New Paper Recovery Data Shows Impact of Recession, Digital Media

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

The good news is that the paper business has continued to increase recovery rates for all types of paper, achieving a record 66.8-percent recovery for the nation [see the first image in the media player at right].

For printing and writing grades, recovery rates slipped from its 2009 recovery percentage peak of 61.0 percent, now registering a 56.8-percent recovery rate, but still ahead of the pre-recession recovery rate [see the second image in the media player at right].

In both the overall market for all grades combined, and the printing & writing grades market, the peak year for paper consumption (the bars on both of the preceding graphs) was pre-recession 2007, a high point we have yet to re-attain in both categories as our economy has returned to tepid growth.

However, by looking at just printing & writing grades consumption, the falloff from the 2007 peak, and the lack of recovery, is far more pronounced than in the paper market overall—fully a 23.7-percent drop from 2007 to 2011. This is certainly a sign that while the recession prompted a pullback, digital media has brought on a migration from print communications, and most certainly in postal mail. That data is supported by declining U.S. Postal Service First-Class Mail volume data, and near-minimal growth in Standard Mail.

Thus, the generally higher recovery rates are generated by higher recycling collection activity or perhaps a more expansive recovery infrastructure, but also by source reduction—there’s just less printing and writing papers being generated.

Certainly, the role of direct mail is changing in an increasingly mobile, digital age—and thankfully, we’re getting a good percentage of what we do consume recycled. We need to do better.

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4 Tips to Improve Environmental Performance of Email and Digital Communications

When discussing the sustainability of marketing, attention very much needs to be paid to digital communications. Many fall into a trap: We may believe we are being environmentally “good” when we use a digital message in place of a print message. Evidence increasingly tells us to think more deeply.

When discussing the sustainability of marketing, attention very much needs to be paid to digital communications. Many fall into a trap: We may believe we are being environmentally “good” when we use a digital message in place of a print message. Evidence increasingly tells us to think more deeply.

Banks, utilities, investment companies, retailers, credit card companies and others that all use “green messaging” to appeal to customers to go “digital” with their invoicing and statements most often commit a sin of “greenwashing”—because they are not measuring truly the environmental impact of such claims. (I’ve mentioned a superb, must-read report for marketing professionals on the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing” in previous blog posts: www.sinsofgreenwashing.org.)

However, digital and electronic data-driven technology users and suppliers are highly—even urgently—concerned about the amount of energy used to run IT infrastructures—from data centers, to servers, to PCs and laptops and the power grid that keeps them all humming 24/7. They are not alone. A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report says 1.5 percent of total energy consumption in America is attributable to data centers—and the figure is growing rapidly. Streaming video eats server capacity—and more and more U.S. households (and workplaces) are spending time online; watching television and movies off tablets and laptops; streaming audio and video; chatting and emailing with friends, families and social networks … and, in short, tapping energy sources that keep the dialogue moving.

This has a clear environmental and sustainability impact—requiring brands to assess their energy sources, the efficiency of the IT equipment, and, most certainly, any verbiage their organizations may have used previously to state the “green” credentials of digital over print.

While purchasing Green IT and Green Power are perhaps the most profound ways digital communication users can tackle being sustainable environmentally, there are other smaller but visible ways to lessen environmental footprints when dialoguing online with stakeholders. This is just a suggested list:

