Questioning the “Opt-In for White Pages and Opt-Out for Yellow Pages” concept

Ash Nallawalla

20 August 2009


Greg Sterling’s blog has a guest post by Alex Algard, CEO of, which begins with a thought-provoking statement:

The Right Course: Opt-In for White Pages and Opt-Out for Yellow Pages

His website has launched, because:

We at WhitePages are passionate about building awareness of the waste created by the white pages books and providing them only on an opt-in basis, but I think it would be a mistake to draw similar conclusions for the yellow pages.

Call me cynical, but people who are passionate about the environment tackle the core issues, not specific products. They chain themselves to logging equipment or camp atop tall trees that are about to be felled. They join GreenPeace and similar bodies. Perhaps Alex does all that as well. :smile:

The blog contains statements such as:

The environmental impact and economic costs are mind-boggling: WhitePages estimates that 5M trees need to be harvested each year to print ~147M white pages phone books. And the costs to recycle these books each year costs taxpayers an estimated $17M. (Are you kidding? Any way you look at it these estimates, the numbers are absolutely staggering.)



Consumers are unaware of the environmental waste of printing the WPPB: When asked if they knew that millions of trees are cut down each year to print the WPPB each year, 74% of survey respondents answered ‘No’. And Less than 16% recycle their old books (that’s nuts).

Quite rightly, one of the comments came from Ken Clark, a consultant to the Yellow Pages industry in the US. He questioned the above figures and pointed to an eye-opening, well-illustrated article about how paper used for US directories is made by NPI – no trees are cut down expressly to make directories. Ken says that the paper is made from four ingredients:

  1. Wood chips from saw mill byproducts
  2. Old newspaper/white paper, and old telephone directories
  3. Dried kraft pulp
  4. Wood Chips

It’s great to support online services (it pays my bills), but singling out specific print products to “ban” and setting up a website to that end only fools the gullible or the ignorant. If I surveyed consumers and asked questions based on made-up facts, of course I will get the answers I want. Not everyone uses the Internet for everything, even if the stats show that almost every home is connected to the Internet.

Many directory company websites have information about recycling and links to authoritative sites on the subject. My employer’s site is no exception and I was a bit surprised to see them mention that some people use the directories to prop up monitors. :smile: It’s no wonder that the spine also carries advertising!


In many First World countries, the printed White Pages are delivered to every household because the law requires it. These books contain essential information that citizens may need in an emergency, such as poisons, first aid, life lines, etc — at least in Australia. Check yours before you chuck it out and blog about it.


Ash Nallawalla

Search strategist experienced in large, complex websites. SEO consultant.

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  • […] View post:  Questioning the “Opt-In for White Pages and Opt-Out for Yellow Pages” concept […]

  • Ed Kohler on 21 August 2009

    Great points, Ash. Clearly, the arguments that apply to justifying opt-in for white pages are just as valid when applied to yellow pages. It also seems like it would be much much better for local advertisers to reach only those who’ve requested the books. That has much more value than paying for ads that will rot on doorsteps in the rain.

  • Joshua on 21 August 2009

    There is definitely room for discussion and more accuracy on the facts in this debate, but the above article doesn’t make sense because dried kraft pulp is from wood fiber from trees/forests. Please explain to me how that means there are no trees used to make yellow pages? Perhaps people who don’t know what that is won’t question but its in fact misleading.

    • Ash on 21 August 2009

      The way I read that is that the company that makes Kraft pulp (and by implication the original lumber yard) does not use the entire tree for making pulp. In other words, trees are grown in plantations for harvesting and are felled for making timber and the offcuts are pulped or turned into chips.

  • SHobbs on 21 August 2009

    Great stuff! For more facts on the impact of YP on the environment, go to and click on our environmental site. We want to separate fact from fiction. Recycle those used directories! Full disclosure, I work for the Yellow Pages Association.

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