DMA has a new, greener marketing tool

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When I received recent issues of Fortune, I was quickly reminded that "green" is the color of spring. On March 19, in the "Most Admired Companies" in America issue, the magazine touted the green credentials of General Electric, Starbucks and Toyota - the top three companies - all of which are "building their growth on strategies and products aimed at helping preserve the planet." On the cover of the April 2 issue, Patagonia was declared "the coolest company on the planet."

That two of these four companies - Starbucks and Patagonia - are direct marketing mainstays and that GE and Toyota are heavy users of direct, data-driven marketing, I'd say the direct marketing business these days is keeping fine company, from an environmental point of view.

And why not? The Direct Marketing Association has been highly engaged over the past 18 years on the environment issue. First, with a board-level task force led by Robert Teufel of Rodale Press. Second, with the publication of the "DMA Environmental Resource for Direct Marketers," now in its third edition. Third, an environmental awards program, the Robert Rodale Environmental Achievement Awards, later administered by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which has had a who's who of honorees including Seventh Generation, National Wildlife Federation, the U.S. Postal Service, L.L. Bean and Williams-Sonoma. Most recently, the DMA board of directors named a standing committee on the environment and social responsibility, led by Jennifer Barrett of Acxiom Corp., which comprises a cross-section of the DMA membership and has focused on new ways to bring environmental performance to the direct marketer's bottom line.

The energy here is real. Direct marketers, first and foremost, care about efficiency in marketing. We measure for it, our vendors are evaluated for it and our customers increasingly expect it in the form of more relevant messaging. Avoiding waste, more often than not, is avoiding cost.

It may be debatable whether or not consumers from all backgrounds, and businesses of all industries, will choose to pay more for products and services based on the "green credentials" of the provider. But being perceived as environmentally sensitive plays well with brands and is proving to be a motivator for employees, according to the Fortune coverage.

One initiative of the DMA's Committee on the Environment and Social Responsibility is an interactive tool called the DMA Environmental Planner and Optional Policy and Vision Statement Generator. Direct marketers, DMA members and non-members alike can access the tool at www.the-dma.org/envgen.

In essence, the interactive tool enables direct marketing professionals to take command of environmental performance in their own operations and to execute internal planning. There are 115 practices listed in five areas: list hygiene and data management (17 practices); design and printing (17 practices); paper procurement and usage (45 practices); packaging (11 practices); and recycling and pollution reduction in our workplace and community (25 practices). By reviewing the list, checking off confidentially what practices a business undertakes or plans to undertake, saving the list electronically, printing it or sharing it inside a company or marketing team, the planner can be employed as an internal assessment and evaluation tool.

None of these practices, except for those privacy-related list practices required of DMA's consumer marketing members, are mandates. By using the planner, an organization can gauge its practices today and enable planning, testing and implementation for practices tomorrow. It can tackle these considerations en masse, in groups or perhaps one practice at a time.

For example, making a commitment to test and use sustainable forestry-certified paper may be applicable at first to only a small portion of a business' total paper buy. Maybe it makes sense to begin the dialogue with paper brokers, printers, manufacturers or other paper sources to see what's available and affordable in the grades necessary. The initial discussions may lead to an eventual purchase, which may lead to an eventual commitment. It may lead in another direction if, for the moment, supplies of such paper (which represent a small but growing share of the total paper marketplace) are found to be less than predictable, secure and stable.

Other practices may prove to be easier. Using lighter-weight papers uses less fiber and saves on postage, if an organization also finds that such papers do not depress response. As in all matters of direct marketing, we have the means and discipline to test such variables, and the planner encourages such testing and flexibility.

The planner does not ask businesses and organizations to abandon sound business decisions in their pursuit of a greener direct marketing process. It offers a path for a better environmental footprint and increased business efficiency by suggesting ways to achieve these mutual objectives.

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