The Importance of Being … Enforced

When you’re a marketing organization and being watched is a matter of law, the risks of non-compliance can weigh very heavy when a firm runs afoul and is caught. Few businesses can well afford litigation, fines and bad publicity, plus potential years of consent agreements with all the documentation that may be required. Brand damage.

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When you are being watched, most of us pay a little (or a lot) closer attention to what we’re doing. It’s human nature to be mindful and act accordingly.

When you’re a marketing organization and being watched is a matter of law, the risks of non-compliance can weigh very heavy when a firm runs afoul and is caught. Few businesses can well afford litigation, fines and bad publicity, plus potential years of consent agreements with all the documentation that may be required. Brand damage.

Now let’s turn to self-regulation.

When you’re a marketing organization and being watched is matter of ethics, or of best practices, the risks of non-compliance may be either heavy or light — depending on the compliance question, its marketplace implications and how cooperative the organization is to conform to industry expectations.

Self-regulation, more accurately peer regulation, is usually more preferable than direct government regulation.

For one, in data-driven marketing, innovation is a constant. Disruption is ever-present. Technology keeps changing. How can government regulation even keep up? It rarely does. That’s where self-regulation provides American business a great advantage: rules of the road get set by principle, and the market adapts to those principles.

Then, there’s enforcement of those principles. For example, I work for the Digital Advertising Alliance — a self-regulatory program based on principles for interest-based advertising and multi-site data collection for the desktop world that have been adapted for mobile and cross-device environments. I’m also a member of DMA [Direct Marketing Association], which serves as one accountability partner of DAA (the other being the Council of Better Business Bureaus Advertising Self-Regulatory Commission). These two organizations enforce DAA Principles, each in their own way. However, they are independent from DAA: Those of us who work at DAA are not privy to DMA and ASRC self-regulatory enforcement investigations, until those proceedings are made public.

Earlier this month, the DMA announced its Annual Ethics Compliance Report, which documents how businesses comply with all of DMA’s Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice. [My comments here regard the contents of the overall report, rather than those specific to DAA and interest-based advertising.]

By reading a summation of the 11,300 consumer inquiries from January 2015 to January 2016, one sees an accurate snapshot of what’s on consumers’ minds regarding our business, and how we can better address those concerns to their satisfaction. DMA reported that last year, 90 percent of cases were resolved within 30 days. Thirty-seven emerged as matters referred to the DMA Committee on Ethical Business Practice (also known as Ethics Operating Committee) for further action. Continued non-compliance, or lack of response or cooperation, can lead to a referral to a government agency, if a legal matter may be in question, or if a company may not be following its own disclosures. DMA referred at least four cases to government entities.

Self-regulation without meaningful enforcement may or may not spur ethical or best practices. But add “enforcement with teeth” to self-regulatory codes and educate industry at every turn, and lo and behold, the right result happens. The outcomes serve to protect consumers, and to protect businesses, too — all without government regulation which can prove too restrictive or quickly obsolete.

Trickery Is Not a Marketing Strategy

Despite what some people may think, I was not born yesterday. But lately I feel like I’ve been duped by intentionally deceptive marketing practices everywhere I turn. When legitimate companies deliberately use misleading marketing tactics to try and entice you to respond, I wonder who, exactly, thought this was a good idea?

Despite what some people may think, I was not born yesterday. But lately I feel like I’ve been duped by intentionally deceptive marketing practices everywhere I turn.

I’m far from being a novice when reading emails (so sorry if you really were mugged while travelling in Nigeria), answering the phone (no, I don’t want to invest in the new drug that cures cancer), or opening my door to strangers (based on the way you’re dressed, I sincerely doubt you’re collecting for the San Francisco Opera).

But when legitimate companies deliberately use misleading marketing tactics to try and entice you to respond, I wonder who, exactly, thought this was a good idea?

Let’s start with …

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
If you’ve read anything at all about how the Web works, you already know that for your target audience to find your web site, it needs to be optimized for Google.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a hotly debated topic because Google changes its algorithm regularly and it’s a closely guarded secret. But since Google’s priority is to serve their users and their expertise is to assign relevancy to web pages, it makes perfect sense that the brain collective at Google will eventually figure out that you may be trying to “game” the system when you place words on your site (or in your meta tags) that really have nothing to do with your products or services.

