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Catalogues’ Eco-Dilemma

Catalogue distributors have faced an interesting dilemma as the electronics industry moves toward environmental awareness. Millions of engineers, buyers, and even hobbyists still want paper catalogues for flipping through and dog-earing pages for future reference. So catalogue distributors are trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible by using eco-friendly paper and inks and reducing the frequency of catalogue printings.

Catalogue distributors did, for a while, try to redirect customers to CD-ROM catalogues and then to online catalogues. But customers rebelled. Distributors also tried to publish their catalogues less frequently. That got mixed reviews. So now, catalogue houses operate under a compromise of sorts: catalogue updates are usually published online or on disk, and paper catalogues are as environmentally friendly as possible.

For example, this week, Electrocomponents plc announced it is using UPM EcoLite paper to produce its catalogue. RS prints over 760,000 copies of its catalogue every year for customers across Europe and Asia Pacific. In the US, Electrocomponents' Allied Electronics catalogue meets Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification. This means all paper used in the catalogue was obtained from the SFI program, which integrates the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil, water, and air quality.

Here's a snapshot of what other catalogue distributors are doing to minimize their impact on the environment:

  • Chicago-based Newark and its parent Premier Farnell, based in England, are trying to reduce the frequency of all printed materials, including mailings. Both catalogues use paper that meet SFI or the overseas FSC certifications, or are printed on recycled/recyclable paper. The catalogues are published using soy-based inks.
  • Digi-Key Corp.'s US catalogue is produced with paper containing 33 percent post-consumer fiber and may be recycled through a paper board recycling program.
  • Although the specifications of its printed catalogue aren't mentioned on its website, Mouser Electronics has a corporate environmental policy that encompasses lead-free and RoHS, WEEE, packaging waste, and batteries and chemicals, and works with suppliers and customers on their recycling and disposal efforts.

All the catalogue houses are encouraging customers to recycle old catalogues and to pass on extra copies to peers.

Readers, what's your preference — paper or online — and why? Let us know at or, better, on the message board below.

8 comments on “Catalogues’ Eco-Dilemma

  1. AnalyzeThis
    March 2, 2011

    While I understand that some people still prefer catalogues to CD-ROMs, the catalogue is nearing the end of its lifespan.

    At a little over 30, I'm probably in the last generation of people that will even remember catalogues as being commercially viable, and that's only because Sears still did that cool “Wish Book” thing or whatever it was called that I remember when I was a child.

    Nearly everyone younger than me will likely have little interest in catalogues. And perhaps even ANYTHING printed on paper, but that's a separate debate…

    But personal preferences and generation gaps aside, the reason the catalogue format will not survive is because it is an efficient means of conveying and accessing information. In the 1900's the catalogue was wonderful and a far better means of information distribution than what was typically available. Now it certainly is not: you cannot search (well, outside of the index or table of contents, I suppose!), there's no community features, prices are surely outdated, products advertised won't be the latest available… the list goes on and on.

    Traditional printed catalogues won't disappear completely for another couple of generations, but its disappearance is inevitable.

  2. Mydesign
    March 3, 2011

      Since printing catalogue and palm lets are the tradition way of advertisements, it’s have a long impact on human psychology too. I understand that many people still prefer catalogues because it’s ready to read, irrespective of time, place or any other such issues. It is an efficient means of conveying and accessing the information. Anything printed on paper is more eyes catching and the only drawback is that it cannot speak or animate.

        But for electronic type of displays like CD-ROMs/USB etc, the major problem is it requires some access Medias for read or display. Even though carrying the catalog through such mediums are compactable, it’s difficult to carry access mechanisms. But here the catalogue can animate and speak themselves, for a better presentation.

       If we want to save our nature and mother earth, then surly we have to think about the movements towards green. I think traditional printed catalogues won't disappear completely at least for another 50 years, but its disappearance gradually.

  3. Adeniji Kayode
    March 3, 2011

    I certainly agree with you.This generation of ours keeps looking for a better way of doing things and this keeps pushing towards exploring more into electronics

  4. Adeniji Kayode
    March 3, 2011

    The advantages of online Catalogue can never be over emphasized.

    1. Online catalogues can easily be accessed from any where in the world while paper catalogues are limited to request.

    2. What about the bulkiness of most paper catalogues,some may likely take years to flip through, It,s time consuming.

    3. Time to time update is much easier with online catalouges and can be publicized or circulated virtually in no time while updates on paper definitely will take more time.

    4. Online catalogues can easily be downloaded if needs be and by then there will not be the question of size with the soft copy.

  5. Tim Votapka
    March 3, 2011

    Ah yes, the ol' Wishbook. Brings back memories. Interesting thoughts about the catalog's eventual extinction. The fate of this old workhorse reference tool is in the hands of the engineer and purchasing audience. Survey these decision makers and you'll get your answer.

  6. Nemos
    March 4, 2011

    Αlthough Ι support the “eco” method , for me it is very difficult to read a pdf file or a newsletter in pc. For example if I want to study an article certainly Ι prefer to read it on the paper.

    Maybe our generation who started reading and writing on paper and the computer was only in our imagination  loves the paper based books and catalogs.

    I have the feeling when I reading a pdf file that something is missing …….

  7. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 5, 2011

    I would prefer a combination of both types to get the required information effectively.  I would prefer first downloading the on line edition of all those catalogues in which I am interested. My first look at these catalogues will be a quick browse through of all the content of the downloaded PDF file. Once I have focussed my interest on a particluar component, or the particular features of components then I would take the hard copy print-out of just that portion of the catalogue. Since the print of a PDF file almost resembles the printed catalogue, I don't think companies should continue practice of printing the catalogue separately. May be as an advertisement they can print just the index page with links to the online pdf versions for each item in the index page.

  8. Eldredge
    May 3, 2011

    It also feels more efficient to flip through the pages of a catalog looking for the device or component that one needs – or perhaps even more to the point, when looking for something that will perform the function that you need, but you don't know exactly what device or component performs that function.

    When I know exactly what I want (by part number or description), the internet is my first choice.

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