Anyone who reads “Marketing Sustainably” knows I’m a huge proponent of recycling options for the mail that consumers choose to discard once they are through with it. Earlier this year, I reported on the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to recycle mail that is discarded in Postal Service lobbies (under the mantra, “Read, Respond, Recycle”) and mail that is undeliverable as addressed—all of which generated millions in revenue for the USPS from what might otherwise be a pure cost center.
A “town square” held during the DMA’s DMA2012 conference in Las Vegas looked at the profitability of direct mail recycling overall—from a brand’s and direct mailer’s perspective. Does, in fact, the encouragement of recycling of direct mail create profit for marketers, or simply good public relations (both being beneficial). Two experts from the field—Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper Corporation, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports—weighed in with their opinions and observations.
The issue is not a rhetorical one. Earlier this year, the DMA Board of Directors approved a public goal to do just this—get more marketers and mailers to promote and support the recycling collection of mail (and its diversion from landfills) as an industry objective. DMA has a Recycle Please logo program for brands, agencies and mailers that DMA members should use on their printed communications (and digital properties, too). Garvey and Brophy explained why during the town square:
Chet Dalzell: I want my audience to respond to direct mail—not just recycle it! Does use of a Recycle Please logo or recycle please messaging depress response in my marketing materials?
Meta Brophy: Absolutely not. Consumer Reports has tested specifically use of the logo and recycling messaging on our masthead and inside our direct mail materials. We experienced no negative effects. Dozens of companies are using DMA’s Recycle Please logo, too, which shows its industry acceptance (www.recycleplease.org).
CD: Let’s turn to supply and pricing. Will increasing recovery of mail, catalogs, magazines and paper packaging help create lower costs in recycled paper products?
Monica Garvey: Not necessarily. Currently, an increasing percentage of mixed papers (which includes direct mail and catalogs) collected for recycling does not go back to North American paper manufacturers for products made from recycled paper, most often tissue and boxboard, but are exported to overseas markets where demand is most high. Recovered fiber is a global commodity subject to supply and demand, and much of that fiber in demand (42 percent in 2011) currently is exported primarily to China. Thus, North American manufacturers must compete for this supply, and prices paid for this material, plus the costs of processing the material for remanufacture, and then the manufacturing itself, do not translate normally to lower costs for recycled paper products. Again, most products with recycled content made from collected mixed paper (what we call “post-consumer”) are containerboard and boxboard, not printing and writing papers.
CD: This makes sense then on why purchasing recycled paper products sometimes involves premiums. Why should brands pay premiums for recycled paper products?
MB: Here is an area where a brand evaluates the business decision to pay a higher cost, usually. Your brand may have a social responsibility policy, and this type of purchase adheres to that policy, demonstrating the benefits of diverting waste from landfills. Reusing that waste is an efficiency goal with social benefits. Consumers tend to view brands that demonstrate social responsibility better than those perceived not to—that “greenwash” their environmental performance with unsubstantiated claims.
MG: I think that’s an important point—demonstrating leadership for socially responsible brands. But also, purchasing certain types of recycled products supports the supply chain, and the recycling collection infrastructure that exists in North America and elsewhere. For forestry and paper manufacturing, that’s a commitment to efficient use and reuse of a highly regarded natural resource—fiber. The ultimate goal of paper recycling should be to increase fiber recovery beyond the current 67 percent reported by American Forestry & Paper Association to the maximum possible in the U.S., and then to re-use all fiber recovered in products where the least amount of transporting, cleaning and energy for processing of the post-consumer fiber is needed.
In the next installment of “Marketing Sustainably,” we’ll continue this discussion and look at the ways to reuse paper fiber at home, the threat of extended producer responsibility laws, and other “drivers” that make recycling collection of our printed communications materials so important.