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Strategies for Green Marketing

By on January 31st, 2011

Longtime printing industry writer, analyst, and consultant Heidi Tolliver-Nigro has recently published a new report called Greening Print Marketing: A Practical Guide, available though the WhatTheyThink Marketplace. Last week, we spoke to Heidi about the new report.

Going Green: To whom is the report targeted?

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro: Primarily, it’s for both printers and marketers. Marketers, because there is a lot of misinformation out there about e-mail and other e-media vs. print as a sustainable medium. And printers, because they need to do a better job of telling the “green” story of print. Greening isn’t just about emissions and government regulations. In fact, one of the messages of the report is that some of today’s most exciting marketing applications like targeting, personalization, and print-on-demand help marketers “go green” by default. When you increase the effectiveness of your marketing through these processes, you are greening at the same time. I think that’s a really exciting message.  That’s a message that needs to get out there more.

GG: Much of the report discusses the respective environmental footprints (feetprints?) of print vs. electronic media. Where did you get your data?

HTN: I’ve been watching this marketplace for a long time, so information comes from everywhere. Much of the technical information comes from the printing marketplace, but a lot also comes from the research coming out of the marketing community. I also keep my eye out on the bulletin boards and the industry forums where thought leaders are posting and talking about it. It’s a really hot topic now. A lot of the information comes from paper industry consultants—not paper mills necessarily, but consultants who are actively involved in this area, because there is a lot of concern that e-media is being over-portrayed as greener than print. And it’s not necessarily true that one medium is greener than another. Both have environmental footprints, and this issue needs to be looked at and understood. There has been so much misinformation out there for such a long time that there is a lot of discussion right now trying to correct these misperceptions. On the marketing side, I talk about best-in-class examples of greening print marketing that come from many of our own POD and 1:1 case studies.

GG: For the purposes of this report, how do you define “green”?

HTN: I don’t think there is a definition of “green,” and I know that the various industries are working toward creating a definition of green is. Print Buyers Online, for example, has done a very good job of coming up with a “sustainability checklist” for green print buying. In my view, though, I call it “greening.” Not saying that you’re green, because that suggests that “green” is something you can achieve, that you have “arrived” as a green supplier or a green marketer, and I don’t think anyone ever is going to be there, especially since no one really knows what green is. So I prefer to look at it as greening, which is an ongoing process of looking at your marketing, looking at your processes, looking at your design, and over time continuing to work toward optimizing all of that and making it more environmentally friendly. I prefer to think of it as a process rather than a goal that you can actually achieve.

GG: What about someone who wants to “up the ante” and focus on, as you say in the introduction to the report, “lifecycle analysis and sustainability”?

HTN: I think that’s a great goal and ultimately if you want to say that “this is greener than that,” you’re going to have to look at the entire lifecycle. But a complete lifecycle is difficult to get your mind around. It’s going all the way back to the harvesting processes and transportation, and ultimately where it ends up, in the landfill, or if it’s being recycled, and if it’s being recycled the energy associated with that, and the transportation of the recycled fiber or whatever material you’re recycling—there are so many components and my personal belief is that anybody who says “we’ve got the lifecycle down” is probably blowing a lot of smoke because there are just too many moving parts. The focus on lifecycle is great and somebody needs to be looking at that, but it makes greening seem overwhelming.

My thought behind the report was simplifying it. Look at the practical areas you can control, where you can make a difference without getting overwhelmed by all these variable factors that are so much under debate right now. If you’re a marketer or a printer, here are some things you can focus on. Focus on those and don’t get overwhelmed.

GG: Without giving away the store, what are some of the practical tips you offer in the report?

HTN: Number one, design for sustainability, Make some simple choices in the beginning that make a product more easily recycled and more environmentally friendly.

For example, spec environmentally certified papers.  Optimize your use of the sheet. Talk to your printer, find out what the sheet size is, and then maximize your trim size so that you’re getting the most out of your sheet. If you’re doing some sort of packaging, look at other design factors like closures.

Design with the end in mind, what’s going to help with recycling, what can be recycled and what can’t be recycled, look at coatings.

