Production Ways to Go Green
By Tracy A. Gill
The Earth needs it, your customers want it, corporate responsibility demands it, and your bottom line will thank you for it.
When it comes to recycling, we aren't doing all that bad by the environment. According to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), in 2003 (the last year for which data is available), the United States' paper recovery rate hit an all-time high: 50.3 percent, or 339 pounds of paper for every man, woman and child in this country. That's up 69 percent from 1990 and 3.4 percent from 2002.
But, when it comes to the type of environmental program that is going to make a difference for the planet, your customers and your bottom line, recycling is just one piece of the pie. As former Direct Marketing Association (DMA) President and CEO H. Robert Weintzen points out in his introduction to the third edition of the DMA's Environmental Resource for Direct Marketers, "environmental awareness today encompasses broader issues, such as being knowledgeable about the source of your paper supplies, designing mailings and targeting lists to minimize waste, paying attention to packing materials, and communicating your environmental commitment to customers, legislators and other stakeholders."
Developing such a comprehensive program may seem a daunting task, and you may be asking, why bother? Well, if the benefits to the planet aren't enough to convince you, consider the positive impact it can have on your public image and your budget. For example, when your list is clean, you mail less, so you save paper, but you also spend less on printing and on postage. And when you communicate your efforts to the outside world, you reap the benefits of positive PR. Richard Goldsmith, chairman of New York City-based consultancy The Horah Group, calls this the triple bottom line. He points to McDonald's as a great example: When the fast food chain stopped using styrofoam in the 1990s, not only did it save $12 million a year, but it created a PR buzz that improved the way it was viewed by consumers.
What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of what you can do to improve your environmental footprint, but like any other journey, it all begins with those first few steps.
Assess the Situation
To develop an effective environmental policy, you must first assess where your biggest impacts on the environment are, asserts Carolyn Beem, manager of environmental and government affairs for L.L. Bean, a catalog company based in Freeport, Maine. "You can't improve what you can't measure," she stresses.
This appraisal should involve an in-depth look at not only your own business practices, but those of your vendors as well. It would be wise, advises Goldsmith, to appoint someone within your organization to head up this assessment and all subsequent initiatives, and communicate your policies, goals and progress to the rest of the company on a regular basis to ensure its full support.
Then, set realistic and actionable goals so you can assess your programs and communicate your progress to consumers, vendors, shareholders and other outside sources. For example, the AF&PA has set a goal of improving U.S. paper recovery rates to 55 percent by 2012. UPS has joined the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Transport Program, which hopes to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 72 million tons by 2012. And by 2006, Time Inc. plans to have 80 percent of its paper purchases come from third-party certified sustainable forests.
The single most important thing you can do to improve your environmental impact, asserts Goldsmith, is reduce the amount of material you use for your direct mail campaigns. "If you can reduce, there's less that you have to worry about reusing or recycling." And the most efficient way to reduce is to mind your lists.
Start by developing a solid list hygiene plan. Run all lists through such cleansers as NCOALink, LACS, DSF2, and against any suppression lists available to you, such as the DMA's do-not-mail file. And, make sure you perform a good merge/purge on rented lists. This may seem basic, but so many people really are not doing it, contends Goldsmith.
Once your list has been scrubbed clean of dupes, nixies and undeliverables, modeling and segmentation will help you further refine your file, and improve the chances that your mailings are getting to the people who are most likely to respond.
Over the last few years, L.L. Bean has made a strong commitment to list hygiene, asserts Beem. This has allowed it to better target its customers and reduce the number of catalogs it mails per household—a win both for the environment and its production and postage costs.
Less Is More
Another place you can trim is in your trim, size that is. For the past 10 years, L.L. Bean has been testing smaller trim sizes, which has significantly reduced its trim waste, attests Beem.
Consumers Union has found success testing smaller formats as well, according to Meta Brophy, the nonprofit's associate director of publishing operations. By conducting a number of internal audits, Consumers Union was able to reduce the size of the paper rolls it uses, thereby reducing trim waste, and was able to reduce the size of its blow-in and bind-in cards and envelopes. These minimal changes equal only fractions of an inch on each piece, but the savings add up quickly.