If you’ve optimized your site for Google’s Web crawlers (by including words that are truly relevant to your business), then the logical next step might be an SEM effort—because if you can’t get to the top of organic search results, then why not pay to ensure top billing?

The problem is that many brands are so desperate to wave their arms in front of a Google searcher and “throw their hat in the ring” that they’re choosing SEM words based on potential volume of searchers who will be exposed to their brand message. As a result, they are investing in order to be seen, paying to get clicks, but ultimately losing because they’re getting lots of bounces when searcher discovers the company can’t deliver the information/product/service they’re seeking.

For many business-to-business companies, the problem is not so much trickery, but a lack of alignment between a set of paid search terms and the landing page to which each SEM result is linked. I covered this problem in my recent webinar on website personalization, so you can learn more by listening on demand.

Misrepresentation in Email
Our agency has a GSA contract—meaning we have been approved by the Federal Government to bid on RFPs for government work. Recently, we were required to update our contact information in the SAM (System for Award Management) database. Upon completion, (or so we thought) I received an email from an individual who appeared to work for the federal government. They noted that our update was not complete, but instead advised that we needed to fill out an attached form.

The PDF, labeled “US Federal SAM Worksheet New,” certainly looked official enough, and it came from someone who called themselves a “Case Manager” at US Federal Contractor Registration.

But it wasn’t until we had completed and returned the form, and had several additional email exchanges, that we finally figures out that we were not corresponding with an official of the US Government, but instead with an outside consulting firm who would be charging us for their “help.”

Needless to say, I was aghast.

I’ve now gone back and carefully read and reread our email exchanges, trying to discover how I was so easily duped and how I allowed confidential information to be provided to this outside entity. And I can honestly tell you, it was deceptive from their first contact with us.

If you’re running a legitimate business, you shouldn’t have to resort to either SEM or email “trickery” to attract customers. If you do, you’re no better than those Nigerian email scams.

White House ‘Big Data’ Review Recognizes Innovation and Self-Regulation

When the White House announced its intent to study the rise of “Big Data,” as a citizen, I guessed there might be a lot to say about government surveillance, public safety and terrorism, in light of Snowden. As a consumer, I suspected there might be a lot of attention to data breaches, in light of the recent Target incident among others. As a working individual whose livelihood depends on data access and use for more relevant marketing, I was nervous

When the White House announced its intent to study the rise of “Big Data” and its impact on business, commerce, government and consumer’s everyday lives, with privacy protection as an underlying theme, I have to admit I was bracing myself.

As a citizen, I guessed there might be a lot to say about government surveillance, public safety and terrorism, in light of Snowden. As a consumer, I suspected there might be a lot of attention to data breaches, in light of the recent Target incident among others.

As a working individual whose livelihood depends on data access and use for more relevant marketing, I was nervous there might not be a practical discussion of how information sharing and privacy protection can (and is) successfully provided through a combination of peer regulation, enterprising technology and sector-specific legal regulation where information protection and security is niche-based and designed to prevent harm from data error or misuse (credit, financial, health, for example).

Then the report, titled “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values” (pdf), was released.

As a citizen, I was left wanting. Government surveillance of law-abiding U.S. citizens is parked for another report, another day. Some reforms have already been announced. Perhaps this is a blessing—there never should have been a link made between government spying and private sector use of data for commercial purposes anyway.

As a consumer, I was glad to see a call for a single national data breach notification standard. A few years back, I received several notices of “my” data being breached in a few months’ span—two of which offered a year’s worth of identity theft and fraud protection (which I continued to purchase on my own). Whether by luck or design, those notices have declined in number—I’ve had none in the past year. As I hear and read about more recent major data breaches, I haven’t been directly affected (to my knowledge), and maybe—just maybe—some organizations and brands in which I’m involved have gotten better about security. (Indirectly, we all pay for fraud—in higher prices for products and services, insurance, bank fees and the like—and perhaps in our collective loss of trust and carefree.)