Second, clean your database, if you’re doing direct mail, so that you’re not sending out volumes of mail to old invalid addresses. If you don’t keep the database clean, USPS studies show that up to 30% of the average bulk mailing goes straight into the landfill. So keep the database clean.

The third thing is to target it, and if you can personalize it, even better. By reducing page volumes through even the most basic targeting and personalization, you’re making your message more effective and greening your marketing at the same time.

It’s smarter marketing. It’s right-sized marketing. These are the goals you’re trying to accomplish.

GG: In that sense, then, you would think that digital printing would be greener than offset?

HTN: I don’t think that anyone should say that digital is greener than offset as a production process. Offset has come a long way. Digital has its issues, especially when we look at the recyclability of some of the ink on paper—inkjet in particular is getting a lot of focus right now, especially in Europe, where a higher percentage of recovered fiber is recycled back into the higher-quality printing grades. Inkjet papers are not as recyclable, and can’t go into the same stream, so that’s creating a lot of problems.

It goes back to the question, “What is green?” Is it just a production process, is it a lifecycle analysis, is it the recyclability of the paper and the inks and all this stuff? So each process has its issues. Where digital printing shines is in the application. When you right-size your print volumes to print on demand only what you need, you’re greening your process by not creating excess waste. When you personalize information kits to include only information relevant to the recipient, you’re greening your process by reducing your page volumes (and, consequently, reducing the fuel needed for transportation). When you target your mailings by sending only to the most relevant segments of your customer base, that’s also greening your process. Most people don’t think of it this way, but the POD and 1:1 printing case studies are actually green case studies, too. In the report, I talk about a number of best-in-class “greening” case studies that are actually taken right from the pages of print blogs and discussion groups and the PODi database. It’s all on the lens you use to look at them.

GG: What are some of the trends in green marketing and green printing that you see in the new year?

I think green is a real issue, people do care, and there are an awful lot of studies out there that show how much consumers do care—at least in theory. The question is whether that translates into being willing to pay more for green, whether they are willing to take steps in their own life to be green. Printers seem to be jaded on green; they’re overwhelmed by it, they’ve been dealing with environmental issues for decades, so it seems like they’re zoning out on the whole green idea. I think it’s important, especially for printers, to keep in mind that their customers do care, and to tell a story. It just might be a different story than the ones they’re used to telling. Tell the story of print vs. e-mail, and not try to position one as greener than the other. And to remind people that print can be green, too, remind people that e-media have their own footprint, that whatever media you use, use it responsibly. There are so many people out there who are talking about e-media being greener than print, but printers need to tell their side of the story. They need to be talking about these things, they need to be conversant in these issues. They need to be environmentally sensitive, as well as knowledgeable and current.

GG: In Section 8 of the report, you talk about certification and certifying organizations. What’s your advice to marketers in terms of the certification process?

HTN: What I like about certifications is that [those organizations] are looking at the lifecycle analysis for you. I think all lifecycle analysis is incomplete, but it’s a pretty good “tape measure.” Buying FSC-certified paper, buying SFI-certified paper, you know that certain elements of the lifecycle, certain impacts, vital impacts on indigenous people, certain forestry and harvesting methods, have all been examined. And while it may not be a perfect system, it’s certainly better than doing nothing. So if you have a choice between certified paper and non-certified paper, look for certified paper.

GG: Finally, what do you hope readers take away from this report?

Greening doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to hurt. In fact, many of today’s critical marketing change —moving to print-on-demand, personalized printing, and targeting — are green by default. So you can green your print marketing and actually improve the bottom line at the same time. There are simple steps you can take that will make you feel good about the choices that you are making. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you don’t let it be. If every marketer took simple steps, in aggregate, it will make a big difference.

  1. One Response to “Strategies for Green Marketing”

  2. By Mendy Eskew on Feb 2, 2011 | Reply

    I’m very pleased to hear about Heidi’s report and am grateful for her encouragement to printers. I agree with what she writes wholeheartedly and am also working on raising awareness on these matters. My work is with specifiers and hopefully through a team approach in the industry, we can make progress for our home here on Earth. Mendy Eskew
    P.S. Please tell me the 30% of badly addressed direct mail the USPS claims doesn’t go “to the landfill”, but rather to the recyclers!!!