While the poor economy has slowed the green revolution, most direct marketers are aware that environmental consciousness among their prospects is here to stay. So while a sizable percentage of firms continue their efforts to "green the mail," those that hesitate due to cost concerns or because they believe prospects are too distracted with economic worries to register environmental concerns may want to reconsider and take those green training wheels off.
The public's distaste for greenwashing is well-known, but a force as equally powerful or damaging is the public's loyalty to companies that follow pro-environment practices. According to a recent study conducted by Havas Media that surveyed 20,000 retail consumers in 10 countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., 80 percent would reward brands that adopted sustainable practices, while 72 percent would punish those that did not.
"There's a need to balance eco-friendly consideration with marketing effectiveness in direct mail," says David Coho, vice president of sales and marketing at Univenture, which manufactures envelopes, office supplies and storage containers, including many environment-friendly solutions.
One place to pronounce that need, in a very public way, is with the envelope that direct mail campaigns use. Crafting a relevant message remains the most important mission for marketers, and the physical envelope—how it's manufactured, what it's composed of, how it appears, what extra messaging it includes, etc.—is now a big part of that message.
1. Recognize That Envelopes Are Part of the Green Trajectory
The rocky economy hasn't convinced prospects to throw their green ways out the window. Quite the contrary, for many, the green mind-set is as much about thrift and reusing and saving as it is about doing the right thing. As a result, more cars will get smaller and go hybrid just as more envelopes will get similarly smaller and greener.
Yet there are many negative images of environmental destruction that some prospects associate with direct mail campaigns, including trees being used, landfills and mailboxes being overstuffed with them, and a massive carbon footprint. But it no longer has to be like that, both in the public image and in reality. It's up to companies and nonprofits that populate the mailstream to get it right—including responsible envelope manufacturing.
"Let's start with a few assumptions: Direct mail still works. The primary goal of direct mail marketing is ROI (increased sales), and we want to be good stewards of our natural resources," states Coho, whose company uses biodegradable polypropylene for many of its innovative outers. He personally has witnessed "environmental consumers" skyrocket in numbers in the past few years and predicts that moms, the gatekeepers of the household, will become greener as they understand how the environment affects their families.
The founder and CEO of ecoEnvelopes—a manufacturer of reusable envelopes—Ann DeLaVergne, similarly has witnessed this green transformation while her company correspondingly grew in size and success. "With the kind of raised consciousness of the world about the state of the environment, it's logical that new products are going to be sought and replace old methods of doing things. As the world becomes more aware, with people realizing that the air is getting worse, the water is getting worse, we can't keep this up. When that awakening happens, and it's happening with climate change, people are going to seek products that do good things and reduce our impact," she describes.
2. Change the Envelope Image
Because it's renewable, sustainable and a natural fiber, DeLaVergne doesn't think paper is a major environmental problem. And she thinks prospects will begin to see it that way as well. "For example, I can take envelopes in my office and put them into my organic garden, and they will decompose. I can't do that with my cell phone. You start to analyze: Where are the real impacts to our environment? I don't think paper will be on top of that list," she asserts.
Of course, the way for the public to see envelopes in a green light, vs. a negative one, is to literally make more green ones and send them out.
EcoEnvelopes, for example, offers reusable envelopes made of mostly recycled paper in a variety of business-appropriate sizes, and it just announced the first two-way postage indicia approved by the U.S. Postal Service for direct mailers, which makes it even easier for mailers to simultaneously cut costs and go green by eliminating the need for separate postage when using reusable envelopes. Listen to what former USPS Senior Vice President for Mailing Services David Shoenfeld said about this innovation: "It's a powerful way to both leverage innovative design options for reusable envelopes and enhance the value of mail. This new option fits our mission to support convenient, more efficient, eco-friendly mailing products."
3. Show Environmental Effort With Envelopes
The green envelope marketplace has never been bigger, witnessed by the fact that the largest manufacturer of envelopes in the world, National Envelope, is a leader in this category. Rather than drag its feet on the green issue, National Envelope got ahead of the game and became the first envelope converter in the U.S. to be certified to produce envelopes, announcements and greeting cards that are accepted as meeting the standards of the two most prominent institutions that support sustainable forest management—the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council.
Recently, it again set a benchmark in the envelope industry by publishing the first sustainability report for an individual envelope company. The report can help draw the attention and interest of both customers and prospects who are prioritizing the environment into their procurement policies.
"Environmental greens are just looking for effort. We did that, and it's become a good partnership," confirms Bob Muma, senior vice president of sales and marketing at National Envelope. What kind of effort exactly? Muma lists keeping a low carbon (the principal greenhouse gas) footprint; bumping up recycled content in envelopes from 50 percent to 80 percent; planting four to five trees for every tree harvested; making envelopes with wind power; carbon offsetting; using water-based adhesives and soy-based inks; choosing biodegradable window patch materials; and putting the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation's "please recycle" logo on outer envelopes.
For example, earlier this year National Envelope introduced a new Carbon Neutral Products Program that is available for all envelopes, after a complete carbon footprint analysis of the company was performed. In rendering its products carbon-neutral, National Envelope uses a cradle-to-gate process that includes all product and packaging materials, inbound transportation related to those materials, and the energy used to make the product.
Another environment-friendly manufacturing method to consider is closed-loop processing. EcoEnvelopes does not go below 30 percent recycled content in its products, and DeLaVergne says the life cycle of that paper can be four times, until it ends up in its final envelope incarnation at 100 percent postconsumer waste. Closed-loop processing essentially is mail going out and coming back (as part of the response chain) to be collected by the marketer's fulfillment shop, then sent to the paper mill that processes the paper back into fiber to be remade into recycled paper; the paper gets sold back to the marketer with a higher level of postconsumer waste content, and the marketer uses it to create its next direct mail campaign.
"This may make customers emotional about [mail], in good ways. So nothing hits the landfills, and fewer trees are being used. There will be a better feel to receiving mail because [people] trust the process to do something different. That's a plus for the company, the consumer, the mill, the post office and a big plus for the environment," concludes DeLaVergne.