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Victoria's Dirty Secret

Victoria's Dirty Secret

September 8, 2007 —

Information is supposed to be empowering. Unfortunately, the barrage of bad news concerning war, global warming, AIDS, hunger, and other monumental problems, often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Many of us overlook our own ability to take a stand on an issue, and instead wonder why corporate and government leaders don’t take action.

That’s why the story of the “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” campaign is so inspiring.

In 2004, folks from ForestEthics, an environmental group based in San Francisco, alerted Limited Brands, the parent company behind Victoria’s Secret about the environmental devastation wrought by the company’s use of paper pulp from endangered forests. Suddenly, Victoria's Secret—the lingerie brand known for the skimpily clad models adorning mail order catalogs—didn't seem so alluring. When Limited Brands failed to adequately address the problem, ForestEthics took action.

When Limited Brands failed to adequately address the problem, ForestEthics took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, launched the “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” website, and unleashed a virtual army of citizen-consumer-activists to protest outside stores. The supporters held more than 750 demonstrations—at times carrying chain saws while wearing lingerie and angel wings, in mockery of Victoria’s Secret advertising.

It’s Just a Catalog, Right?

Before you dismiss the protesters as a fringe element of tree huggers, take a good hard look in your mailbox. Catalogs have surpassed magazines in overall paper use in the United States. Annually, catalog retailers mail out 17 billion catalogs, or 59 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Yet almost none of this paper contains recycled content. When you toss out that next catalog, consider that each year almost eight million tons of trees go straight into those slick brochures and then, often unread, right into the trash.

Victoria’s Secret alone sends out nearly 400 million catalogs each year—more than one million per day. Their catalog production has a profound impact on Canada’s Great Boreal Forest, which contains 25% of the intact, roadless forest remaining in the world. The Boreal is a key regulator of global climate.

The Response

Although Limited Brands claimed that the protests had no effect on sales, the actions encouraged the company to continue meeting with ForestEthics. “They had to do what they had to do to get our attention,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, Limited Brands’ vice-president of investor relations. “We quickly were able to learn a lot from them.”

After two years of protests, Victoria’s Secret agreed to stop using paper pulp from endangered forests and committed to using 10% recycled materials or at least 10% certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. “I believe a company like ours should be a source of good, for us, for our community, and for the world,” said Les Wexner, chairman and CEO of Limited Brands. Now, that’s sexy stuff.

Mr. Wexner is not the only convert. Williams-Sonoma, which mails out Pottery Barn catalogs, plans to convert 95% of its catalog paper stock to sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Dell Inc. recently said its marketing publications now use an average of 50% recycled paper.

Even if you’re not ready to grab the chainsaw and don your own angel wings, take heart that your actions, as small as they might be, can help preserve endangered forests and battle climate change: buy local or online from small independent retailers, and tell the big guys to take you off their mailing list.

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Comment on this article:

USPS sells to direct marketers

Submitted by Angie Karran on October 17, 2007 - 21:28.

Just letting people know that when they move and fill out a change of address form, the USPS sells your info to direct marketers.

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