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Another Reason to Support Direct Mail:
its Environmental Impact is Small

New Study Exemplifies Environmentally Responsible Progress by Mailing Industry
By Paul Robbertz, Vice President, Environment Health and Safety, Pitney Bowes Inc.

Additional data is needed to pinpoint mail’s true environmental impact, but it’s in the range of 50 grams of CO2 per piece, according to the first study ever on the issue. The new research also demonstrates that leisure and other everyday activities—watching television, taking a trip, running a clothes dryer, dishwasher or refrigerator—account for most of a consumers’ total carbon footprint.

The Environmental Impact of Mail: A Baseline, published by Pitney Bowes, is a comprehensive review of existing or published data on the value chain of mail from a variety of sources including regulatory agencies, not-for-profits, and U.S. and international postal services. Using these sources, it establishes a baseline of mail’s environmental impact, compares it with the CO2 output of everyday human activities and recommends a set of key “next steps” for the mailing industry to be even more environmentally responsible.

This new study on mail is published at a time when all industries are under intense pressure to take more action on climate change and lessen their environmental impact. The individual impact of mail on the environment has been inflated by misguided environmentalist groups and proponents of a Do Not Mail registry, which aims to dismantle how and which types of mail are delivered to consumer’s doorsteps.

The ramifications of this registry, which would eliminate approximately 8.4 million jobs nationwide and halt the $1 trillion economic activity of the mailing and printing industry, have not been considered. This new research by Pitney Bowes enables individuals, companies and industry associations with a public dialogue based on fact rather than perception. It contributes to a centralized and standardized set of data that is necessary to calculate mail’s environmental impact.

According to the study, the life cycle of letter mail can be divided into six stages: mail design; manufacturing the writing paper and envelopes; production of the letter distribution of the letter; use; and the disposal of the letter. All six of these stages should be examined in the calculation of mail’s environmental impact. Although this study examines the CO2 emissions of mail across all six of these dimensions, the primary focus is in the fourth stage of mail’s lifecycle, which is the post’s responsibility to collect, sort and deliver mail to customers.

There are two areas within the Post’s CO2 emissions that are crucial to measuring and understanding their carbon footprints: facility resources and transportation resources. Facility resources include the postal retail and mail handling facilities and sorting equipment, primarily in the form of heat and electricity. Transportation resources include the fuel emissions associated with the collection, inter-postal facility transportation and final transportation to the customer. The importance of minimizing carbon emissions in these two areas are reinforced as global posts are currently working toward improved efficiency in vehicle fleets and buildings. The US Postal Service is also working on a comprehensive Life Cycle Inventory that will introduce new data on the carbon footprint of mail.

In the Pitney Bowes study, initial estimates of CO2 per mailpiece are used to compare mail with everyday household activities. How does mail stack up? Consider this: running a single refrigerator for a year is equivalent to the creation and delivery of 5,000 letters, taking a 2 minute shower is equivalent to receiving 40 letters, running an electric water heater for a year is about the same as 20,000 letters received; and the list goes on.

In addition to mail’s small environmental impact, it is made from an increasingly renewable resource, trees, and can be recycled. In fact, sustainable forests and their related products are increasing in developed countries despite growth in population and economic activity. In 2005, 36 percent of direct mail in the US was recycled, increasing by about 8 percent in 2006 to 39 percent. The recycling of mail not only reduces landfill waste, but also potentially reduces energy requirements and emissions at paper mills. Increasing the percentage of recycled direct mail and reducing the amount of waste mail created are important considerations for the mailing industry.

The mailing industry is pursuing many initiatives to further reduce the carbon footprint associated with the production and delivery of mail. Among the activities currently being undertaken are using more environmentally responsible mailing materials, better address quality efforts that will reduce Undeliverable-As-Addressed mail, increased recycling, and energy and fuel conservation initiatives for buildings and vehicles.

In addition, the Direct Marketing Association is leading an industry-wide initiative, the “Green 15”, which mandates 15 baseline business practices in five areas of the life cycle of mail to improve mailers’ environmental performance. The DMA’s Commitment to the Consumer Choice program also offers a Mail Preference Service through which consumers can select or stop (opt in or out) receiving promotional prospecting mail at home. This service provides consumers with an effective way to receive more of the mail that really matters to them and less of the mail they do not want, reducing the creation of waste mail.

Overall, the mailing industry has adopted many initiatives to reduce mail’s carbon footprint, but must expand and collaborate on environmentally responsible efforts to further reduce the environmental impact associated with all six life cycle stages of letter mail. Some key steps to for the mailing industry in this area include:

• Establish mechanisms to share best practices and establish standards for the industry.
• Continue to study CO2 emissions and other environmental impacts of mail.
• Identify opportunities to maximize the utilization of the vast infrastructure of the posts and private carriers and suppliers to benefit the environment.
• Address consumer behavior as a research need to improve recycling and the understanding of sustainable forestry.
• Further educate mailers and consumers regarding the relative environmental impacts of mail (versus other activities) to correct uninformed and inaccurate perceptions.

The Environmental Impact of Mail: A Baseline, is a starting point for further research. It will be continuously updated and refined as the mailing industry continues its progress in the area of environmental responsibility. The importance and value of mail as a critical service and communications provider, as well as its interdependency with national and state economies, makes mail’s sustainability an important and relevant issue, not just for the industry, but for the well-being of today’s society. With this new research, the facts on mail’s true environmental impact are available in our case study and should be considered in discussing the future state of the mailing industry.

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