Infographic: How Many Trees Has E-Commerce Saved?

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In the olden days, when you needed to buy something, you often turned to the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, which contained in its pages anything you could want. The first catalog went out in 1888, advertising watches and jewelry. It was an immediate hit and made sense for lots of reasons: the cost to send was low (just 1 cent per pound), many Americans had gone west and didn’t live in major towns with stores anymore, and the catchy slogans did their job.

By 1894, the catalog contained everything from sewing machines and sporting goods to bicycles and buggies to clothing for the entire family, calling itself the “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone.” It only expanded from there, adding such items as eyeglasses, talking machines, carpets and everything one would need to set up a theater.

By 1897, the typical catalog was 4.3 pounds, had 786 pages and contained more than 73,000 products, according to WP Engine. Its circulation was 318,000 — given its dimensions, it would have taken 0.5 percent of a pine tree to print each catalog, and more than 6,000 trees to print one for each customer. All told, 13.4 acres of pine trees would have been used for each catalog edition. That’s a lot of forest.

The modern equivalent to the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog is Amazon, but what would happen if Amazon took a page from Sears’ book and started printing its inventory? The results wouldn’t be pretty — at least not for the world’s trees.

Check out this infographic from WP Engine:

Infographic: WP Engine

Yes, you read that right. Not only would this catalog crush you with its nearly 29,000 pounds, but it would take 35.7 pine trees just to make one. If every unique visitor were to get a catalog, it would take 8.75 million acres of tree destruction. That’s more than the total acreage of New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

While there’s lots to be nostalgic about when it comes to yesteryear (we love things like canning), e-commerce is one innovation we — and our forests — can be grateful for.

Feature image courtesy of WP Engine

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Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of national and regional publications, covering everything from sustainability and health to travel and retail.

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