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What does sustainability look like in direct mail?

Meredith Piemme Meredith Piemme Business Development Associate

As a large producer of direct mail (over 380 million pieces per year), we are keenly aware of our environmental impact. We do all we can to help our clients make informed decisions to be better stewards of our planet’s limited resources. There are quite a few actions we take and recommend that everyone also take to lessen our environmental impact, including:

In Pre-Production

  • Starting with simple best practices like list cleaning and deduping to ensure we are mailing only to valid address equals less mail entering the recycling bin (or worse, the trash)!
  • Take it a step further and cull low or non-performing names for additional environmental (and mail) savings.
  • Identify donor communication preferences, perhaps a significant segment exists who prefer to receive less or no mail communication.

During the Actual Production Process

Talk with your partners and suppliers about what they are doing from a manufacturing standpoint to reduce their carbon footprint. Here are just a few of the actions our vetted suppliers take:

  • Recycling, not only paper waste/scraps, but cardboard, leftover ink(s), and wooden pallets as well.
  • Chemistry-free pre-press operations.
  • Environmentally friendly buildings with LED lighting, lighting timers, high-efficiency HVAC systems, and low-flow plumbing fixtures.
  • Low-waste printing processes, like on-demand and variable data printing. These eliminate the need for large amounts of paper for setup and waste during a traditional offset print run.

When Considering Materials

  • Optimizing your forms and/or envelopes to obtain the best yield from your paper sheet and/or roll
  • Utilizing soy and veggie based inks

And of course, we’ve saved the biggest (and best) for last…PAPER!

  • Responsible paper sourcing may have the single largest environmental impact in any direct mail program.
  • It is important to investigate FSC and SFI certifications for your stocks. You can read more about the difference here.
  • Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) recycled content is a must if and when it’s practical.

Fun Fact: Moving one ton of paper from virgin fiber to a 30% PCW recycled sheet saves:

  • 5 trees
  • 503 lbs of waste
  • Enough energy to power over 20,000 60W light bulbs for one hour
  • Almost 5,000 gallons of water
  • Over 1,500 lbs of CO2

Fun Fact Part II: Moving that same single ton of paper from virgin fiber to a 100% PCW recycled sheet saves:

  • 17 trees
  • Over 1,500 lbs of waste
  • Enough energy to power over 68,000 60W light bulbs for one hour
  • Over 16,000 gallons of water
  • Over 5,500 lbs of CO2

There are different paper options that provide PCW content, brands such as Rolland Enviro, Neenah Papers, and New Leaf to name a few. Some of these are high-end stocks, well suited to High Dollar or Major Gifts packages, while others would be better suited to forms or up-front premiums such as calendars.

Talk with your partners to see what the cost implications would be to move some or all of your components to a sheet with a higher PCW percentage.

Long story short, even one small change, made by each and every mailer, can have a considerable impact over the long run.

Let us know what you think and please share any ideas or practices your team is using to help in your push for greater sustainability.

Until next time: Happy Earth Day!

About the Author

Meredith Piemme
Meredith Piemme Business Development Associate

Meredith has eight years of experience in nonprofit direct mail production (National Right to Work, Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Wildlife Federation). She also has fourteen years owning/running small commercial print shop with design and mail services. 20+ years of graphic design.