Nov. 12 2008 09:15 AM

Editor's Note: The second part in this series will focus on seven practices that are good for the environment, good for the industry and good for your business. Look for it in the November e-newsletter. If you're not already receiving the e-newsletter, visit to sign up.


Since the first Earth Day in 1970, interest in the environment and green initiatives has greatly accelerated. During this same time, the volume of mail delivered in the United States has more than doubled. When you put the two together, it's easy to understand why 75% of Americans believe that unsolicited mail is a major environmental problem.


Mail does affect our ecosystem, and the recent confirmation that human activities impact global warming and climate change has increased this awareness within public, government and business circles. Environmentalists report, for example, that over 100 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water are used each year in producing the paper used for direct mail.


Researchers, however, have found a tremendous gap between consumer perception and market reality. The DM News/Pitney Bowes study captured data from 1,000 Americans through online surveys conducted in November, 2007. Findings show, for example, that consumers greatly overestimate how much of today's municipal waste is caused by mail. While half of adults thought that advertising mail counted for 53% of the country's municipal waste, the EPA reports that the actual figure is two percent.


Other key takeaways can be summarized in three points:

1. Consumers are concerned about the environment and believe conservation is important.


2. While consumers value mail, they significantly overestimate its environmental impact.


3. Customers would think more highly of direct mail if companies took a more eco-friendly approach.


With global warming and greenhouse gases in the news, concerns over CO2 emissions are also rising. And again, consumers have the same misperceptions on the environmental impact of mail - ranking mail as one of the top contributors while scientific data proves otherwise.


One of the factors contributing to this misguided view may be the physical nature of mail. Unlike other energy consumers, such as automobiles, computers and microwaves, mail is discarded on a daily basis. When you take a shower or operate a washing machine, you can't really put your hands on how much energy is being expended. But when you physically touch something, it has more of an impact.


Another factor may be the sheer size of the mail industry. With over 100 billion pieces of direct mail sent every year, mail supports $900 billion in economic activity and over nine million jobs. While there is no doubt that Americans receive a significant amount of unsolicited mail, consumers note that they do appreciate a wide range of mail they receive. They also report that mail makes a difference in their attitudes - and behaviors.


When Misperception Becomes Legislation

If consumers are misinformed about the environmental impact of mail but still value the role mail plays in their lives, should mailers be concerned? In a word, yes.


By early 2008, seven states had already slated do-not-mail legislative agendas, including Hawaii, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Some expect that number could reach 25 by year's end, continuing a recent trend of heightened focus on mail and the environment.

To date, none of these legislative proposals have passed, but the trend has certainly been noticed within the industry. Over the past year, for example, the Direct Marketing Association has launched a major campaign to encourage recycling while also educating mailers on steps they can take to be good corporate citizens. The DMA has also begun to incorporate environmental commitments into their membership requirements.


Clearly, however, the responsibility for educating the public and improving mail practices cannot be borne by industry associations. Each and every mailer needs to step up to the table to address both the misperceptions and the realities. Mail may not be the worst offender, but there are many ways companies can embed environmental stewardship into their day-to-day operations.


Fortunately, consumers are open to hearing more. According to the DM News/Pitney Bowes study, people consider a broad range of factors when making decisions, including the environment, convenience and cost. In most cases, they said their opinions of direct mail would improve if mailers took eco-friendly actions in the future.


Paul Robbertz is Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety for Pitney Bowes Inc. To learn more about Pitney Bowes and the broad range of mailstream solutions they provide, please visit