As a marketer, I have to say I was happily surprised at the clear-headed conveyance of facts and reporting of opinion in this report—and, importantly, the steer-clearance of political grandstanding. I will leave it to our trade associations to comment on the policy recommendations, but as one our industry’s leading practitioners stated in Adweek, “If anyone of my clients wants a 101 on big data, I’m going to send them this report. This report is very relevant because a lot of what drives this business is programmatic media buying. There are millions of places to advertise on the Web, so an algorithm will decide what your likely audience will be.”

The report either cited or recognized such industry initiatives as the Data-Driven Marketing Institute’s “Value of Data Sharing” report, the Digital Advertising Alliance (disclosure, a client) and its own recent research on data sharing’s role in increasing advertising’s value, as well as DAA’s YourAdChoices.com site and consumer opt-out program for online interest-based advertising. There was care to note—even in the report’s title—that innovation is one of the benefits made possible by big data, and that this economic and social value needs to be enabled, if not fully supported and facilitated.

The report did raise red flags about commercial redlining, eligibility issues connected to employment, healthcare, finance and insurance, and data security (as noted)—but these important areas for consumer protection largely are already regulated, and even have industry backing for further regulation in certain areas such as breach notification. Most of these topics don’t have much to do with smarter marketing, even if some privacy advocates and academics hypothesize about that stretch.

Where do we go from here? The report did make several policy recommendations—and while there were some seeking to codify in law Fair Information Practices Principles (a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights), there was no attempt to call for an omnibus privacy protection law that treats all data and all data usage the same. If you haven’t had the chance, give it a read—I actually learned from it, and avoided tears and rage.

Hey, Lawmaker: Marketing Moves Today’s Commerce, and Data Moves Today’s Marketing

Members of Congress, and even the White House, seem to forget or ignore that their very own campaigns depended on the flow of information about citizens and individuals and population segments to inform their campaigns. Their respective elections prove that data and marketing in concert are very effective, especially for incumbents. Yet listen to a few among our leaders, and you’d think data-driven marketing is a consumer privacy problem begging for a government solution

I’ll start this blog off with a disclosure: I’m a member of the Direct Marketing Association, serve and have served on various DMA committees, and I count the Digital Advertising Alliance and other data-driven marketing firms among my clients. In short, my livelihood depends on data-driven marketing.

Members of Congress, and even the White House, in good measure, seem to forget or ignore that their very own elections to office depended on the flow of information about citizens and individuals and population segments to inform their campaigns. Their respective elections prove that data and marketing in concert are very effective, especially for incumbents.

Yet listen to a few among our leaders, and you’d think data-driven marketing is a consumer privacy problem begging for a government solution. How they (some of them) ignore 40+ years of self-regulation success in data-driven marketing; U.S. leadership in information technology and its data-driven marketing application (they are not coincidental); and the economic powerhouse of jobs, sales and tax revenue that is created by data exchange for marketing purposes.

Research Proves Our Case … Again
In November, DMA and its Data-Driven Marketing Institute announced “The Value of Data” Study (opens as a pdf), which documented the economic impact: The data-driven marketing economy added $156 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy that fueled more than 675,000 jobs in 2012 alone. (Importantly, the study also provides state-by-state economic impact.) The full study is available here.

This past week, DAA announced results of its own commissioned research which focused on the value of digital advertising derived from data exchange—and its comparison to general ads online. The study reported that availability of cookies to facilitate information transfer increases the average impression price paid by advertisers by 60 percent to 200 percent. Additionally, ads for which cookie-related information was available sold for three-to-seven times higher than ads without cookies. Thus, the invisible hand of the market, once again, proves data’s value. The full study is available at http://www.aboutads.info/resource/fullvalueinfostudy.pdf.

We’ve Got Work to Do … with our Lawmakers
Yet President Barack Obama and Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ed Markey (D-MA) might have Americans believe that National Security Agency surveillance of U.S. citizens, data breaches at retailers and other organizations, and data exchange to drive marketing is one big roll-up of the same issue.

We know they are not. Spying by government on its own citizens is an important civil liberty issue, and while I’m not a fan of Snowden hiding out, NSA revelations deserve a full debate on its own merits and threats. Data security extends far beyond marketing—and marketers and many lawmakers agree that we need one national data protection and breach notification standard (and not 50+1). Data-driven marketing is not a problem at all, but instead a huge boon to U.S. marketing success that depends on continued innovation and fair use of information principles, which deserves government support (or at least government staying out of the way).

Importing restrictive laws and regimes on data flows for marketing has the potential to ruin American commerce by killing relevance. At a time when consumers are becoming more skeptical of brands, the intelligent use of information to converse with consumers with resonance is a requirement of marketing smart today. Dumb marketing wastes resources, annoys consumers and frankly places us at a disadvantage globally. While culture around regions of the world is unique, I believe our sector-specific approach to privacy regulation based on consumer harm potential (credit, health, financial) is superior to omnibus privacy law (all personal data is the same) and has served our economy well. How terrible to find we have our own lawmakers who seem to fail to grasp the evidence. You can believe DMA, DAA and other advertising organizations are working hard to show policymakers the great value we create in the marketing profession.

Politicians sense moods … and read polling. In my next blog post, I’ll look at some of the perception challenges we face with consumers. Clearly, as much as consumers “consume,” marketing is not all that popular with some of them either. We have work to do with consumers, too.

To Honor Jerry Cerasale and the Contributions He Has Made for Us

Next month will mark a new beginning for Jerry Cerasale, a man whose countless contributions to marketers over the past four decades have served us immensely. After a career of public service and advocacy on behalf of direct marketing, Jerry is about to start a next chapter—more time with his family endeavors on his schedule, not those of Congress, the U.S. Postal Service or the Direct Marketing Association and coalitions in which he has represented us so brilliantly

Next month will mark a new beginning for Jerry Cerasale, a man whose countless contributions to marketers over the past four decades have served us immensely. After a career of public service and advocacy on behalf of direct marketing, Jerry is about to start a next chapter—more time with his family endeavors on his schedule, not those of Congress, the U.S. Postal Service or the Direct Marketing Association and coalitions in which he has represented us so brilliantly.

For those of us who know Jerry, we know this moment is sweet. He is a gentleman who always seems to know the score on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Though it may be impossible to know outcomes on public policy debates with any certainty, since his joining the Direct Marketing Association’s government affairs team, we’ve had someone who is able to shape that policy or influence it in a manner that has advanced our professional practice—and to do so with fairness, clarity and a knack for building consensus. In each occasion, importantly, Jerry has also articulated how marketing ultimately serves the needs of customers and consumers, and a well-functioning, competitive and innovative marketplace. All the time, he’s engaged DMA members—and given us opportunities to participate in the lawmaking and policymaking process as citizens and as members of our business community.

Jerry first joined DMA in 1995 as senior vice president, government affairs, and had led the charge of DMA’s contact with the Congress, all federal agencies and state and local governments. There has not been a single issue – postal, privacy, the environment, use taxes, telemarketing, data security, commercial free speech, sweepstakes—where his advice and counsel has not been spot on. Not only has he been our voice before Committees of Congress, he has testified before both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission on these and other direct marketing matters. We may not win every marketing battle, but Jerry always builds good will, because of his demeanor and respectfulness.

Prior to joining DMA, Jerry was an effective public servant—where he was the deputy general counsel for the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, United States House of Representatives. He also served for 12 years at the Postal Rate Commission as legal advisor to Chairman Janet Steiger, and also as special assistant to the Commission. He was an attorney advisor to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Steiger in her service there. Prior to the PRC, he was employed in the law department of the Postal Service. Jerry also is a veteran of the U.S. Army, where he served our country from 1970 to 1972. He is a graduate from Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT) and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. He is the recipient of the Silver Apple and the Mal Dunn Leadership Award from the New York Direct Marketing Club and a lifetime achievement award from the Continuity Shippers Association—accolades that are prestigious, but only begin to tell the tale of Jerry’s stewardship in our field.

But what I love most about Jerry is his loyalty to wearing “Save the Children” ties as he goes about his professional work—because social responsibility always seems to be part of who he is—and always will be, no matter what his schedule. For that I am truly grateful, “Thank you, Jerry” from all of us.

Will There Be a ‘Snowden Effect’ on Marketing Data?

I didn’t even want to write this headline or blog post, given the fault-filled linkages some people make between marketing and something completely different from marketing. But it never seems to fail: Whenever some big news event captures the media’s attention, politicians’ attention surely follows. And when it has to do with consumer privacy, the results for the private sector—and use of marketing information in particular—are rarely favorable

I didn’t even want to write this headline or blog post, given the fault-filled linkages some people make between marketing and something completely different from marketing.

