Environmental Affairs: Ecology and Economy

Mar 01, 2004 10:30 PM  By

Long before I came to work at the Direct Marketing Association, I learned the value of shopping at a distance. Who needs the traffic, the parking, the walking, the waiting, and the wrapping at crowded stores, especially as getting gifts to family increasingly meant shipping them long distances? Security at airports after the tragedies of 9/11, which barred all wrapped presents from aircraft, push my wife and I to shop even more frequently via catalog. We ordered presents and had them gift-wrapped and sent directly to relatives in Montana, Illinois, New Mexico, Missouri, West Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. (I have only one request — it would be nice to be notified when a gift arrived. But that’s a subject for another time.)

Little did I realize that catalog shopping benefits not only me but also the environment. The U.S. Postal Service recently updated an environmental study of the benefits of catalog shopping by American consumers. The annual benefit from the reduction in automobile usage alone is $296.5 million. In terms of gasoline purchases, the reduced number of miles driven by avoiding trips to the mall will save Americans almost $100 million a year. At a time when we are trying to reduce dependence on foreign oil, any reduction in gasoline consumption is welcome news.

And with fewer Americans driving to stores, fewer malls and shopping centers will be built, along with fewer parking lots. In addition to this reduction in land usage, the reduction in driving to those outlets means fewer emissions fouling the air — 24,000 tons fewer carbon dioxide emissions, 4,000 tons fewer nitrous oxide emissions, and 2,500 tons fewer volatile organic compounds.

But though the catalog industry helps the environment, we can and must do more. Some environmental groups claim that catalogers harm the environment by using trees for paper and by filling municipal landfills. Good environmental practices are more than just paper management, however. They also involve environmentally produced products, environmentally friendly packaging, targeted mailings, up-to-date mailing lists, and consolidated deliveries that reduce shipment trips.

Paper, product, and packaging

On the paper front, catalogers should consider using recycled paper. There’s a catch, though: There simply is not the supply to print all catalogs on postconsumer recycled-content paper. I believe that almost every printing plant in America recycles its paper waste. I know that from 1990 to 2000 Standard Mail recycling increased from 5.3% to 32.0%. As many of you might not know, in 2000 household ad mail accounted for only 1.8% of municipal solid waste.

The DMA has joined with the American Forest and Paper Association and the Environmental Protection Agency to push for a goal of 55% paper recovery. What can you do to help? I think that a recycling message should be included in every catalog, maybe just above the address. We may need some help from the Postal Service to permit this, but it is an idea that I have been discussing.

Would the words “Recycle Me” help? They wouldn’t hurt. It probably makes sense to also include a reference to a Website at which consumers can find where to recycle those catalogs. Some mailers already do this. If you’re one of them, good for you. If you’re not, consider adopting the practice.

You should also be recycling office paper — after all, white office paper is what’s used to produce recycled catalog paper. In addition, try pushing elected representatives to have vigorous recycling projects at all office buildings.

It’s not just about recycling paper, however. In terms of merchandising, when sourcing product, try taking into consideration the manufacturing processes involved. Apparel catalogers, for example, should make efforts when purchasing products to know how the clothes were dyed and bleached, since environmentally friendly manufacturing processes protect our waterways.

What’s more, huge strides have been taken to improve the environmental “footprint” of packaging materials. You should demand the use of improved packaging from your suppliers and use those materials as much as possible in shipments to your customers.

Better targeting, better business

One initiative that makes sound economic and environmental sense is targeting catalogs to those who are interested. Every effort should be made to fine-tune information on customers’ and prospects’ interests and other data. Happily, catalogers have been doing this for years and have a good record in this area. For example, I used to receive identical catalogs sent to “Jerry Cerasale” and “Gerald Cerasale” or to “Mr. Cerasale” and “Mr. Ceresale,” but not any longer.

For years commercial mailers have been using the National Change of Address (NCOA) system of the Postal Service as well as other information to quickly capture changes of addresses. This reduces the amount of undeliverable mail and mailing costs. The work that mailers have done in this area with the USPS has been commendable.

Discussions with the Postal Service are continuing to try to improve the address quality of lists that mailers use. The better the list, the less the waste.

There is an area where I think more effort on targeting and reducing duplicates should be focused: business-to-business catalogs. There is no NCOA system for businesses. Moreover, addresses may not change, but individuals to whom catalogs are mailed do.

For example, some day the DMA will come to its senses and give me my walking papers. When that day comes, another will replace me. The DMA will still have a senior vice president for government affairs, but it will not be Jerry Cerasale. There will be no address change database showing that Jerry Cerasale has moved on. So the catalog will still come. It may happen that my successor will eventually receive a catalog as his/her name becomes more known in the business community. In the meantime, we should focus on a method to clean up these business lists.

Shopping remotely helps the environment — you should all be very proud of that. More can be done, and you are doing more. I look forward to next Christmas when my catalog shopping will help the environment even more. Keep up the good work.

Jerry Cerasale is the senior vice president for government affairs of the Direct Marketing Association.

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