Mailers moving toward environment best practices: WEC roundtable

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Many companies in the mailing industry are integrating sound environmental practices, but the industry, as a whole, needs to get greener, speakers at the World Environment Center roundtable on sustainability in the mailing industry said.

They also agreed the industry needs to do a better job of telling its story.

The conference, held Thursday in Washington, DC, and sponsored by WEC member Pitney Bowes, drew more than 60 leaders from the mailing industry, government and non-governmental organizations. The goal was to explore ways to promote and integrate sustainable development throughout the mailing industry, from supply to delivery to disposal.

Incorporating sound environmental practices in business plans and operations make both economic and stewardship sense, participants agreed. There is a convergence between what is good for the environment and what reduces costs, said Michael Critelli, executive chairman of Pitney Bowes.

Sustainability is generally defined as meeting today's needs without compromising the future, and is generally recognized to have three components, which boil down to: “people, planet, products.” The mailing industry has stepped up its green efforts in the past few years as the green movement has grown nationwide and as the industry has come under attack from proponents of do-not-mail legislation.

But, the mailing industry suffers from a perception problem, said Paul Robbertz., Pitney Bowes' vice president of environment, health and safety.

When consumers, in a 2007 survey by DMNews and Pitney Bowes, were asked how much of the country's municipal waste in landfills is composed of advertising mail, almost half said 50%, said Robbertz, noting the correct answer is just over 2%.

Robbertz also pointed out that a Pitney Bowes' whitepaper on mail and the environment concluded that mail is a small component of most consumers' carbon footprint. Running a single refrigerator for a year, for example, is roughly equivalent to the creation and delivery of 5,000 letters, he said.

The message isn't necessarily that mail is better for the environment than other things, he said, but the bottom line is companies need to act responsibly.

“If we act responsibly, consumers' perceptions will change,” Robbertz said.

John Greco, president and CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, outlined some of the efforts DMA has put into place to promote responsibility and greener practices among its 3,400 members.

Along with its Green 15 initiative, which outlines 15 baseline environmental practices for companies, DMA has its “Recycle please” campaign and recently unveiled a retooled consumer mail preference service, DMA Choice.

All of these practices are essential to build consumer trust and to bust the myths around environmental issues, Greco said.

“When you can turn to the facts, you can move people quickly,” he said.

Another major effort cited was the US Postal Service's release of its much-anticipated Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), the first-ever comprehensive inventory for the industry.

The robust report provides a baseline for the USPS to set goals and mark progress. While the report indicates that the mailing industry is not a major contributor to the nation's overall carbon dioxide emissions, Sam Pulcrano, USPS VP of sustainability, said, “We will work from the LCI baseline to continue to improve.”

Kate Muth is a freelancer for DMNews. With news tips and press releases please contact news@dmnews.com

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