But it never seems to fail: Whenever some big news event captures the media’s attention, politicians’ attention surely follows. And when it has to do with consumer privacy, the results for the private sector—and use of marketing information in particular—are rarely favorable. This is true even when the responsible use of marketing data has NOTHING to do with the scenarios presented in the news.

U.S. legislative history is strewn with such evidence, linking (erroneously) marketing with some sensational occurrence other than marketing. Here are just three of them:

  • An actress is murdered in Los Angeles (1989). It turns out the murderer hired a private investigator to get her address from the state motor vehicle department, and then stalked and killed her. A bevy of state and federal anti-stalking laws are passed—but Congress passes an additional one, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (1994). Would you believe, state motor vehicle registration and license data is curtailed for marketing purposes (data that had been worth millions to the states, never mind losing the beneficial impact to automotive and insurance marketers and consumers), even though such data had nothing to do with the crime?
  • A child is kidnapped and killed, again in California (1993). A grieving father goes on a publicity rampage against presence of children in marketing databases—even though the horrible crime had nothing to with marketing, and even with state law enforcement officials testifying in public hearings following the crime that perpetrators of crimes against children most often stalk their victims physically (from an era prior to social media). Nonetheless, California and national media go after compilers of marketing data related to children. The stage is set later that decade for new privacy restrictions for children’s marketing data online.
  • Judge Robert Bork is nominated by President Reagan for the U.S. Supreme Court (1987). An enterprising reporter manages to publish a list of video titles rented by the nominee (all of them benign, by the way). A concerned Congress—no doubt thinking of its members’ own video rental history—passes the Video Privacy Protection Act (1988), shutting down marketing access to video titles from customer rentals/purchases.

And this summer, we have the National Security Administration revelations from Edward Snowden regarding public surveillance of U.S. citizens in the name of anti-terrorism. Now, we can only guess on what potential debilitating effects may be ahead for marketers, but you can bet some politicians or regulators are drumming beats for a response.

Privacy law in America should be about protecting individual liberty from abuse of information by the public sector—and leave the private sector alone, except in cases where there are demonstrable or probable harms from data misuse or errors. Such is the case with personal financial, credit and health data, for example, where the U.S. government wisely has taken a sector, pragmatic approach.

But Snowden’s government surveillance revelations could very well have a “chilling” effect on more broad marketing data collection and use, too. Politicians, in the name of protecting consumer privacy, may very well rush to curb data-driven marketing activity, rather than tackling the much-harder and real culprit, that is, spying on innocent Americans (and government acquiescence of such activity).

Concurrent to the NSA revelations, the Federal Trade Commission increasingly is vocal on “data brokers” and marketing activity—and trying to link data collection for marketing purposes to non-marketing purposes. Yet, it is dishonest, disingenuous and spurious to do so—and doing so fans fear and hypotheticals, instead of rational thought. There is no relationship between responsible data collection for marketing purposes—which only delivers benefits to the economy, and tax revenue, too—and data used for insurance and premiums, hiring purposes, and certainly the federal government’s activities to monitor internet and telecommunications in order to profile or detect would-be terrorists.

Marketers—for 40 years—have operated under a successful self-regulation code of notice, consumer choice, security and enforcement—and central to this is the use of marketing data for marketing purposes only. That’s as true online as offline. Where would we be without consumer trust in this process?

It may be very appropriate here to legislate what government may access—and how they may access—when it comes to personally identifiable information for surveillance or anti-terrorist purposes. But don’t even utter the word “marketing” in the same sentence. Let marketers continue with self-regulation: We offer consumers notice and opt-out, we focus strictly on marketing purposes only—and everyone benefits in the process.

PMG Fights Congress on Postal Reform

The U.S. Postal Service reiterated this past week—in hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—just how crucial it is that Congress undertake reforms that are necessary for the USPS to accrue the savings to restore its fiscal state. There should be no “half measures,” Postmaster General (PMG) Pat Donahoe stated

The U.S. Postal Service reiterated this past week—in hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—just how crucial it is that Congress undertake reforms that are necessary for the USPS to accrue the savings to restore its fiscal state.

