At a time when most businesses are scrambling to become “green” or highlighting their environmentally friendly products and practices, it is surprising that an overwhelming number of direct marketers—historically easy targets for environmentalists—are barely paying attention.
That is the conclusion reached by a Forrester Research report released last month, “Direct Marketing Needs a Green Wake-up Call,” which found many direct marketers neglect green issues and rarely consider their impact on the environment.
The report is based on a study conducted online in January and February among 55 direct marketing professionals who are part of the research company's Marketing and Strategy research panel.
Less than a third (28%) of direct marketers surveyed said that the environment is a frequent factor in their department's decision-making, while 31% said they rarely or never consider it and 42% claim it is a consideration some of the time.
“I was surprised,” said Dave Frankland, the Forrester analyst who wrote the report. “I expected them to be more sensitive.”
“When we asked marketers why they implement certain programs, environmental consideration was seldom a driver,” Frankland said. “For most, the environment wasn't even an afterthought.”
Frankland found “some activity that appeared fairly green,” in his research. “But as we dug deeper, we found that most direct marketers only decrease their impact at the margins.”
About one-third of respondents use biodegradable envelopes, environmentally friendly inks and dyes, and recycled paper in at least some of their direct mail. But very few use those materials across the board. Less than 10%, for example, use biodegradable envelopes in more than half of their mailings.
In addition, 60% of marketers don't know about their usage of biodegradable envelopes; 62% don't know how much of their direct mail includes vegetable, water-based or other environmentally friendly inks and dyes; and 47% don't know how much of their direct mail is printed on recycled paper.
And while 47% of those polled reduced the size of their mailings during the past 12 months, 36% reduced the bulk of their mailings and 65% improved targeting, concern for the environment was rarely a motivation. Respondents cited cost savings and increased response rates as factors more frequently than environmental reasons, which came in dead last as a factor.
John A. Greco Jr., president-CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, disputed the Forrester report findings, indicating the sample size is not indicative of the industry.
“We value our environmental responsibility, and responses from a few should not be taken as an indictment against the entire direct marketing community, particularly when you consider that any dispassionate discussion about corporate social responsibility should always include a companion discussion about economic responsibility to those being directly affected—employees, businesses, communities, and of course, the environment,” Greco said.
He add that there has been significant, measurable progress on environmental issues in the direct marketing community.
For its part, the DMA does walk the talk. Its board formed a committee on the environment and social responsibility three years ago, and last year it came out with 115 different ways direct marketers can improve their environmental footprints. Following that, the DMA introduced its Environmental Resource Center for members in April 2007, and its Recycle Please and Green 15 programs were announced last May. (Green 15 addresses the 15 things marketers should do to improve their environmental footprints.)
The DMA said many b2b companies—including Diamond Envelopes, Quad/Graphics, Mohawk Fine Papers and Verso Paper—are implementing measures to become more environmentally conscious and responsible.
Pitney Bowes is another direct marketer in that camp.
Matt Broder, VP-external communications at Pitney Bowes, said the company is “certainly moving in that direction, and we've had a long-term commitment to reducing our environmental footprint.” Those initiatives include buying so-called “green power” and recycling.
“The opportunities for environmental improvement are so rich,” Broder said. “Pitney Bowes as a company has been very committed to reducing its environmental footprint. The postage meter itself is an environmental improvement because it eliminates trips to the post office which would involve carbon-emitting car and truck trips.”
The U.S. Postal Service has also implemented green programs for marketers, including a pilot program launched in March called Mail Back that allows customers to recycle small electronics and inkjet cartridges by mailing them free of charge using special envelopes found at 1,500 post offices across the country.
Broder said Pitney Bowes is also in the process of developing a service to help large mailers measure their own environmental impact and recommend steps to reduce the effects of mailing efforts.
Broder suggested there is certainly more to be done at his company and by other marketers.
“The results of the survey clearly indicate there's additional work to do to educate direct marketers about the importance of environmental conservation,” Broder said. “There has been a tectonic shift in the way the public views environmental issues, and as an industry we not only have to catch up with it but get ahead of it.”
That need to get ahead of the issue will become important at a time when 13 states are considering “do not mail” legislation to regulate direct mail.
Sixty percent of marketers in the survey said businesses should be responsible for reducing their environmental impact. Sixty percent also said they believe a “do not mail” registry would positively affect the environment, but only 24% favor legislation.
“They tell us they want to avoid legislation, yet few act the part of self-regulators, and most fail to even consider the environment,” Frankland said. M