To Direct Mailers, Green Means One Thing: Cash

Forrester Study Finds Cost Trumps Environment for Paper-Happy Industry

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NEW YORK ( -- Have you ever sifted through your daily dose of junk mail and thought about how environmentally unfriendly the practice of direct marketing is? Of course you have. But you know who doesn't? That's right -- direct marketers.

According to a Forrester Research Study called "Direct Marketing Needs a Green Wake-Up Call," most of the direct-marketing industry neglects green issues and seldom considers its environmental impact. And those companies that are taking measures that might reduce waste aren't necessarily doing it with the environment in mind.

A majority of the 55 direct marketers who took part in the survey said they were practitioners of activities that, it might be argued, benefit the environment -- like improving their targeting (65%) and decreasing direct mail in favor of other channels (55%), while others said they reduced the size (47%) and bulk (36%) of their mailings. But saving money was the main goal of these activities, followed by increasing relevance and improving response rates. Environmental concerns were the least important reason for implementing these efforts.

More than half (60%) said a do-not-mail registry would positively impact the environment, though 52% said their companies would oppose such legislation. And even though 60% of respondents said businesses should be responsible for "reducing the impact" they have on the environment, the survey responses indicate that the industry has no intention of improving things.

Voluntary regulation needed
David Frankland, senior analyst at Forrester Research and author of the report, said it's no surprise that direct marketers don't want regulation. But with environmental credibility more important than ever, he said direct marketers need to exercise some self-regulation or they will have to contend with a more-formal federal variation.

Survey participants worked in a variety of business sectors, with the largest share coming from the financial-services industry (27%). Others included retail (18%), consumer goods (9%), media (7%), telecom (5%), business services (5%) and travel (5%).

Perhaps the most surprising finding for Mr. Frankland was what he described as the lack of environmental concern from an industry that is "such an easy target" for criticism. Less than one third of marketers (28%) said the environment is a frequent factor in the department's decision-making process, while 31% said they "rarely or never consider" it. "I was shocked at the lack of consideration," he said.

However, direct marketers aren't completely clueless on the matter, Mr. Frankland said. "From conversations I've had, I think they get it; it's just hard to turn these big ships around," he said. "Many companies are taking a step back to try and improve things, but in the interim, it's business as usual."

Retail ahead
He said the Direct Marketing Association is pushing its members to adopt greener marketing practices and that the financial-services industry, the most notorious and frequent of direct marketers, is more advanced in its ideas for becoming greener. "But activitywise, the retail sector is probably ahead," Mr. Frankland said.

Tania Morr, director of database marketing at Williams Sonoma, said the cataloger is "completely" focused on increasing its green direct-marketing practices. "It's an executive priority this year," she said. "We have the deforestation symbol on the back of all of our catalogs. And in the next three months, we are going to launch a landing page on the site where you can opt down or out of catalogs."

The report also showed that marketers aren't doing much to get customers to become environmentally conscious. One quarter said they never include a recycling call to action in mail pieces. An equal percentage (25%) said they did include one, but nearly half (42%) were clueless on the topic, saying they didn't know one way or the other.
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