content in five years; to buy paper only from suppliers that have received environmental certification from the Forest Stewardship Council; and to reduce its overall paper use.
“We want Victoria’s Secret to become the poster child of environmental responsibility,” Vance says. “What we don’t want to do is make demands that are impossible to fulfill. We want them to profit and be successful.”
Hebron says that the cataloger/retailer is focusing on realistic goals. “From our standpoint, we have been good environmental stewards moving in the right direction, and we believe that people looking at this objectively see that we’re doing the right things, making sure of the feasibility and availability [of the recycled paper] rather than just saying what we’re going to do,and then not following through,” he says.
Victoria’s Secret is testing recycled stock for its nonclearance books, says Hebron, who declines to discuss the details of the tests. “We won’t release internal goals at this point,” he says. “When we’re there, then [we’ll talk about it]. Like I said, it’s action, not words.”
In addition to its limited use of recycled stock, Hebron says that the public should take note of its environmental profile as a whole. According to the company’s corporate Website, each year it recycles 8,750 tons of cardboard from its distribution centers, 714 tons of office paper, and 50,300 pounds of metal, among other recycled materials.
Last spring Hebron and two Limited executives met with ForestEthics executive director Todd Paglia and then-paper campaign director Evan Thomas Paul at a San Francisco restaurant to discuss the organization’s demands. Since that initial meeting, the Limited and ForestEthics continue to have phone meetings and exchange e-mails, communicating directly as well as through a professional mediator hired by the Limited.
On Valentine’s Day, ForestEthics hand-delivered more than 30 dozen organic roses and a life-size teddy bear to Limited headquarters. Vance says that the intention of the “gift” was to remind the company of the organization’s dissatisfaction with its practices. ForestEthics is still planning to target Victoria’s Secret stores as part of its “National Day of Action” on April 14.