SF Chronicle: S.F. should limit distribution of Yellow Pages
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San Francisco could come closer to winning an environmental victory while also fighting neighborhood blight and helping the economy. Legislation slated for a vote today at the Board of Supervisors meeting would make San Francisco the first city in the nation to prevent the mass over-distribution of unwanted Yellow Pages phone books. More than 1.6 [...]
San Francisco could come closer to winning an environmental victory while also fighting neighborhood blight and helping the economy. Legislation slated for a vote today at the Board of Supervisors meeting would make San Francisco the first city in the nation to prevent the mass over-distribution of unwanted Yellow Pages phone books.
More than 1.6 million Yellow Pages directories are piled in doorways, stashed in apartment lobbies and left on sidewalks annually. That’s nearly two Yellow Pages directories for every man, woman and child in San Francisco – and nearly five for each residence.
The legislation, which creates a three-year pilot program, is aimed at getting Yellow Pages into the hands of real users, not imaginary ones. As the Green Chamber of Commerce notes in supporting this legislation, when a business calls and asks for the cost of an ad in the Yellow Pages, the price is justified by the high distribution numbers, which of course ignore the fact that most directories go straight to the recycling bin or the trash can.
But the proposal is not a ban – anyone who wants a Yellow Pages directory will still be able to receive one, in part with the help of a robust outreach program designed to make sure that people who want one know how to request it. We know that everyone does not have easy access to the Internet. Yellow Pages can also be distributed at community centers, grocery stores or directly at residences when a person is at home and accepts the directory.
The coalition supporting this legislation includes environmentalists, neighborhood activists, apartment building managers – and businesses. San Francisco’s Small Business Commission endorsed it earlier this year, and a just-released economic impact report from the city economist estimated that the proposal would have a positive overall economic impact, create jobs and help the economy. The report found that businesses are likely to save money by advertising more efficiently and that recycling costs and waste disposal costs will also decrease.
The Yellow Pages industry repeatedly cites statistics suggesting that there is an insatiable appetite for Yellow Pages directories. It also says that self-regulation will do the trick, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Most people are understandably too busy to let the industry know proactively that they don’t want the Yellow Pages.
Expert testimony given at a public hearing on the Yellow Pages noted that previous programs that rely on the industry to self-regulate over-distribution through opt-out programs have failed. In Ting vs. AT&T, it was even found that publishers conducted market research on how to inform residents on their right to opt out – but in a manner that would discourage them from doing so.
This new law will reduce the carbon footprint created by the production, distribution and disposal of a product that is largely unused and unwanted. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not producing a Yellow Pages directory reduces carbon emissions three times as much as recycling a phone book.
A Stanford climate change expert, Michael Wara, wrote that this legislation “represents exactly the kind of careful, detailed policymaking that is necessary in every sector of our economy to address the enormous challenge of global climate change.”
San Francisco must continue to be a national model for zero waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping most of the 7 million pounds of paper from Yellow Pages directories out of our waste stream represents a significant next step.
David Chiu is president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Janet Pomeroy is president of the board of directors of the Green Chamber of Commerce. Dave Grenell was an aide to Jerry Brown when he served as mayor of Oakland.
This article appeared on page A – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle