Straight Talk: It Is Easy Being Green
During a keynote presentation at the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) 87th Annual Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans in October, DMA President John Greco said, "Our industry's environmental stewardship should not be defined exclusively in terms of recycling."
Meta A. Brophy, associate director, publishing operations for Consumers Union, backs that statement up each day as she helps keep Consumers Union's direct marketing initiatives on the environmental forefront. Brophy, who is a member of the Magazine Publishers Association's Environmental Committee and the DMA Environmental Advisory Committee, took time to speak about environmentalism's place in direct mail, what Consumers Union is doing to make a difference and the importance of taking that first step.
TG: Within the direct mail industry's environmental practices, where do you see the greatest opportunities for improvement?
MB: I see opportunities everywhere. ... You can rethink existing packages and build environmental initiatives into new creative pieces. The opportunities lie in making the environmental impact of the mailings we produce a part of the creative development, production and manufacturing processes.
TG: What are some of the best practices you have seen coming out of the industry?
MB: The best practices generally follow the life cycle of the campaign and address issues at any and all appropriate points, from creative to lists to print to shipping. Best practices include identifying where changes can be made; trying to alter a component or eliminate a component; checking on the latest programs available for cleaning lists; choosing printers close to lettershops; making sure you know what paper your job is quoted on ... what mill it's from, whether it's certified or recycled, and so on. There's more opportunity to be smarter and more effective than you realize because there are so many aspects to a direct mail campaign.
TG: What steps has Consumers Union taken to improve its environmental practices?
MB: Within my divisionthe publishing division, which encompasses marketing, production, manufacturing and distributionwe are taking a comprehensive look at materials, at sizes, at logistics. We are splitting campaigns geographically and using East Coast and Midwest lettershops to cut down on trucking and, hence, fossil fuels. We are testing smaller trim sizes, especially on larger pieces. At the moment, bigger seems to be better in terms of response, but we are trying to trim that anyway.
We are testing different types of paper and different weights. ... For instance, we are devising a test in which we will try switching from a free sheet on our letters to possibly a groundwood or another paper made using mechanical pulping rather than the chemical pulping used to make free sheet. Because, really, our direct mail letter doesn't need a long shelf life, and if we can find similar specifications for brightness and opacity, and we think the test will fly, we are going to try it. Of course, the proof is always determined by the response. ... I did have a test where a lower-basis weight on a self-mailer had a lower response, so that didn't work. In that case, I retested with a shorter trim on a heavier stock, and that worked. So one way or another, I was able to save paper on that project.
We are trying to eliminate the polypatch in many of our envelopes with our new acquisition campaigns, and in that arena, we have not had an issue to date with inserting machines or commingling machines. And we just produced a snap pack on which we printed the DMA's RecyclePlease.org logo and the response has been great. So we will continue to look into how we might best use that logo.
We have tried to [test out of] labels because adhesives are not considered recyclable, but [they] are a great involvement device ... and in certain tests, we have not been able to test out of them because they are very effective. We are asking vendors now about what we have heard is a benign adhesive which is water soluble, and I will keep pursuing that. For the most part, what we have tried has worked. We have found it very easy to take steps and have an immediate positive result.
TG: For mailers interested in making a more positive environmental impact, where is a good place to start?
MB: Reducing consumption. Using less is best. I call it "nonconsumption." Eliminating a component, using less paper, tightening spoilage allowances. That and actually taking the first step is the most important thing you can do.