I stopped covering green topics not because they were unimportant, but because the recession forced almost all businesses to reset their priorities. For many of them, environmental initiatives had to be shelved in favor of other business process improvements.

Financial issues still exist today. But most of us would agree that the economic climate is better than it was a year ago. More stability in the economy may be making it easier to dust off some of those plans to be greener and start putting the environmental strategies back in place. I may be a bit early in suggesting a renewed focus on environmental awareness. But if you're in the business of producing paper documents today, getting out in front has its advantages.

Internal and external mail customers have an interest in moving volume away from physical mail and into electronic channels. Some of the justification for that migration will be the perceived environmental benefits. If you've already taken steps to reduce the environmental footprint of physical documents you'll have an opportunity to show decision-makers that mail can be effective, cost-efficient, and green - all at the same time!

New Developments
Things have changed since I last suggested some strategies to green up your document operation. It is now easier and less expensive than ever to implement some of those strategies. Here are a few items worth noting:

TRANSPROMO - All the major document composition products make it easy to support transpromo, thereby lowering reliance on pre-printed inserts. What started out as an IT-centric function to add promotional messages to transactional documents is today more likely to be found as a module to be safely controlled by marketing. This makes implementation and maintenance easier, and makes it more attractive for marketing departments to support transpromo initiatives.

USPS SECOND OUNCE FREE - The cost to mail a two-ounce letter is about 11 cents less than it was a year ago. Strategies like householding, comingling, and decreased frequency can improve productivity and lower the number of outbound envelopes produced. The lower postage rates may make these strategies more attractive.

INKJET PRINTING - Full color inkjet devices are available to support print volumes all across the board. The quality is acceptable for transactional documents, correspondence, and direct mail. Replacing a warehouse full of pre-printed forms with rolls of plain paper removes the environmental impact of forms packaging and disposal of obsolete materials. Printing full color promotional offers on the documents reduces the use of pre-printed statement stuffers. Imaging the form backgrounds and logos on plain paper also enables co-mingling documents before printing, which allows you to achieve denser presort levels and improve the productivity of your printing and inserting operations.

AUTOMATED DOCUMENT FACTORY (ADF) - Many vendors now offer ADF capabilities in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, enabling more organizations to take advantage of quality controls that reduce re-runs, raise productivity, and improve quality without a huge capital investment.

DOCUMENT RE-ENGINEERING - The ability to change the appearance of documents without requiring the assistance of IT can make it easier to standardize address block locations, allowing companies to reduce the number of outbound envelopes they must keep in stock. A common outbound envelope is essential for comingling documents prior to printing. Document re-engineering can also be used to reduce page counts, eliminate blank pages, or improve inserting control or piece-tracking marks. Many software choices now exist to handle document re-engineering, including some at the lower end of the price scale.

Thinking Ahead
This might be a good time for document print and mail center managers to find ways to contribute to their organization's environmental goals. Paper documents continue to be the most consistent customer touch point. Coupling reductions in environmental impact with an awareness campaign can improve a company's relationship with their customers.

Most of the process and design improvements that reduce the environmental footprint of business documents are fairly simple to implement. Often, cost savings can quickly offset investments in assessment activities and new hardware, software, or materials. This might be the time to start planning again for environmental improvements in your document workflow.


--Get aggressive about eliminating redundant or irrelevant text to lower page counts.

--Switch formats and eliminate envelopes by switching from full-size documents to post cards or self-mailers.

--Make summary statements the default. Only mail details to those who request them.

--Talk to paper suppliers about options, such as mechanical papers that are opaque enough for duplex printing, but lower in weight.

--Eliminate return envelopes by switching to reusable, 2-way envelopes.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a consulting firm that helps companies respond to changing trends and operational challenges, including analyzing the green potential of document processing centers. He welcomes your comments. Visit www.printmailconsultants.com to sign up for Practical Stuff, his free monthly newsletter covering document operations. You can email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.