Editor's Note: Part I of this article, "How mailers can protect the environment and their industry appeared" in the November-December issue of Mailing Systems Technology magazine.


Everything we do - including the production and distribution of mail - has an impact on our environment. And that is of growing concern for consumers.

A 2007 DM News/Pitney Bowes survey on direct mail and the environment, however, suggests that consumers greatly overestimate the environmental impact of mail. The survey shows consumers value mail but feel that mailers have a responsibility to prudently and proactively create more eco-friendly mail. Fortunately, when you explore the best practices in this space, you find that taking action is not only good for consumers and the environment - it can be good for your profits, too.

This second part of a two-part series provides mailers seven practical steps to becoming more environmentally responsible.

1. Eliminate Undeliverable Mail

As much as 30% of all mail sent today contains an address error, including missing information, outdated information, wrong ZIP Codes or invalid street data. Billions upon billions of letters are returned or simply discarded because they are Undeliverable as Addressed.

Undeliverable as Addressed mail costs the Postal Service $1.9 billion a year, but the cost to mailers and the environment could be even greater. In terms of the environment, the waste and resource consumption incurred in paper, production output, trucking and recycling or disposal of undeliverable mail is significant.

Simple steps to address this issue head on include:

  • Real-time Address Validation. Data entry accounts for approximately 40% of data quality problems. Today, you can integrate software that captures, corrects and verifies address data in real-time - effectively dealing with this issue before it becomes a problem.
  • Closed-loop Address Management Practices. Even with stronger data entry, customers move (17% annually) and some addresses change. Prior to mailing, you should be using a move update solution that interfaces directly with the USPS NCOALink data. Afterwards, you can capture additional updates on the back-end through Intelligent Mail and OneCode ACS. These updates, including the corrections made by CASS, Delivery Point Validation databases and other data cleansing tools, also need to work their way back to the original data sources or the cycle will continue.


2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In 2006, a record 53.4% of the paper consumed in the US was recovered for recycling. Consumers are doing their part on the home front, and they expect the same from the companies with which they do business.

Paying attention to paper stocks and questioning your suppliers is a logical first step. But you may find additional opportunities in mailpiece design as well. Some high-quality print jobs, for example, call for virgin sheets. But even in high-end packages, many of the components such as lift notes, envelopes, brochures and letters could be printed on recycled paper stocks. Other decisions, such as choosing lighter weight paper, can reduce the cost as well as the environmental impact of trucking and delivering mail. Overall, mailers may be wise to adopt the "Green 15" - a set of 15 baseline environmental practices suggested by the DMA.


3. Minimize Unwanted Mail

Even the most gung-ho mailer has to admit that consumers receive a large volume of unsolicited and unwanted marketing mail. In the past, the volume of mail sent has been in many ways dictated by economic realities. Unlike email - which costs little to transmit - mailers must pay for paper, production and postage. As such, prudent mailers would only send mail when the consumer interest exceeded the cost.

As data quality software improves, however, it has become possible for mailers to target far more effectively - increasing response, boosting profits and decreasing the amount of unwanted mail.


4. Consolidate Mailings

When a company sends out three separate mailings to the same individual in the same week, that impacts the environment: three times the trucking expense, three times the CO2 emissions, plus added paper as well.

Mailers can learn from the best practices applied by many banks and telecoms that practice "householding," combining multiple communications into a single envelope. Today's customer data quality and data integration solutions allow you to create a high-definition view of your customers. On the production floor, print stream engineering gives you the flexibility to modify and combine the print-ready files created by your existing applications - without disrupting your underlying operations or mission-critical systems.


5. Design More Efficient Operations

While the term "carbon footprint" is still relatively new in the United States, mailers across Europe have been taking active steps to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions associated with their mail operations. These programs involve looking at ways to reduce the amount of energy consumed by vehicles and buildings, as well as addressing the type and source of that energy. When it comes to mail, everything from the productivity of your equipment to the types of inks and varnishes used can make a difference.

Opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions can be found throughout the life cycle of mail, from raw material sourcing, paper manufacturing and mail list preparation to mailpiece design, print production, sorting, transportation and recycling.


6. Achieve More with Your Transaction Mail

Transaction mail - bills, statements and notifications - represent an untapped resource when it comes to environmental stewardship. Consider the facts: each month, more than 95% of transaction documents are opened and read, far more than any other type of direct response effort. The average customer reviews these documents for up to three minutes, which is more attention than any other form of communication including television advertisements. And while customers may be inundated with as many as 3,000 advertising messages a day, most consumers will receive less than 12 transaction mailings in a month - making each one even more valuable to those interested in building stronger customer relationships.


7 .Go Certifiably Green

The environmental impact of mail - while greatly overestimated - still leaves room for improvement, and this issue has become one of the hottest topics in production mail. Already, environmentally oriented organizations are advocating that consumers only do business with companies who are actively engaged in sound practices. Third-party assessments can help you benchmark your current operations and assist you in setting a plan of action. Promoting your eco-friendly practices to customers and prospects can be a smart way to build goodwill and customer loyalty.

To learn more about Pitney Bowes and the broad range of mailstream solutions we provide, please visit www.pb.com. To read the entire "Truth About Green" white paper, please visit www.pb.com/greenmail.