Thursday, March 5, 2009

How Do We Fare on the Environmental Report Card?

Is “going green” important? You betcha! After all, we only have one world and we need to protect it. All of it.

For the record, I come down firmly in the green camp. My hybrid Prius gets 50+ mph; at home, our lights at home are all low-energy fluorescent and LCD (which, by the way, cut 30% off our electric bill immediately); we had the first recycle bin on the block; and our yard is certified by National Wildlife. Eighteen months ago we installed a new Energy Star furnace and air conditioner.

Just yesterday we got our electric bill. Last month we started unplugging appliances when not in use to see if we could cut down on our electric bill and help our carbon footprint. The answer: we saved another 5% by unplugging the "vampire power" suckers. We're so far ahead of the neighbors, we're talking about selling carbon footprint offset vouchers to them.

At the office, things are a bit dicier.

Last year I convinced the building association to stop using dangerous chemicals to melt ice and snow. I’m still trying to get them to consider a green, living roof which will help clean the air, control water runoff, and reduce the building’s carbon footprint. After all, the roof has to be replaced in 5 years; I think we need to start thinking about options. The lifespan of a “regular” flat commercial roof is 10-15 years; the lifespan of a green roof can be 50. So it would make both economic and environmental sense, I proffer futilely, to the sound of no hands clapping.

Where I have more control, we’re doing a bit better. We do all the obvious environmentally sound practices. We use FSC and recycled papers as much as possible. We have a company-wide auto CAFÉ of over 35mph. We recycle what we can and we don’t dump chemicals into the water. We have set-back thermostats, so we moderate climate control during off-peak hours, and all our equipment is as energy efficient as current technology allows.

But Paul & Partners is still in Direct Marketing, which “harvests”100 million trees each year to produce the paper for 100 billion pieces of mail. Yes, DM leaves a huge footprint on our environment.
The USPS, God Bless ‘em, keeps coming up with truly brilliant methods to help the DM industry go greener.

Remember the 90% postage hike last summer that left magazine mailers gasping? In its wake, dozens of magazines folded. Viola! Just like that, the USPS helped save thousands of endangered trees, and made the planet a bit greener.

The catalog corollary is that a number of successful catalogs including those for Timberland, Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus are being phased out completely. They’re going online. Fewer catalogs in the mail mean a greener mail stream.

A secondary benefit of fewer pieces in the mail is felt by my mail carrier, Chris. He’s getting better mileage out of his USPS truck because it’s not weighted down with enormous catalogs printed on hefty 80# gloss stock. As a result, he’s making his rounds faster. So he’s saving gas and getting home earlier in the day. His dog appreciates the extra time with Dad, too.

And that’s just the benefit from just one USPS effort to help us clean up our act! There’s more!

Remember the mandatory NCOA rule that went into effect last November? Suddenly DMers are having their service bureaus--companies similar to Paul & Partners--cleaning their lists religiously, purging bad addresses, eliminating dead wood, reducing the number of pieces going into print and mail.

OK, we should have been doing list hygiene all along, but the USPS-inspired Tough Love has cut the “junk” out of “junk mail.” And that is good.

The USPS is doing its bit internally, too. They are testing a small fleet of hydrogen vehicles. So far the fleet is limited to LA and DC because of the lack of hydrogen sources, but it’s a start.
The USPS is trying to close underutilized facilities to save on utilities, rents, maintenance, and yes, payroll. It’s basic economics, and makes good green sense.

By utilizing automation as much as possible, the USPS is processing mail faster, with fewer humans in the loop. Humans, unlike machinery, demand health care, vacations, breaks, and can only work 8 to 12 hours a day. Machinery is a lot more efficient, and can work 24 hours a day without complaining. That efficiency enhances greenness.

The economy is lending a hand, too. As banks fail and merge, mail dries up. As non-profits sputter to a standstill because they can’t get donations, the mail stops. As retailers and car dealers hang on by their fingernails because no one is shopping, the mail slows. As more people become unemployed and can’t afford to eat out, shop, or replace their old clunkers (if they could find someone to lend them money anyway), they drive fewer miles.

Just before Christmas oil dropped to $39 a barrel for a short time. Did it spur a buying frenzy? Nope. We are just not driving as much as we did. Maybe we can’t afford to do so. Maybe we choose not to do so. But we are indeed changing our ways.

We may be going greener just because we HAVE to. Not because we WANT to.

But whatever the reason, going green is a good thing. Now if we can only remember to sustain the effort once the economy turns around.

Ask the trees and polar bears if going green really matters.

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