A few days ago my wife walked into our kitchen and said, “Wow, look at this catalog that just got delivered.”
The package, delivered by UPS, was from Restoration Hardware. Weighing in at 12 pounds, it turned out to contain nine separate catalogs:
Restoration Hardware apparently anticipated that many would find the delivery of a 12-pound package odd, and some would consider it objectionable. Why? The environment, of course! So this sheet was included in the package. Click to enlarge:
So, you see, this is just another “green” initiative. Mailing all the catalogs at once minimizes carbon output; I suppose it saves money, too–a better reason to do it. And Restoration uses “carbon-neutral shipping practices” and “responsibly sourced paper.” Actually, there is no such thing as carbon-neutral shipping; not unless you use solar-powered vehicles that are manufactured in solar-powered factories using materials from solar-powered mines. Which don’t exist, of course.
Curious, I looked up UPS’s explanation of carbon-neutral shipping:
The shipment you received was sent by someone who requested that UPS offset the climate impact of the shipment. This means the sender cares about climate change and wants others to be aware of this commitment.
UPS’s carbon neutral option supports projects that offset the emissions of the shipment’s transport. UPS has supported projects that include reforestation, landfill gas destruction, wastewater treatment, and methane destruction.
So if you pay extra, UPS will put your money toward a project that supposedly reduces carbon dioxide. This is the theory on which Al Gore lives a “carbon neutral” life. He tools around on the world’s biggest house boat, but it’s OK because he also pays someone to plant trees in Indonesia, or whatever. You can do that if you have gotten rich off global warming hysteria. But if you really believed that global warming is a threat to civilization–which, I suspect, no one actually does–you would do both. You would pay for trees in Indonesia, but you also would not drive a houseboat that gets 100 yards to the gallon.
For better or worse, Restoration’s carbon-neutral pose didn’t forestall criticism of its doorstop deliveries. Twitter lit up with self-righteous condemnation. These are two examples out of many:
The recent Restoration Hardware malling is a ridiculous waste. Unsolicited physical mail should be banned. http://t.co/wRPmIakOVX
— Chris Dixon (@cdixon) June 14, 2014
— Plastic Pollutes! (@PlasticPollutes) June 22, 2014
In environmentally correct Palo Alto, residents dumped almost a ton of catalogs at the local Restoration Hardware store.
In Forbes, Will Burns denounced Restoration’s mailing as a PR disaster and quoted a letter his brother sent to Restoration’s CEO:
Dear Mr. Friedman -
I am sending you the enclosed on the assumption that the landfills in your neighborhood have more capacity than ours here in Chapel Hill. And, yes, I did check your web site justification for sending me a giant brick of waste and laughed out loud as I read it. Kindly refer to my Newsletter (http://hamiltonpoint.com/window-glaziers-and-letter-carriers/) for my firm’s take on this subject and kindly remove my family from your mailing list.
Will Burns suggested a way for Restoration to make good on the debacle:
Here’s one way. Send another physical mailer in 2015, only this time it’s a postcard that acknowledges the 17-pound mistake of 2014. The postcard invites people to download the Source Book app this year, and then requests that people not throw the postcard away but plant it.
Because this postcard is made of seed paper, laced with flower seeds, where you can actually plant the paper itself in the ground (e.g. Bloomin). A statement like that will go a long way towards restoring Restoration Hardware from this marketing-perception miscue.
What should we make of this episode? The primary focus of environmentalist anger didn’t seem to be the carbon dioxide emitted by UPS trucks, but rather the consumption of paper, which was mailed to people who didn’t ask for it. But that is a principle liberals might not want to take too far. If one ponders the broader question of printing things that no one reads, the first such publication that comes to mind is Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices.
More generally, the randomness with which environmental self-righteousness can strike is baffling. Until recently, it wasn’t hard to figure out whether a mailing (of catalogs or anything else) was a good idea. You could calculate the cost of the mailing, add up the resulting orders and track in-store sales, and thereby judge whether the mailing was a good idea–an efficient use of paper and gasoline. Nowadays, it isn’t so simple. Enviros may not blink an eye at the waste entailed by, say, a light rail system that hardly anyone uses, or hundreds of airplanes ferrying participants to a global warming conference, but drop 12 pounds of catalogs on their front step and–watch out.