Less than a year ago major retailers like Target and Wal-Mart were emphasizing earth-friendly products in their advertisements. Businesses of all sorts were proudly touting what they would do to help save the environment. Some even made public commitments. But now, with credit being tight and revenue dropping, it seems inevitable that some of those lofty intentions will have to slip for a while.


Some green initiatives require expensive re-tooling, replacement of existing assets, or substantial re-engineering of processes. For projects like that, making a business case for spending the money may be difficult at a time when the overall strategy is to tighten the belt and survive. Some document production operations still have acquisitions and projects like that in their 2-year strategic plans. But a lot of capital investments in equipment that could operate in a more eco-friendly manner may end up getting cancelled or delayed.


However, there is a silver lining in this dark economic cloud when it comes to making environmental improvements in the document production process; there are lots of things that can be done that will cost very little or may even save money.


A Way to Keep Your Environmental Commitments

Some document operations improvements are possible today because of the technology that has been developed over the last few years. But others have been available to us for some time. They just weren't implemented in the past because there was no compelling reason. Well, now I think we have the reasons.


Companies who intended on making those planet-saving investments and are now faced with backing away from them can still make a substantial difference in the impact that their organization has upon the environment by analyzing their documents and the processes that produce them. Environmental Sustainability Officers may be surprised to find out that they can continue to make progress towards their corporate objectives at very reasonable costs; even during these difficult times.


High PR Value

As a bonus, changes to high-volume documents are frequently a very visible effort. Contrarily, informing customers about how a switch to less-toxic manufacturing chemicals helps the environment may be a complicated story to tell. Companies sometimes don't publicize those types of investments because the end results are on the order of doing less harm than before - hardly a compelling message. But a change in the mail that comes right to the customer's homes and businesses is a repetitive opportunity to remind them of the good that is being done. And if it also saves money, who wouldn't want to put the spotlight on such a move?


Document operations has been an attractive target for any group wanting to bring attention to issues such as the depletion of natural resources or the limited capacity of landfills. There are some major misconceptions among average Americans about the impact of unwanted mail upon the environment and those misunderstandings have influenced public opinion. But poorly-designed or poorly-targeted mail pieces that continue to be produced and distributed are unquestionably wasteful. Any positive change that your business can make will be favorably received.


Multiple Areas of Opportunity

In almost every document print and mail operation there are opportunities to make changes that will benefit the environment. Many of these initiatives will also have an effect of lowering costs. And they all have the potential to provide for some positive stories that are easy to tell and benefits that are obvious to customers, media, and shareholders.


Unfortunately, corporate-level programs and environmental certification organizations do not have the expertise in document production that is necessary to adequately recommend effective measures in print and mail operations. And the document operations managers themselves have a tremendous workload already while they simultaneously keep the operation running and address vitally important issues such as postal rate and regulation challenges.


This puts the operations managers in a tough spot. Either they must ignore some other aspect of their business to pay attention to the environmental issues or they try to ignore the green movement until they are forced to act as a result of internal or external pressure. Neither of the alternatives is a smart move.


The best opportunities for going green at a reasonable cost are different in every company and depend on a wide variety of factors that include production volumes, schedules, regulatory compliance, equipment and software, suppliers, and physical plant layout. Internal analysts are often constrained from considering all the factors, just by being part of the organization. They are frequently not experts in the document production workflow as it relates to sustainability.


The worldwide emphasis on the environment makes it easier to get improvement projects approved today. Pressure from the public and encouragement from governments puts everything in a new light. This is a remarkable chance to do the right things.


Find Your Starting Point

Just as with any other project, it is wise to determine where you are today before embarking on a program to green the print/mail operation. Because budget is always a consideration, managers must be able to identify those areas that have the most potential to improve the environmental effect and weigh the cost and effort of proposed changes against the ecological and public relations gains.


Most managers have a vague idea about where to start. However, a gut feeling is not sufficient to secure funding or convince corporate Sustainability Officers to support your plan. A targeted assessment that takes all the relative factors into account will be critical to avoid conforming to general corporate directives that are probably not the best approach for document operations.


For those that don't have a formal Environmental Policy at your company; it's even more urgent that you begin to take steps now, while you have time to develop and implement some relatively easy improvements - before corporate edicts force you into difficult decisions for the sake of compliance.


What to Do?

To address the gap that managers face between performing an environmental impact analysis and their available time and resources, Print/Mail Consultants has developed an affordable PMC Green Assessment program that was designed as a quick (yet comprehensive) tool to help Print and Mail Managers get started. The PMC Green Assessment is a very effective way to kick-off a company's Green Initiatives in the print and mail operations areas.


Through a combination of remote and on site data gathering, we collect information in areas that are strategically important to the environmental impact of your document operation. That data is recorded in a proprietary database that has been developed by Print/Mail Consultants. The system has been created for the singular purpose of analyzing a document operation's current environmental efforts and producing a report that can be used to direct further efforts to lower the environmental impact made by your documents and the processes that produce them.


Each strategic area is studied and scored. At the completion of the data analysis, you will receive a complete report that describes the strengths and weaknesses found in the current operation. Each area is rated using a weighted scoring system and an overall score is computed.


Along with the comprehensive report, each organization receives Powerpoint slides that can be used to present the findings and recommendations to management teams or stakeholder groups. Everything you need to get started is included.


The PMC Green Assessment has been purposely structured as an affordable step that virtually all document operations departments can take right now. To get started down the Green road, contact us today to schedule your PMC Green Assessment.


The environment won't wait for an economic recovery. This opportunity to do some good things for your business and the planet is happening right now. And getting started is easy.


Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more information on Green Assessments or other services, visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com