Tuesday, October 13, 2009

“I’m Greener than Thou.”

After years of lip service we collectively seem to be getting the message: GREEN IS IN!

On a national level, the Obama administration says it is committed to reducing our carbon emissions 80% by 2050. The American Clean Energy and Security Act promises to generate 1.7 million new jobs in this country—replacing jobs that went offshore in the last 2 decades. The Recession Recovery Act is making home energy auditors one of the new “hot jobs” of the 2010s. Green is officially good.

On a more local level, the number of environmentally friendly office buildings is increasing. Having manicured plants in the lobby is no longer enough. Today’s eco-aware executive looks for low-growing native plantings on roofs to attract wildlife, light/heat-deflecting glass windows, water-saving toilets, energy efficient heating and cooling, and environmentally-friendly interior paint. Living green is golden.

Manufacturers are getting the message, too. Frito Lay is using compostable wrappers on its SunChips® line and lighting its Modesto CA plant with solar collectors. Even McDonalds is wrapping more sandwiches in paper and encasing fewer of them in Styrofoam. Marketing green is hot.

At the household level, many of us are switching to Energy Star appliances and curly energy-saving light bulbs as fast as our recession-shrunk budgets allow. We’re also recycling more.

Every little bit helps.

But what are WE—people in paper-based direct marketing—doing?

The answer is: Plenty!

For starters, we are using more recycled papers and paper from managed forests designed to meet our paper needs. The recycled and FSC logos on our mail let the world know we’ve got the message and are working to keep it green.

OK—we could make an even greater difference by using non-wood-based papers, but there is not enough product available yet to be economically viable. Stay tuned. That’s coming. On the drawing board is paper made from fast-growing grasses like rice and papyrus. Wait a minute! Isn’t that where we started with paper 4000 years ago? Hmmmm…

And yes, if you really want to make a statement, we can get you elephant-poo paper, giraffe-poo paper and rhinoceros-poo paper. It’s available today—at a price. It’s Econ 101: supply and demand. There simply aren’t enough elephants around to satisfy our paper needs. Could paper be the way to get these magnificent animals off the endangered species list?

But back to business.

Marketers are using less toxic inks. Ink will never be totally safe—I’d never want to gulp down a swig—but it’s getting better. Today, most inks are vegetable-based, replacing petroleum-based inks of just a few years ago. Newer equipment also needs less water to run and clean up. And we’re more aware of our disposal practices. There’s still room for improvement, but we’re doing vastly better than just a few years ago.

We’re also mailing smaller quantities to more highly-targeted lists, thus cutting down on waste. The data revolution is allowing us to cut the clutter. Advanced demographic and psychographic analysis allows us to segment exactly the right people for nearly every message. Some of us are getting so adept at this data analysis that we can print on demand, thus generating only as many pieces as there are people to receive it.

We’re encouraging recipients of our products to recycle. Sometimes all it needs is a gentle reminder to do the right thing. In 2000, about one-third of mail was recycled. By 2007 that number had climbed to over 40%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As mail is still responsible for 13% of discarded paper and paperboard, we still have our work cut out for us, but we’re making progress.

We’re reminding recipients that they need to do the right thing, too, by printing the Direct Marketing Association’s “Recycle Please” campaign logo on our direct mail. (Want to know more? Go to the-dma.org/environment.)

Even the post office is on board the green bandwagon. The USPS—in conjunction with the EPA—has set up recycling bins at more than 6000 post offices around the country. People can collect their mail and sort it over the recycle bin before they even head home. How easy can it get?

Don’t know where to find the post office recycle bins? Visit Earth911.com. Many of us are even putting reminders about Earth911.com on our mail to give recipients a little extra nudge in the right direction.

Speaking of the post office, for years, “junk mail” has been blamed for overflowing landfills and mailbox clutter. Just a few years ago, that rap was more justified. But today, through our collective efforts, the direct marketing industry is greener than ever before…and we want the public to know.

Through printed logos and virtual websites, we’re reminding our recipients that we use environmentally-friendly papers and inks, even as we gently encourage them to do their part and recycle our materials. The public seems to be responding.

Now our industry’s challenge is to lose the “junk mail” label. It’s a public perception war we’re waging today, but we’re miles ahead of the disposable diapers guys which the EPA estimates take up 30% of landfills.

You don’t hear any public ruckus to ban disposable diapers. And that just stinks.

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