Cover Story: Sprint Saves Green

Keanon Swan, manager of vendor management and postal strategy, Sprint

Two-in-one wireless billing envelopes save the telecommunications giant $500,000 a year

Keanon Swan wants to help Sprint push the envelope on green direct mail. Yeah, he went there. But he’s serious about this, says the manager of Sprint’s vendor management and postal strategy.

Swan, his colleagues and outside vendors not only got an environmentally friendly direct mail campaign off the ground in 2012 at Sprint, it’s become the way the Overland Park, Kan.-based communications company bills 9 million—65 percent—of its wireless customers each month. And now, Sprint sees $500,000 in savings a year due to postage cost and paper reductions. “The reduced ecoEnvelope weight allows for postage savings and revenue generation opportunities,” Swan says. “There are many opportunities that have come with this new envelope format that we’re continuing to explore.”

Sprint’s green mail program evolved from an idea—spurred in May 2008 when Swan spotted a “cool” envelope that could be ripped in half to create a new, smaller envelope—to full implementation in June 2012. Swan spent those four years making sure the dream could not only live, but grow.

That meant getting buy-in from departments throughout Sprint, involving outside partners, performing equipment tests, conducting focus groups and launching direct mail pilot programs. Excited, he right away tested the envelope, designed by ecoEnvelopes of Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sprint’s high-speed mailing equipment. While it worked well, Sprint still had to complete equipment changes to handle mail related to a 2005 merger. At the same time, Swan had to deal with increased direct mail and postage costs amid a declining economy and, not least of all, transition from an internally managed print and mail shop to partnering with a mail service provider, Kansas City, Mo.-based DST Output, in June 2009.

“Our organization was operating in a very entrepreneurial manner, where we were constantly, no pun intended, pushing the envelope to be more innovative; whether it was getting our first inserting equipment online, developing our quality control programs, etc.,” Swan says. “When we transitioned into more of an operational management mode, we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose that edge to look for ways to reduce costs, to improve quality—while, at the same time, making sure we were mitigating our environmental footprint.”

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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  • Tamra

    I’ve considered cancelling my Sprint account over those damn envelopes. I don’t have an extra 30 minutes in my day to carefully follow their directions, so I’m stuck spending my own money for envelopes (non-recycled, mind you) and then hand-writing their mailing address on the outside while angrily throwing their "green" envelope into the trash. They should have spent some of that savings on hiring a firm that would test their envelope’s difficulty level on folks who don’t have 20-year-old hands that can manage to open their ugly and annoying envelope without tearing the crap out of it. Not all cellphone users are teenagers, and those of us who aren’t appreciate things like envelopes that don’t require advanced engineering degrees to use.

  • Joe

    You have been thoroughly "green washed". Sprint’s new "green" envelope is a joke. They print their bill on 6 pages, and then claim that they are trying to save tons of paper, waste, water, etc by having customers reuse the envelope. What they are really trying to do is make paying by mail such a pain that everyone uses on-line payment instead. Although on-line payment can be convenient, many businesses need the physical paper trail (it’s not "paranoia", it’s a legal/tax/accounting issue) . If sprint was really interested in "going green", they would print their bill on one page and go back to a real envelope for those that pay by mail.

  • iffydiffy

    That stupid reusable envelope is a disaster. It is difficult to tear and rearrange, the flap doesn’t stick unless I tape it down, and it makes paying my bill a damn nuisance. This is all about being cheap and saving money, not about saving the environment. Don’t send me a stupid, nonfunctional envelope containing a bill that is printed on a big stack of pages, most of which contain no information that is of any use to me.

    Wanna save the environment? Send my bill printed on one page, like the electric company does, where I just tear off the bottom and put it into an envelope that actually works. In fact, that’s how bills have been done for at least 50 years.

    Massive failure
    Takes more paper
    Saves them money
    Doesn’t work

    Pretty much just like the whole Sprint company.