DMNews and Pitney Bowes recently released the results of a survey of 1000 Americans that shows that many people grossly overestimate the environmental impact of direct mailing (pdf).
According to the EPA, direct mail accounts for just 2% of all municipal waste in the US. However, 48% of respondents guessed that waste from direct mail makes up over 1/2 of the total municipal waste, and 36% of respondents thought that direct mail makes up over 1/3. Only 20 of the 1000 respondents chose correctly.
What does that mean?
Although direct mailers do not actually fill the landfills with their material, many people believe that they generate very large amounts of waste. This is likely because people “dispose of mail every day, whereas the other big items are probably disposed of less frequently,” says Michael Critelli, executive chairman of Pitney Bowes.
“When you take a shower or operate a washing machine, you can’t really put your hands on how much energy is being expended,” adds Paul Robbertz, VP of environmental health and safety at Pitney Bowes. “But, when you physically touch something and move it [into the trash], it has more of an impact.”
Luckily, the survey also showed that respondents have very positive reactions when direct mailers make efforts to be more environmentally-responsible. Survey respondents reported they would feel more favorably towards direct mailers if they: Used recycled paper and cardboard products. (68% of respondents) Planted trees to offset paper production (67% of respondents) received a “green mail” label awarded by the industry or the EPA (53% of respondents) Obviously, conservation of natural resources and reducing waste is high on customers' priority lists.
The survey also clearly shows that companies need to do a better job communicating their green initiatives to the people receiving their direct mailings. And, as Robbertz suggests, the best way to to reach people is to put proof of environmental commitment directly in their hands.
When someone receives a direct mailing, and they end up putting everything in the trash, they assume that the company is not environmentally-friendly. If, on the other hand, a customer receives a mailing that is obviously made of eco-friendly materials--and then doesn't have to throw everything away, they receive a very different message about the direct mailer.