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Going Green With Direct Mail

Learn how to be environmentally conscious with your direct mail marketing.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With growing awareness of environmental issues, and so much interest in businesses "going green" these days, the mailing industry has responded with a number of interesting alternatives and guidelines that cover every aspect of your mailing activities. Here are a number of ideas you might want to incorporate to keep your in line with your goals of reducing your environmental impact.

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Paper: The obvious place to start is to use recycled paper, but that's just the first step. Beyond that, you might look into new kinds of papers that are now available, such as those made with wood alternatives (i.e., sugar cane).

With regard to recycled paper, you want to find out which options have the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content. And find out if the paper is certified by independent, third-party organizations such as the Sustainable Forest Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council. These certifications can help you be sure that the materials to create the paper were obtained using forestry practices that are designed to reduce environmental impact.

Also, you might look into biodegradable options for envelopes and paper to see if they'll work for your needs. And if possible, use windowless envelopes so that they will be more easily recycled. Finally, for a fun element, there are plantable seed papers now. After reading your sales piece, the recipient can plant it and eventually watch wildflowers spring up! Wouldn't that be a great option for a "Spring"-themed campaign?

Ink: Using the right paper is a great beginning, but if you use toxic ink or ink that is difficult to strip from paper, you may interfere with the recyclability of your sales material. Printers are solving this issue now by using inks that are water-based, soy-based or otherwise agri-based. These are less polluting to the and can be more easily stripped away during .

Adhesives: And don't forget the adhesive on your envelope and the address label. These "stickies" adhere to paper (that's what they're made to do!) and can be difficult to strip away during recycling. There are no green adhesive alternatives, but with a little planning you can cut down on the use of adhesives by creating self-mailers that don't need an envelope (if that is appropriate for your specific sales pieces), using response cards instead of forms that need to be placed in an envelope, and eliminating address labels by printing names and addresses directly on the sales piece. If you're a bulk mailer, you can print your postage indicia on each piece instead of using a bulk mail stamp that has an adhesive backing. (Of course, this may not be possible if you're counting on the stamp to help increase your open rate, which live stamps have been shown to do.)

Engage your printer and paper supplier in your quest for a more environmentally friendly direct mail campaign by asking them these four questions:

  1. What paper stock has the greatest amount of recycled and post-consumer content that will still fill my needs in terms of look and quality?
  2. Can I redesign my mailing so that I can use paper stock with a greater percentage of recycled and post-consumer content?
  3. What is the lightest weight of paper stock I can use that will suit the needs of my mailing?
  4. How can I best fulfill my green goals while staying on budget?

You don't want to compromise on the quality of your sales pieces. After all, you still want them to sell—that's their main purpose! But there are so many nice options available today that you can still produce an attractive campaign with an environmental conscience.


In addition to choosing more environmentally friendly materials, you can also follow certain procedures to make sure you're doing all you can to prevent waste. Here are some ideas recommended by the USPS:

  • Regularly update and improve your mailing lists to limit duplication and waste.
  • Use research to effectively target your customers. Folks who live in apartment buildings, for example, probably don't need lawn services.
  • Allow customers to opt out of your mailings to ensure you're not sending them unwanted mail.
  • Print on both sides of the paper to save resources and reduce mailing costs. As Dan says, paper is expensive and ink is cheep!

Do a Self-Assessment

If you want to create the most environmentally friendly campaigns possible, the Direct Marketing Association wants to help you do it. They've put together an interactive, online Environmental Planning Tool and Optional Policy & Vision Statement Generator. It's a mouthful to say, but it's a very easy-to-use online questionnaire that was developed by the DMA's Committee on Environment and Social Responsibility (CESR) with the intention of being used by businesses like yours to:

  1. Assist in conducting an internal evaluation of environmental practices that affect aspects of your marketing process.

  2. Help you attain Direct Marketing Association "Green 15" environmental performance compliance (if that's what you want – it certainly isn't necessary).
  3. Generate an environmental vision statement or policy for your organization to consider and adopt.

Awareness of environmental issues is growing, and it has created a market for environmentally friendly products and methods as more people are willing to take that extra step, and pay those extra pennies, to protect our precious resources. As more businesses do this, the market will become more competitive and the costs of running a green business will go down. It's already happening, so check out the resources listed in this article and you will find ample ways to keep your business green and growing.

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