There should be no “half measures,” Postmaster General (PMG) Pat Donahoe stated.

First, PMG Donahoe questioned draft “discussion” legislation being devised by Rep. Darell Issa (R-CA) to enable USPS management’s bold efforts to “right size” Postal Service costs and infrastructure to volume trends. As Direct Marketing News reported on July 17:

“The draft did not appear to meet the full approval of the PMG, however, who is adamant that any new legislation remove the U.S. Postal Service’s obligation to prefund employee health and retirement programs. Issa’s plan calls for future payments to be made on an actuarial calculation that will reduce the Postal Service’s annual $5.7 billion prefunding payment, which it defaulted on last year.

“‘We are seeking the authority under the law to control our healthcare and retirement costs. We can completely eliminate the need for Retiree Health Benefit prefunding if we can move to our proposed solution,’ Donahoe said, addressing Issa directly.”

The Postmaster General maintains that being allowed to set up its own healthcare coverage for retirees programs would lower premiums paid by employees, while delivering up to $8 billion in savings annually. Donahoe also is asking Congress to return $6 billion in USPS “overpayments” to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

At this juncture, Rep. Issa’s discussion draft does not include provisions for enabling these savings in full, and the Postmaster General says time is running out-or more defaults will be in the offing. (The next default on payments likely will occur this September, Reuters reports.)

Next, the Postal Service is seeking Congressional approval—and likely Postal Regulatory Commission approval as well—on a five-day delivery plan for residential mail delivery, and the estimated $2 billion in savings it estimates it would achieve there. The false start earlier this year—USPS unilaterally announced its five-day delivery intent beginning August, and Congress promptly shot those plans down the following month—doesn’t mean that five-day delivery is dead. On the contrary, USPS management believes such savings are crucial toward keeping delivery costs in line with volume and revenue: First-Class Mail volume, in particular, continues its decline, despite an improved U.S. economy.

Some of my contacts in the mail industry say that five-day residential delivery is probably (1) inevitable, (2) something direct mailers can adapt their production and transportation schedules to live with, and (3) perhaps necessary for long-term USPS viability, as the PMG reports. While postal unions—and their supporters in Congress—are still not for it, the need for cost-cutting and right-sizing USPS delivery infrastructure remains. Alternate proposals for achieving $2 billion in savings (or revenue from new and existing product lines) so that six-day Ddelivery can remain so far remain elusive.

All in all, PMG Donahoe wants that $20 billion onto the USPS bottom line to come from somewhere—and he knows it can’t come from higher postal rates, not at least until the Postal Service is more lean.

As the PMG told Congress this past week, “The Postal Service continues to face systemic financial challenges because it has a business model that does not allow it to adapt to changes in the marketplace, and it does not have the legal authority to make the fundamental changes that are necessary to achieve long-term financial stability.” (Reuters, July 17).

Harte-Hanks has published an informative discussion of current postal reform efforts, and I encourage interested readers to take a deeper dive: http://www.harte-hanks.com/postology/Harte-Hanks_PostologyReport_2013_July.pdf

We’ve been waiting for Congress to act in a serious manner on postal issues since 2006-if not before. How much longer?

USPS ‘Green Teams’ Net $58 Million – If Only Government Postal Policymakers Were So Innovative

Amid the doom and gloom of overall postal finances—where members of Congress and the White House probably have more to do with the current woes of the U.S. Postal Service than all the email in the world—came a timely press announcement from the USPS’s sustainability officer. Posted Feb. 24, I include the full text of the press release here, followed by some commentary: Green Teams Help Postal Service Save Millions

The Postal Service recycled 215,000 tons of material, which saved $14 million in landfill fees and yielded $24 million in new revenue. Employee lean green teams were key to helping the Postal Service achieve the savings and revenue, part of which included more than a $20 million decrease in supplies spending from the previous year.
—USPS Press Release (February 24, 2012)

Amid the doom and gloom of overall postal finances—where members of Congress and the White House probably have more to do with the current woes of the U.S. Postal Service than all the email in the world—came a timely press announcement from the USPS’s sustainability officer.

