Everything is turning green, not from envy but for the environment—and, make no mistake, for business. The environmental movement has gathered steam in recent years not just because of genuine concern for what’s growing or deteriorating on and around the earth—global warming, water and air pollution, peak oil—but also because savvy businesses have very recently created a “win-win” scenario, helping the environment and their businesses with new policies, manufacturing processes and materials, to name a few.
The direct mail industry has similarly warmed to the big idea and has begun the big conversion. The Direct Marketing Association leads the way, encouraging its members to clean their lists, reduce carbon output with their design and printing, encourage recycling and reduce pollution among themselves and their customers, and step up their usage of alternative, environmental materials when producing the millions of direct mail pieces.
After all, in direct mail, it begins and ends with the mail piece. “There is always something you can do—in the piece, in that package, in that campaign—to lessen the impact and consume fewer resources,” asserts Meta Brophy, director of publishing operations at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports in Yonkers, N.Y.
Here are three ways to begin the green mail piece transformation.
#1 Join the Resolution
In such a burgeoning movement, it’s easy for direct mailers to get confused. Fortunately, the DMA helps wipe away that confusion, and indecision, with two significant resource materials. First is “The DMA Environmental Resource for Direct Marketers,” updated in 2004 and available for download from its Web site (www.the-dma.org/environmentguide/ ). “If you want to educate yourself on what’s happening and what’s being discussed and what the issues are, the appendix in that book will give you endless armchair resources,” says Brophy, who was part of an action committee that helped produce the book.
The second resource is the DMA’s Environmental Planning Tool, available on its Web site only recently (www.the-dma.org/envgen/ ). In May 2007, the DMA’s board of directors passed an environmental resolution to put members on the path of continuous environmental improvement in five key areas—list hygiene and data management; mail design and production; paper procurement and use; packaging; and recycling and pollution reduction—and all of which relate to the mail package.
#2 Play Paper Politics
Buying paper with a high postconsumer recycled content helps reduce global warming pollution, saves forests, conserves water, reduces emission of toxic air pollutants, supports municipal recycling collection programs and diverts usable materials from incinerators and landfills. “When buying paper, first maximize postconsumer recycled content, then ensure that any remaining virgin wood fiber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as sustainably harvested,” urges Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco. While several forest certification programs now exist, the FSC is the only one the NRDC considers credible.
While some parts of the mail package require virgin offset sheets for high-end printing, many elements—such as lift notes, flyers, brochures and even letters—can be moved to a so-called high-yield “groundwood” sheet, which doesn’t have a long shelf life but consumes far fewer resources to manufacture than offset paper, according to Brophy.
Will such purchasing changes drive up the end cost? Not necessarily. “Generally speaking, I’ve found that using less, costs less,” she says. For example, by using lighter basis weights, such as moving from a 60 lb paper to a 45 lb paper, you’re lessening the cost and weight. “You will use less, and it will not weigh as much when trucking it to postal facilities,” recounts Brophy, who says using fewer pages and reducing the trim size for certain mailings, like magalogs, also can help.
#3 Every Element Counts, So Start the Green Conversation
Of course, the mail piece isn’t only composed of paper. Inks, polybags and adhesives also are included, and today more environment-friendly alternatives exist. Nonpetroleum inks, such as soy ink, are much more commonly used and don’t emit the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute so heavily to air pollution. Biodegradable polybags also are available. Meanwhile, more “benign” adhesives that are less toxic and don’t gum up inking facilities are coming on the market.
Often, multiple vendors are called on for a direct mail campaign, and some are further ahead in the environmental game than others. Brophy urges that you start the conversation with your vendors about what solutions and options exist. “As long as it’s not greenwashing, what are the better alternatives and what are the costs?”
First, however, begin the conversation in-house and view every campaign as a new opportunity to take one more step in the green direction. “My marketing colleagues are more interested in being more environmentally responsible if it helps the product. That’s a win-win,” she concludes.