"It doesn't sound like much, reducing, say, an eighth of an inch," contends Tom Estock, corporate manager of environment and safety at Sussex, Wisc.-based printer Quad/Graphics. "But on a large run, that can add up to thousands and thousands of pounds of paper that you're saving."
But smaller isn't automatically better—it can just lead to more trim waste. Work with your printer to determine the sizes that make optimal use of the press sheets it uses for your jobs, suggests Estock. And, of course, you'll want to test to make sure a smaller size doesn't have a negative effect on response.
A lower basis weight paper also can lighten up your impact on the environment. If, for example, you switch from an 80 lb cover stock to a 70 lb alternative, you will get the same amount of surface area, but will cut back on the amount of fiber used to make your paper.
Another avenue is to opt for sheets produced using mechanical—rather than chemical—pulping, which yields more than double the amount of paper per ton of trees but has the same look, feel and opacity as sheets made using traditional pulping methods. Brophy points to a test she conducted this past March in which she mailed a letter printed on Abitibi Consolidated's Equal Offset 42.5 lb sheet—which is produced using mechanical pulping—against a letter printed on a 50 lb virgin offset sheet. Although full results of the test are not yet available, the printed samples have her very optimistic about response.
Design for Recyclability
While recycling is not the end all be all of an environmental program, it's still an integral part; one that you can promote by printing on postconsumer-content paper and designing campaigns that can be recycled. Some things you can do to improve the recyclability of your printed pieces include:
1. Eliminate adhesives. Because most adhesives aren't water soluble, they can't be removed by recycling equipment. The adhesive that remains in the pulp then clogs paper machines and printing presses. Some alternatives include using meters and indicias instead of stamps; printing directly on outer envelopes instead of using address labels; and avoiding stickers, peel-offs and other such involvement devices. But stay tuned. Currently, the adhesives industry is developing recyclable, or benign, adhesives.
2. Use glassine windows or window-less outer envelopes rather than the commonly used, but not easily recycled, polystyrene windows. Another alternative is to print addresses directly on closed-face outers.
3. Avoid metallic inks, which, like adhesives, stick to the paper pulp and cause problems in the recycling process.
4. Use inkjet rather than laser printing when adding personalization to a piece, advises Goldsmith. Inkjet ink is water soluble, so it doesn't gum up recycling equipment; the toner used in lasering is not.
5. Avoid polybags. Although they can be recycled, few recycling sites can process them. If you must use poly outers, stress that recipients separate the plastic and paper prior to recycling.
6. Promote recycling by including the DMA's RecyclePlease.org logo on your printed pieces. (Visit www.recycleplease.org to learn more.)
Try, Try Again
The fact is, not every environmental initiative you test is going to succeed, but that's no reason to give up. If you have trouble testing into a more press-friendly trim size, use the excess space on the sheet to print something else, suggests Goldsmith. If you just can't test out of a 12-page letter, printing it double sided will cut the amount of paper you use in half.
Brophy recalls one test where she tried a lower basis weight on a self-mailer, with diminished response. "In that case, I retested with a shorter trim on the heavier stock, and that worked," she asserts. "So one way or another, I was able to save paper on that project."
Something to Talk About
It has been said that talk is cheap, but in this case, nothing is further from the truth. Cultivate organizational support by communicating your goals, motivations, needs and progress internally. Then, develop positive public reaction by sharing your environmental policies and initiatives with consumers, prospects and external stakeholders.
Finally, further the cause within the direct marketing industry by sharing what you've learned and partnering with like-minded vendors, community groups and industry associations. This may be the most important step you can take, because the end result will be much greater than the sum of what you can do alone. As Beem points out, "It's difficult for any one company to grasp the importance of environmental sustainability. But working as a group and using the resources that each company has to offer, we can achieve much more."
For more on how you can improve your company's environmental impact, visit Target Marketing's Printing, Paper and Production online community at http://www.targetmarketingmag.com/sics/printing.bsp, where you'll find a number of articles and resources, including links to environmental organizations, associations and partnership programs.
Cleaning and targeting its mailing lists, reducing the trim size of its catalog, testing lighter basis weight papers, and increasing the recycled content of its paper are just some of the ways that L.L. Bean is working to improve the environmental impact of its mailing program.
Natural Resource Defense Council communicates its environmental commitment to prospective donors with this copy line. Each interior component of this long-term control also bears the "Printed on recycled paper" tag.