Sustainable Mail: Oxymoron or Present-Day Reality?

Nick Pryke

“The direct environmental impact of mail can be controlled and reduced significantly from source.”

by Nick Pryke

As a business, carbon reduction and sustainability sits at the very heart of everything we do at Precision.

Hmmm, as producers of high-volume Direct Mail surely that sits as one massive contradiction? The truth is a lot more complex and somewhat surprising. Comparison is so frequently drawn between the green credentials of Direct Mail and Digital Marketing, often presented as: if you care about the planet, dump mail ‘post-haste’ (excuse the pun).

In reality, the direct environmental impact of mail can be controlled and reduced significantly from source. By specifying a lighter weight paper stock with FSC accreditation (a near given these days), then your campaign is built with a solid green foundation. Concerns around the toxicity of printers’ ink are largely dispelled with most modern presses running on vegetable-based inks and at Precision our laser printers (that produce our personalised documents) run on biomass-based inks. Then, when you consider as a country the UK recycles around 80% of used paper, the sustainable credentials around printed paper-based communications start to seriously stack up.


How is chopping down trees sustainable?

The debate will then often degenerate to ‘recycling is all well and good but what about all the trees that are chopped down to make the paper in the first place?’. Well that’s a fair point and it warrants a considered response. European forests obviously play a critical role in environmental good health; well managed forests support livelihoods, biodiversity, and play a pivotal role in controlling climate change. So it’s reassuring to know that dedicated forestry land across Europe is growing. The well informed Two Sides group is a not-for-profit, global initiative promoting the unique sustainable and attractive attributes of print, paper and paper packaging. Their research reveals European forests grew by 58,390 square kilometres in the 15 years up to 2020, to put that into some sort of context that’s an area bigger than Switzerland!


Assessing environmental impact

So, we have come along way in this debate, but we still have to convince potential DM users around energy usage in the production of paper and the print/fulfilment of their campaign. This is tricky, there’s no doubt the industry uses significant energy but the absolute same applies to the global ICT industries. A number of research channels have estimated that these channels account to 4-6% of global energy usage and with the advent of AI this usage is only going one way.

In mitigation, it’s worth noting paper production is predominantly powered by onsite electricity generation, with almost two-thirds being biomass generated. So not ‘squeaky clean and green’ but certainly modernised and low on emissions. Couple that with commissioning a company such as Precision to complete your print and mail fulfilment and you will be accessing a company that’s production units are powered by 100% renewable energy. Of which 40% is generated by our own onsite solar generation.

So before dismissing print and mail on the soft conclusions perpetrated outside of the industry, please stop and give it a second thought. And maybe allow yourself to reflect on that nostalgic moment of joy experienced when a well targeted piece of mail was hand delivered through your letterbox with an offer, invite or opportunity that was tailored to your individual taste.