Even though the document industry does much to reduce its impact on the environment, lots of people look upon what we produce as an environmental problem. We recycle paper more than any other material, but, as the EPA notes, paper production has an impact.

Companies of all kinds have developed environmental sustainability goals, and your print and mail service customers may ask you to help them reach their objectives. You have probably taken strides to shrink your ecological footprint already. But you should be prepared with ideas should it become necessary to once again green up your products and your operation.

Consider these beneficial practices if you are looking to reduce your environmental footprint while simultaneously boosting your financial returns when generating large volumes of mail. Many of these measures may be "invisible" to your customers. Be sure to inform them of the steps you take to ensure the work you do for them is as environmentally friendly as possible.

Verify Current Addresses

To avoid unnecessary waste and assure prompt delivery, it's crucial to use the most recent addresses. Before printing anything, run your mailing lists through the National Change of Address database. This will ensure the USPS delivers key customer communications or time-sensitive bills and they don't wind up in the Undeliverable-As-Addressed category. By maintaining correct addresses from the get-go, you are reducing wasted resources and saving valuable time.

Eliminate Duplicates

Though it may seem straightforward, identifying duplicates may differ based on the specifics of each mailing. However, getting rid of unmistakable duplicates is a definite step towards more efficient and waste-free operations. By ensuring that you send only a single communication piece to a household (when appropriate), you're helping lower the volume of paper waste.

Avoid Vacant Addresses

The USPS maintains data as part of the Delivery Point Validation product, which can help flag addresses that have been vacant for at least 90 days. Don’t even send "Or Current Occupant" mail to these addresses–they're empty! Efficiently using this resource can aid in preventing waste and end the futile effort of sending mail to vacant spaces.

Adopt Standardized Address Formats

To further optimize delivery success, make use of USPS-approved software or service providers that help correct and standardize address formats. These tools offer useful status codes related to address deficiencies. Understanding what each code signifies can help you make more informed mailing decisions. This practice halts unnecessary printing for addresses with meager delivery chances.

Accurate Customer Information

Capitalize on every interaction with your customers by verifying your records are up to date. This includes correct spelling, appropriate gender identifications, and proper capitalization. Any glaring errors can jeopardize personalization efforts, diminishing your company's credibility and potentially deterring customers. When your mail is accurately delivered but ignored by the recipient because of inaccurate presentation, it's still a waste.

Update Your Data Regularly

Maintaining accurate and current records is fundamental to efficient operations. Weigh the merits of each customer relationship. It might be beneficial to remove certain customers from your mailing list if the effort to engage with them outweighs the potential profit. Additionally, think about reducing the frequency of promotional mailings to non-responsive prospects or inactive accounts, which could save resources and expenses.

Embrace TransPromo

Personalized promotional content you include in existing First Class business documents like bills or statements is less costly and more environmentally friendly than distributing this material separately via Standard Mail. Plus, customers will open it more often.

Before initiating a broad area promotional campaign, sift through your customer list. Integrate promotional contents with your customers' statements either as enclosed items, supplementary pages, or onserts. Send the planned Standard Mail campaign to only the remaining non-customer contacts on your list.

As a consultant, I helped a utility company transform a huge annual regulatory compliance mailing they did for years. The rules said they must deliver a certain regulated document to each of their customers once per year. Instead of mailing the document to the entire customer list, we analyzed the accounts and identified those that had received the same document at least once over the last twelve months, as part of a customer-initiated transaction. We removed those customers from the list and reduced the mailing volume by one-third, saving paper, printing, and postage.

Small Adjustments, Big Impact

Steps you take towards an eco-friendly print and mail operation don't require a colossal budget or an extensive overhaul of current procedures. Simply introducing minor changes in your document workflow can yield cost-friendly benefits.

It's a common misconception that transitioning to a more environmentally considerate operation is a responsibility that falls solely on the shoulders of executives or PR teams. On the contrary, you can apply actionable strategies at an operational level and contribute to the sustainability of the print/mail industry, your company's public image, and the environment–all while enhancing your financial results.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content that helps attract and retain customers for companies in the document industry and assists companies as they integrate new technology. Learn more about his services at www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.