Posted Feb. 24, I include the full text of the press release here, followed by some commentary:


Green Teams Help Postal Service Save Millions

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The U.S. Postal Service saved more than $34 million and generated $24 million in 2011 by reducing energy, water, consumables, petroleum fuel use and solid waste to landfills, conservation efforts encouraged by the Go Green Forever stamps. The Postal Service recycled 215,000 tons of material, which saved $14 million in landfill fees and yielded $24 million in new revenue. Employee lean green teams were key to helping the Postal Service achieve the savings and revenue, part of which included more than a $20 million decrease in supplies spending from the previous year.

“Across the country, postal employees are participating in more than 400 lean green teams. Motivated by our sustainability call to action, ‘leaner, greener, faster, smarter,’ they are producing significant results in energy reduction and resource conservation,” said Thomas G. Day, Chief Sustainability Officer.

Lean green teams are another way the Postal Service fosters a culture of conservation, and builds on the agency’s long history of environmental and socially responsible leadership. The teams help identify and implement low- and no-cost sustainable practices to help the Postal Service meet the following goals by 2015:

— Reduce facility energy use by 30 percent,

— Reduce water use by 10 percent,

— Reduce petroleum fuel use by 20 percent, and

— Reduce solid waste by 50 percent.

According to Day, the Postal Service plans to deploy lean green teams nationwide in 2012 to help achieve these goals.

“With more than 32,000 facilities, a presence in every community, and the largest civilian fleet in the nation, we know how important our efforts are to make a positive impact on the environment,” Day added. “Our lean green teams are an important part of our conservation culture, and the effort to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Postal Service buys sustainable materials and works to reduce the amount of supplies it purchases. The agency first developed a “buy green” policy more than 13 years ago, and has a goal to reduce spending on consumables 30 percent by 2020. Additionally, the Postal Service is working to increase the percentage of environmentally preferable products it buys by 50 percent by 2015. Environmentally preferable products are bio-based, contain recycled material, are eco-labeled and are energy and water efficient.

In its shipping supplies, the Postal Service uses post-consumer recycled content materials, which are diverted from the waste stream, benefiting the environment and helping customers go green.

The Postal Service has won numerous environmental honors, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WasteWise Partner of the Year award in 2010 and 2011, the EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities award in 2011 and the Climate Registry Gold award in 2011.

USPS is the first federal agency to publicly report its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and receive third-party verification of the results. For more information about the Postal Service’s sustainability initiatives and the Go Green Forever stamps, visit usps.com/green and the usps green newsroom.

USPS participates in the International Post Corporation’s Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System, the global postal industry’s program to reduce its carbon footprint 20 percent by 2020 based on an FY 2008 baseline.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

A self-supporting government enterprise, the U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation, 151 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. With 32,000 retail locations and the most frequently visited website in the federal government, usps.com, the Postal Service has annual revenue of more than $65 billion and delivers nearly 40 percent of the world’s mail. If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 35th in the 2011 Fortune 500. In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service was ranked number one in overall service performance, out of the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world, Oxford Strategic Consulting. Black Enterprise and Hispanic Business magazines ranked the Postal Service as a leader in workforce diversity. The Postal Service has been named the Most Trusted Government Agency for six years and the sixth Most Trusted Business in the nation by the Ponemon Institute.

SOURCE U.S. Postal Service

Thank you very much Thomas Day and thank you to each member of the 400 lean green teams at USPS.

Further, the $58 million in bottom-line gains were an improvement over the $27 million in such benefits reported by USPS a year ago. That’s more than double the financial improvement.

As a blueprint for other businesses, many with “green teams” of their own, this USPS announcement offers item-by-item suggested areas of operation companies might focus on to accrue bottom-line gains: facility energy use, water use, fuel use and solid waste generation and diversion.

Perhaps too many business leaders and marketing practitioners still equate sustainability initiatives with “do-good, feel-good” activities that are nonetheless costly or associated with premiums. They best start thinking otherwise. The more quickly brands can leverage green teams for operational gain, and incorporate sustainability as the next great wave of business cost-savings and innovation, the better off their bottom lines will be.

USPS is proving to all of us that there is a “lean” in “green,” and that waste and inefficiencies are cost centers that must be managed. The environmental gains that are driven by such successful management are numerous, and very well may engender good will among employees and customers. Nothing wrong—and everything right—with that, particularly when the financial bottom line benefits are so demonstrable.

