The laser-like focus on environmental responsibility in today's marketplace is a call to action for the mailing industry. The mailstream's importance to the global economy, and as a vital channel of communication for billions of people and organizations throughout the world, ensures the industry's commitment to its sustainability. In order to maintain the critical services provided by the mailstream, direct mailers must address widespread consumer misperception of the industry's environmental impact and continuously expand stewardship practices that minimize the environmental footprint of mail.

Consumer Misperception

Consumer misperception of the true environmental impact of mail is confirmed by the 2007 Pitney Bowes/DM News survey, which asked 1,000 Americans age 18 or older (split equally between men and women) about direct mail and its environmental impact.


Forty-eight percent of the consumers surveyed incorrectly thought that advertising mail from US households constituted more than half of the country's municipal waste. Other respondents guessed the figure to be more than a third or 9 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the correct answer is 2 percent, chosen by only 2 percent of survey respondents.


The apparent lack of basic information on mail's true environmental impact was evident throughout the survey. When respondents were asked to rank a series of answers according to carbon dioxide emissions, the "energy to deliver 10 to 11 pieces of transactional mail a day over a year," was chosen third over every day human activities that emit far greater emissions, like running a clothes dryer 10 times a week for a year or taking an 8-minute shower daily for a year.


In actuality, use of a television/DVD player/cable box combo for a year emits the highest amount of CO21,608 poundsaccording to the National Geographic's Green Guide. Mail is one of the least offensive emitters of CO2, according to research conducted by Pitney Bowes.


Mailing Industry Environmental Practices

In order to change consumer perception of mail's carbon footprint, Pitney Bowes and other mailers must communicate mail's true environmental impact, and the best practices and collaborative efforts already underway to make the mailstream greener.


In January of this year, Pitney Bowes, IBM, Sony, Nokia and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development launched a patent sharing entity dubbed the "Eco-Patent Commons." Patents pledged to the Eco-Patent Commons will feature innovations focused on environmental matters and innovations in manufacturing or business processes where the solution provides an environmental benefit. Pitney Bowes pledged two patents and will sit on the Executive Board for a 2-year term.


The company is also a founding member of the Green Power Market Development Group, comprising 12 leading corporations and the World Resources Institute. The organization's goal is to develop corporate markets for 1,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2010.


In addition to such collaborative efforts, the industry is following the lead by the USPS on tighter address standards, a practice that 70 percent of respondents said could sway their opinion on mail's environmental impact. Another 68 percent of respondents considered the use of recycled paper and cardboard products as a key factor in reducing mail's impact, a practice that has become the norm for most organizations. In fact, Pitney Bowes was inducted into the Environmental Protection Agency's WasteWise Recycling Hall of Fame in 2007 for its recycling efforts over the past nine years.


Although many environmentally friendly efforts are already occurring within the industry, most have not been given proper public visibility. Once the existing practices and new environmental initiatives are communicated effectively to outside audiences, the public will make more educated choices about the type and amount of mail they choose to receive, for reasons that suit their personal lifestyle.


Consumer Choice

Consumer choice is important to the sustainability of the mailing industry. The Direct Marketing Association's US Mail Preference Service allows consumers to choose the amount and type of mail they want to receive. Forty-three percent of respondents to the Pitney Bowes/DM News survey described using the service as a positive experience, but sixty-six percent of respondents said they had never heard of it. The Mail Preference Service is a part of DMAChoice, which is a suite of communication preference services offered by the DMA.


Other environmental initiatives offered by the DMA include the "Green 15" and "RecyclePlease" campaign. The "Green 15" requires member organizations to examine five areas within the life cycle of mail: paper procurement and use; address cleansing and data management; mail design and production; packaging, and the disposal of mail, and deliver 15 baseline business practices with increased environmental benefits by June 2008. The "RecyclePlease" campaign asks DMA members to display the recycling logo on catalogs and direct mail pieces to encourage consumers to recycle them.


The mailing industry's continued collaboration with the DMA on these environmental initiatives and others will greatly influence the future of the industry. Pitney Bowes and other direct mailers are prepared to lead this transformation, with an open dialogue of communication with consumers.


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