Reaching Consumers in an Environmentally Responsible Way: The Return of Printed Catalogs   

By Kathi Rowzie, President, Two Sides North America

After a sharp decline in 2020, printed catalogs are coming back in a big way. Market research firm Keypoint Intelligence reports that digital print volumes – the production method for most smaller-run catalogs – has rebounded close to its pre-pandemic level, and demand is expected to soar past pre-pandemic production next year and continue rising at a compound annual rate of 8% through 2025.

Why? As the rising cost of digital advertising increases the cost of acquiring and keeping customers, brands are looking for omnichannel strategies that enhance customer experiences, build loyalty and increase sales. Printed catalogs allow brands to connect with consumers in ways that digital platforms cannot.

The touch, feel and even the smell of catalogs provide a more intimate shopping encounter, and that interaction can be highly personalized thanks to today’s digital printing technology. Catalogs have staying power far beyond a quick scan on a handheld device. And their enticing visual appeal offers a shopping-as-entertainment experience that drives consumers online to learn more, seek additional products and make both online and in-store purchases. At the same time, the ability to target digital advertising has become less precise with the advent of new online privacy policies that allow consumers to opt out of being tracked.

The catalog comeback can also be attributed to brands’ efforts to tap into growing consumer awareness of sustainability and the desire to create a more environmentally friendly, circular economy. These savvy brands are looking beyond simplistic environmental paper calculators and pop culture myths about the environmental sustainability of paper — that it causes deforestation, is a major contributor to climate change, consumes huge amounts of water and generates excessive waste – and instead, are depending on hard, science-based facts to drive their marketing decisions.

For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines deforestation as the permanent loss of forestland. In the United States, trees to make paper are grown, harvested and regrown using sustainable forest management practices that perpetuate infinitely renewable forestlands. In fact, in its recent Global Forest Resources Assessment, the UN FAO reported that net forestland area in the United States actually increased 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020. That’s an area equivalent to 1,200 NFL football fields every day. Continuing demand for sustainably sourced paper encourages landowners to keep their land forested and manage it responsibly rather than selling it for development, the leading cause of deforestation in the United States. The U.S. Forest Service reports that less than 2% of U.S. forestland is harvested each year, compared with 3% that is disturbed annually by natural causes like fire, insects and disease, and most of this 2% of harvested wood is used for non-paper purposes.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the paper industry contributes only 0.5% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. These very low emissions are due to decades of energy efficiency and process improvements at U.S paper mills, and to the fact that the U.S. paper industry generates two-thirds of the energy to manufacture its products using renewable, carbon-neutral fuels, primarily biomass.

While the paper industry uses large amounts of water to produce catalog papers, most of that water is not consumed in the manufacturing process, this according to the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI). NCASI reports that water used in the papermaking process is recycled up to 10 times in a typical paper mill, and then nearly 90% of that water is cleaned to meet federal and state clean water standards before it is returned to its source. The remaining water is retained in the manufactured paper or evaporates back into the environment.

And when it comes to circularity, paper has all other materials beat hands down. According to the U.S. EPA, around two-thirds of all paper products are recycled, more than any other material.

In today’s highly competitive marketplace where environmental responsibility is a necessary part of any marketing strategy,  brands that choose printed paper catalogs to effectively reach their customers can be confident that they are making a sound environmental choice.