Some skeptics might still say, with billions in deficits, USPS cost-savings announcements tied to sustainability are akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I believe, however, that USPS management does have a business-like approach to fixing its finances in a digital age, has put forth a credible path to do so, and Congress and The White House need to be facilitating these decisions instead of standing in the way.

Unfortunately, Congress and The White House happen to be two U.S. institutions that are very challenged by balancing budgets.

The Congressional cry of “not in my backyard” over post office closures is part of that symptom, particularly when the USPS has proposed many retail outlet alternatives that are more convenient to citizens, and far less costly to postal ratepayers. The recent Congressional moratorium until May 15 toward consolidation of mail processing facilities is another cog in the cost-savings wheel. Meanwhile, the White House just can’t seem to let go of forcing through a 2010 “exigency” postal rate increase (in its current, proposed federal budget) that, in effect, undermines the entire rationale and integrity of indexed rate caps built into the 2006 postal reform law.

Perhaps there needs to be “lean green teams” at work inside the policymaking offices of Congress and the White House, too. Certainly, sustainability concepts—environmental, social and financial—could work to extraordinary effect inside government, just as it’s doing in forward-thinking businesses everywhere, and trying to do with great success inside the U.S. Postal Service.

Helpful Links:
USPS Press Release covering Green Teams in 2011

USPS Press Release covering Green Teams in 2010

Paperless Mail Nears Reality

It’s been talked about for years: a paperless postal system that would enable folks to send real paper mail electronically. Not via emails, but real documents sent to people digitally.

Well, it looks like the time may be here. Zumbox, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based company that has created a web-based platform that powers the world’s first paperless postal system, launched its national rollout on Sept. 22 in San Francisco and Newark, N.J., following a successful pilot in New Lenox, Ill.

It’s been talked about for years: a paperless postal system that would enable folks to send real paper mail electronically. Not via emails, but real documents sent to people digitally.

Well, it looks like the time may be here. Zumbox, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based company that has created a web-based platform that powers the world’s first paperless postal system, launched its national rollout on Sept. 22 in San Francisco and Newark, N.J., following a successful pilot in New Lenox, Ill.

Here’s how Zumbox works: For every U.S. street address, there’s a corresponding Zumbox — or digital mailbox — that enables postal mail to be sent as digital files and received online with no paper and no scanning. By using Zumbox, businesses and other organizations can cut down on mailing costs and reduce their environmental impacts. Consumers, on the other hand, can access their mail online and also receive multimedia content in a new way.

The announcement, made on Sept. 22, means that City and County of San Francisco and the City of Newark, New Jersey can send secure, electronic, paperless mail to their residents using delivery criteria such as neighborhoods, ZIP codes, cities or specific street addresses. This can include letters, utility bills, public notices, newsletters, permits, videos and more. Zumbox, which incorporated last year, is making its service available to municipal and state governments free of charge. And, there’s no cost for consumers to receive paperless mail via Zumbox.

“A paperless postal system represents a new opportunity for San Francisco to reduce the city’s overall waste stream and will help in our efforts to reach zero waste by 2020,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in a statement. “As a communications technology, paperless mail also supports our commitment to open government by offering a more direct and efficient online connection between the city and our residents.”

Zumbox is also offering a free trial for qualified nonprofit organizations and local businesses in San Francisco and Newark, according to a statement by Donn Rappaport, president and CEO of Zumbox and founder and chairman of direct marketing list firm ALC.

In fact, many heavyweights are behind the system. In August, Zumbox announced it closed its Series A funding with $8 million raised. Investors include Art Bilger (managing member of Shelter Capital Partners), Rick Braddock (chairman and CEO of Fresh Direct and former chairman and CEO of Priceline.com), Michael Eisner (founder of The Tornante Co. and former CEO of The Walt Disney Co.), Bill Guthy (founding principal of Guthy-Renker) and Rappaport.

The first stage of Zumbox’s national rollout aims to reach approximately 1 million households in the U.S. through partnerships with municipal governments, media companies, and national and local mail senders. Additional cities and partners will be added in the coming weeks and months. I am going to be tracking it closely. What do you think about it? Good idea? Bad idea? Let us know by posting a comment here.