Marketers Are Making Progress on Waste Reduction

With all the talk about trashing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whatever your politics, there’s not much good in generating waste. Direct marketers have known this for years.

Happy Earth Day, a couple days late.

With all the talk about trashing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whatever your politics, there’s not much good in generating waste. Direct marketers have known this for years.

The Inefficiency Problem

Waste equals inefficiency. Pollution is inefficient. Waste and pollution extract costs that should be accounted for in business ledgers, accounting standards, valuations, investment strategies and — absent these places — at least public policy. The position is both conservative and progressive.

This is not about hugging trees, climate change and saving the planet … it’s a ruthless commitment to efficiency that portends a golden age premised on sustainability. Who knows? The world’s first “trillionaire” may well emerge from sustainability innovation …a better battery, a smarter meter, a national grid built on local power exchanges instead of costly, inefficient, long-distance transmission, fresh water from salt water at low cost, or fill in your own idea here. The 20th Century created millionaires through extracting limited resources. The 21st Century will create billionaires by harnessing unlimited resources. (Though we can debate another day the sustainability of generating billionaires.)

We are far better off as a society, as businesses, as citizens, when we seek sustainable forms of energy, production and end-of-life for our products — because waste and pollution, read inefficiency, are avoided. A throw-away society throws away society.

Yes, there are some dirty secrets in clean energy in the march toward sustainability, but despite our fracking and attacking climate science, we’re really making strides toward efficiency that are all the more remarkable because our economy continues to grow, too. Can zero waste be a next quest? Should it?

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Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2016.

Toward Zero Waste

Look at what cities and towns are achieving in municipal solid waste — our everyday garbage, so to speak.

According to the most recent EPA statistics, released late last year for 2014:

  • Per capita waste in America dropped to 4.44 pounds per day per person, down from its 2000 peak of 4.74 pounds per day per person – achieving per capita metrics we haven’t seen since the 1980s. (Still, we’re generating twice the rate of garbage than experienced in 1960.)
  • 36.4 percent of total municipal solid waste was captured for recycling and composting — nearly four times the recovery rate from 1985. This is creating its own industry, and jobs, built on recovery.
  • Paper and paperboard comprise 26 percent of total municipal solid waste, but nearly half of all recycled and composted content. It’s the third largest category destined for landfills — behind food waste and plastics.
  • Tipping fees for landfills hover around an all-time high of $50/ton. Waste has its price.

So as I ponder this 47th anniversary of Earth Day, let’s recognize how we are achieving and honoring efficiency – by generating cleaner energy and less waste. Just like our marketing.

Postal service in Finland tries an experiment that direct marketers will despise

Did you see this story about Finland’s postal service? They’re conducting an experiment with a small group of customers, in order to cut down on pollution and overall costs, in which all household mail is opened by postal employees in a “secured” location and then scanned and sent by email to the customer. I suppose, in the age of Facebook, that people don’t mind having other people eyeing their personal mail.

Did you see this story about Finland’s postal service? They’re conducting an experiment with a small group of customers, in order to cut down on pollution and overall costs, in which all household mail is opened by postal employees in a “secured” location and then scanned and sent by email to the customer.

I suppose, in the age of Facebook, that people don’t mind having other people eyeing their personal mail … and that it’s hard as hell to open an envelope by ourself. The UK Telegraph writer begins the story smartly, sounding the alarm bells: “Not even the most intimate love letters, payslips, overdue bills and other personal messages will be spared under the controversial scheme.”

Of course, few of us get love letters anymore, but that doesn’t mean we relish the idea of others checking out our credit card bills. One commentator on a forum called the experiment straight from the KGB play book. (KGB seems a little extreme; I’ll go with Orwellian, instead.) We like our privacy, and it’s why the U.S. Postal Service continues to get such high marks from Americans: Our mail arrives where it’s supposed to, and nobody opens it. Likewise, we receive mail that’s retained its seal. When that seal is broken, so is our trust.

For the volunteer Finns, they can actually get their mail pieces delivered to them, but after it’s been resealed … by a stranger. Creepy, methinks.

The direct marketing community, meanwhile, must frown on such an experiment. Reducing a well designed mail piece to a measly email? Now that’s a lousy deal.

For now, some private companies are offering such services to consumers, such as Earth Class Mail, which originally brought the idea to Swiss Post, and Zumbox, which also scans your mail and then puts it into your Zumbox email box.

But since marketers will be charged anywhere from 2 cents to 5 cents per mail piece on Zumbox, I don’t see that many companies wanting to foot that bill for essentially an upgraded email. Again, it simply robs direct mail of its true “landing” and “feeling” power. They’re acting like the recipient is the beneficiary, but we all know that it’s Zumbox … while customer and mailer alike have their relationship digitally reduced.

And like my colleague Hallie Mummert said to me, “Who’s going to sign up for yet one more inbox via which to receive non-targeted junk mail?” People still like mail, maybe even more so now because there are many ways to control the flow, but people are getting rather sick of email. So in some ways Zumbox, and certainly Finland, may even be behind the curve.