Longing For a Paperless Existence

03/26/2010 03:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A few weeks ago, I returned home from a week's vacation to a stack of mail, or should I say, direct mail. Only about 10 of the 50 or so envelopes I received were actually correspondence that needed to be attended to. The others were all direct mail pieces, or what so many of us lovingly refer to as junk mail.

My curiosity got the best of me so I did a little research to find out the effects of direct mail on the environment. The stats astounded me.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4 million tons of direct mail is sent to the dump every year. The USDA Forest Service reports that even though all the trees that are cut down for the production of direct mail are replaced, there are still 100 million trees cut down for the production of bulk mail. This equals approximately one whole tree for every family in America.

Recycling stats are just as frightening. Roughly 44 percent of junk mail goes to landfills unopened, according to the anti-waste service Only 36% of the mail sent to the dump is recycled, even though most of the bulk mail is recycle friendly.

I applaud my bank, the electric company, water management service and gas provider for giving me the option to receive paperless statements via email. The others, however, like insurance companies, credit card providers, local pizza joints and grocery stores, I deplore for their continued use of an outdated and environmentally UN-friendly way of marketing.

As marketers, there are a vast number of ways to effectively reach a targeted audience in an environmentally-friendly fashion. While the waste of time and money direct mail pieces that blanket the world over receive a measly 2% (if that) response rate, more targeted, opt-in options using the mobile phone can drive upwards of 25% response. Take National Geographic Channel, for example. They recently launched a creative SMS marketing program for the program 'Dog Whisperer' to help engage their viewers in what some would consider an environmentally-friendly way. Through on-air callouts and a promotional page on the NGC Web site, fans of the show were prompted to text the keyword "DOG" to 64288, a vanity short code that spells NGCTV, to sign up for weekly SMS alerts featuring dog training tips from the star of the show, Cesar Milan.

National Geographic Channel secured more than 2,000 active subscribers to this mobile tips program. Popular retail pet store, PETCO, recognized the value of being associated with this program and joined as a sponsor of the campaign. Each weekly text message says "Sponsored by PETCO", and subscribers receive a monthly text message with a coupon code for 10% off at Much more targeted -- and certainly greener -- than a direct mail piece.

Opting for greener and more cost-effective marketing is the chic thing to do these days. Don't just think about the trees; think about your brand and the message you send (literally) every time someone gets that annoying piece of mail urging them to act now. I am certain that I am not the only one longing for a paperless existence.

Chris Brassington
CEO at Starfish Consultants