  1. Team up with a green partner. Have a tie-in with an environmental or conservation group. With a recent e-commerce purchase I made with one marketer, I was prompted to direct where I wanted a seedling to be planted in return for my transaction, with one of four regional forest areas (California, Michigan, Florida or Virginia) of the National Forest Service.
  2. Guard against greenwashing. Avoid “greenwashing” when environmental claims are made for everyday business activities or for products, behaviors or processes where one or two attributes may be “green,” but the overall activity may very well not be. There are two excellent resources to refer to prevent “greenwashing.” Going digital—again—is not “green” if a company fails to analyze the lifecycle of its power choices and data centers, for example. Canada-based TerraChoice, which works with both Canada and U.S. regulators to monitor environmental claims, has published The Seven Sins of Greenwashing: Environmental Claims in Consumer Markets. By reading and absorbing this report, communicators will likely not make a mistake in hyperbole over a green dialogue claim. Further, the Federal Trade Commission is scheduled to release its updated Green Guides for environmental claims at any point this year—with an expectation it will clarify creative interpretations behind many of today’s eco-marketing terms.
  3. Opt-out, opt-in, opt-down and more. Modify any online preference center for emailing and mobile messaging to customers from mere CAN-SPAM compliance to “best practice” heaven—where each customer is in (near) total control. Preference centers should be designed for our multichannel world, rather than simply an on/off switch for email. Opt out. Opt in. Opt down. Allow for frequency, subject matter, mail and phone switches, and—most certainly—third-party data sharing suppression if that applies. Retailers are excellent leaders in this area: Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, L.L. Bean each offer preference centers on their respective Web sites. Likewise, segmenting stakeholders and sending targeted emails to each segment helps to prevent non-responsive email. Why is this green? McAfee, the provider of security software, recently reported that each legitimate email (sending and receipt) generates approximately 4 grams of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas associated with climate change. FYI: One of my clients, Harte-Hanks, offers an excellent white paper on designing online preference centers.
  4. Open up the suggestion box. Web 3.0 and accountability go hand in hand. There’s no one path to environmental responsibility, so let customers, vendors and other stakeholders help. Brands should tell their sustainable story online—enable audiences to post suggestions and engage an internal team to evaluate all of them. Talk with suppliers—not just about green IT, but ways to procure power, print, paper, packaging, office supplies and other workplace necessities. Environmental pursuits—and their tie-in to business success—shouldn’t be kept a secret. By sharing objectives and outcomes with customers and vendors, there is higher chance of success—and transparency is achieved.

The lesson here: like print, digital communications have an environmental footprint. As marketers, if we seek sustainability for our enterprises, and if we wish to communicate such objectives to our many stakeholders with credibility, these impacts need to be assessed, measured and managed accordingly in the very communications process itself.

“Consider the environment before you print this electronic message.” Yes, consider it—thoroughly!

Making a Green Claim: (Not) Waiting for the FTC Green Guides

Direct marketers and mailers making environmental claims have a number of resources available to them to help make such statements meaningful to consumers. The most important of those to U.S. marketers are the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides—officially titled “Guide for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims”—which were enacted in 1992, and updated in 1996 and 1998. In 2007, the FTC initiated a new effort to update the Green Guides once again—and here we are in 2012 still waiting for this next edition.

Direct marketers and mailers making environmental claims have a number of resources available to them to help make such statements meaningful to consumers. The most important of those to U.S. marketers are the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides—officially titled “Guide for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims”—which were enacted in 1992, and updated in 1996 and 1998. In 2007, the FTC initiated a new effort to update the Green Guides once again—and here we are in 2012 still waiting for this next edition.

The Green Guides, as currently written, give insight into use of such specific claims as biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled content and ozone safe. While they are “guides,” they are enforceable. The FTC can and has brought forth cases where marketers’ claims did not measure up to the examples that pepper the Green Guides throughout.

In a recent Direct Marketing Association Compliance Series Webinar (February 14), DMA’s Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs, said there is no indication that the Green Guides‘ updates—promised some time ago—will be published shortly, or what might be holding them up. If there are differences of opinions among government scientists about certain claims or terminology, or if FTC staff have unresolved policy questions related to potentially new Green Guides content, the truth is we really just don’t know. However, the current iteration of the Green Guides certainly does give us good direction, which I’ll enumerate here.

First, as with any marketing claim—green or not—each claim must be “truthful,” “clear” and “substantiated.” Many of my colleagues know that “go green—go digital” claims many banks, utilities and financial service companies print on monthly statements are a pet peeve of mine. While I have no issue with persuading customers to switch to electronic statements, for those customers who want to, I do have a big problem with couching the digital migration as an environmental choice. Chances are the brand has made no effort to document the net environmental benefits of doing so. Just supposing that an e-statement “saves trees” is not substantiated, or, if there is an attempt to do so, it is largely based on spurious associations with deforestation, something that is not happening in North America. While I’m not a lawyer, I would be very wary about making such claims statements on a brand’s envelopes because of the FTC’s substantiation expectation.

Second, when making a marketing claim—on a mail piece, on packaging, on a product—it must be clear what the claim pertains to, as in the mail piece itself, the packaging itself or the product itself. For example, making a “recyclable” claim might be seen as deceptive if the packaging is recyclable, but the product it protects is not. Thus, be very clear with labels as to what the claim applies.

Next, we need to ensure claims are not overstated. For example, growing the amount of recycled content “by 50 percent” would be seen as deceptive if the content were to nudge from 2 percent to 3 percent. Similarly, making a “biodegradable” claim is highly suspect when an item destined to today’s air-tight and water-tight landfills largely stays there inert—it’s only biodegradable when it’s a piece of litter exposed to sunlight and the elements, hardly the intended end of life. Stating some item is “eco-safe” would be seen to be deceptive if there is no proof, or if it refers to one attribute of a product or item, as opposed to the product or item overall.

The term “recycled content” is important to consider because the FTC does not count material in the manufacturing process that is normally reused, and thus never first discarded as waste. Only if the material is recovered from the waste stream and reused may it be considered “recycled.” There are “pre-consumer,” “post-industrial” and “post-consumer” forms of recycled content, but in all cases, these types of labeled recycled content must be recovered from waste. Thus, it’s common to see recycled-content papers with labels such as “made with 100-percent recovered fiber, with 20-percent post-consumer content.”

Finally, though not part of the Green Guides, the FTC in a staff opinion gave the Direct Marketing Association and direct marketers the go-ahead to enable “recyclable” and “recycle please” messages on catalogs and direct mail pieces. That distinction in 2006 was important. Prior to the opinion, that type of label was not permissible, because even though mail or catalogs technically were recyclable, less than two-thirds of the nation’s households had local access to recycling collection programs for this material. Thus, it would be seen as deceptive if local facilities were non-existent. Even the qualified “recyclable where local facilities exist” would be seen as deceptive without having the two-thirds threshold in place first. Thankfully, we’ve met that threshold and now can implement consumer education programs such as DMA’s “Recycle Please” logo initiative (launched in 2007).

While we’ve seen a draft for public comment of the next Green Guides, the final draft is—as of this date—yet to come. Therefore, it’s probably not wise to guess as to what will be in the next version, or what will be left out. (To visit the October 2010 draft, go here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/energy/about_guides.shtml )

As a communicator, I also have at least one other “green claims” resource—an organization called TerraChoice, now part of Underwriters Laboratory, which actually consults (or has consulted) with the FTC and the Canadian Standards Association, as well as many Fortune 500 brands. Its Web site, www.sinsofgreenwashing.org, documents seven “sins” of environmental marketing claims, sins such as hidden tradeoffs and no proof. In its most recent 2010 report, only 5 percent of consumer product claims were found to be “sin free,” which truth-be-told was an improvement over 2009!

Between the current edition of the FTC Green Guides, TerraChoice, and the DMA’s own Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, direct marketers don’t have to wait around for the FTC to (finally) issue its next Green Guides rendition to make an honest, truthful environmental marketing claim. With Earth Day around the corner, just do some diligence to be sin-free and stop saying “Go Green, Go Digital”!

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Can ‘Sustainability’ be Profitable? Answer: It Has to Be.

As marketers, we have the chance to lead what Harvard Business Review calls the third great wave of global enterprise: sustainability.

In this blog, I will be posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing.

Why do I get to write about this? Because I want to, and the editorial team at Target Marketing has provided a central venue for blogging all things direct marketing! Plus I am motivated by opportunity: As marketers, we have the chance to lead what Harvard Business Review calls the third great wave of global enterprise: sustainability (following the previous waves of IT and quality).

Harvard Business Review, “The Big Idea: The Sustainable Economy” (October 2011)

Harvard Business Review, “The Sustainability Imperative” (May 2010)

While public policymakers dither over climate change, carbon management, green jobs and trying to pick winners and losers, the private sector—and non-profit sector, too—recognize a simple truth: future riches will flow to the innovators. Those inventors, startups, organizations and corporations that can deliver a “smarter planet” in efficiency, use of resources, and return on investment, taking into account the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

Now, let’s bring this home to marketing.

In our discipline of direct and interactive marketing, and more broadly integrated marketing, we are everyday focused on efficiency, resourcefulness and return on marketing investment. To do otherwise is to fail our employers, clients and customers, and investors—as well as ourselves as marketing professionals. The sooner our choices in marketing activity reflect this third wave of global enterprise, the more profitable we will become.

I welcome your thoughts, comments and conversation. Let’s make sustainability profitable.