With strict government recycling targets and the threat of legislation looming large, pressure has been building on the direct marketing industry to take greater responsibility for the impact it has on the environment.
The answer could be PAS 2020, a new standard that independently certifies the environmental performance of DM campaigns. The Direct Marketing Association has joined forces with Royal Mail, Acxiom, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Telephone Preference Service to commission the standard, which was developed by the British Standards Institution.
The catalyst for PAS 2020 was an agreement signed with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2003 concerning waste reduction from direct mail campaigns. At the time, 87% of the 4 billion items of direct mail sent out every year ended up in landfill, which represented almost 1% of all landfill waste.
The agreement required the industry to hit a series of targets over ten years for recycling direct mail. These targets were set at 30% by the end of 2005, 55% by the end of 2009 and 70% by the end of 2013.
Having missed the 2005 figure by 1.5%, there was concern that failure to hit the second target could encourage policymakers to replace self-regulation with further legislation on top of the EU Landfill Directive, which comes into effect next year.
We’ve been asked about the sustainability of direct mail campaigns for several years and we as an industry had a very confused set of answers. PAS 2020 was a way of finding a response that covered the whole industry
Matthew Neilson, Royal Mail
PAS 2020 was the brainchild of the DMA’s chief of membership and brand, Robert Keitch. He remembers: “A year ago, we had a situation where there was a lot of mist and fog surrounding the environmental debate. Answering the question about what you had to do to be more environmentally friendly was a nightmare. We stood little chance of the industry living up to expectations if the target was surrounded by fog.”
Despite this lack of clarity, Keitch says that direct marketers were keen to find a solution. “There was an absolute desire to provide an answer to the question of what you had to do to be more environmentally sensitive.”
Royal Mail head of environmental solutions Matthew Neilson believes it was important to provide the industry with clarity by coming up with one definitive solution.
“The sustainability of direct mail is dependent on a number of factors and the environment is one,” he says. “It’s fundamentally important, and with the growing concern within government, this was a way of answering the many questions they were going to be asking.
“We’ve been asked about the sustainability of direct mail campaigns for several years and we as an industry had a very confused set of answers. PAS 2020 was a way of finding a response that covered the whole industry.”
The standard was launched in January 2009 and is being tested by a handful of brands, the identity of which is being kept under wraps. Once the results and feedback have been collated later this year, the initiative will receive a second wave of promotion.
It is hoped that PAS 2020 will help companies avoid charges of “greenwashing” – the deceptive use of green PR and marketing. The standard has been designed to provide clear best practice objectives for each stage of a DM campaign, from conception to execution. It specifies three levels – each progressively more challenging – against which an organisation can measure its environmental performance.
The DMA says that adopting and implementing PAS 2020 is straightforward, particularly for companies that already have in place environmental management standards ISO 9000 and ISO 14001. Certification will only be awarded once an organisation’s DM activities pass a conformity assessment conducted by an independent qualified auditor.
There are several online support tools in place to help organisations with certification. These include GreenDM, which allows companies to calculate their PAS 2020 scores before they are audited. The site was created by Lateral Group. Its chief executive Nick Dixon, who was also on the steering committee for PAS 2020, explains: “We wanted one area where people could go to work out their environmental performance to help simplify the PAS 2020 document into an easy-to-use tool.”
However, implementing PAS 2020 will inevitably incur some financial costs and a number of organisations are asking why they should gain certification in the present economic climate. To convince the doubters, ad body ISBA is advising its members that achieving certification will offer commercial gains through increased productivity, greater efficiency and reduced waste.
If its supporters can market PAS 2020 as not only a “green” initiative but one providing sustainability and economic benefits to companies, it is likely to improve the standing of the DM industry in the eyes of the public.
Mark Roy, chief executive of data agency The REaD Group, argues: “Recession or no recession, I never understood why so many companies persisted for so long in damaging their brand image and the environment by carpet-bombing entire regions with tawdry DM pieces.
“Times have changed dramatically in recent months and it’s great to see responsible companies putting R-words like recyclability, relevance and responsiveness alongside retention in their lexicon,” he says, adding that talking about PAS 2020 can only “enhance the reputation” of the DM community’s actions.
Some brands claim to have been putting the environment at the heart of their business and marketing strategies for years. Ian Armstrong, manager of customer communications at Honda UK, says its sustainable-minded philosophy “extends across the whole organisation – from our solar panels to our DM programme. We would endorse and encourage anything that gives people a greater understanding of their environmental impact on society, but we would be confident we have got a pretty good proposition already.”
BSkyB claims to have been the first major media company to go carbon neutral in 2006, and head of environment Jo Fox explains: “The ongoing reduction of our carbon footprint is high on our priority list here at Sky. All our DM uses Forest Stewardship Council-approved or 100% recycled paper.
“We have gone a step further and are evaluating a project with TNT to take our DM for driving new customer uptake carbon neutral. We’re also working with our environment partner, Global Action Plan, and suppliers to make all our marketing materials more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”
Keitch suggests PAS 2020 could even boost creative campaign thinking. “The standard asks organisations to challenge what they normally do. It should make people look at the way they do things and ask ‘Is there a better way?’”
Entire, a DM agency that counts Tourism Ireland and Reader’s Digest among its clients, has set up a multidiscipline team specifically to look into PAS 2020 and how it can take the lead by offering clients solutions that have considered all its aspects.
Heather Westgate, chief executive of DM agency TDA, is also keen to use the standard to take work to a new level. She says: “Our job as an industry is to work within the parameters we are set and to use the boundaries to enhance the creative product. It’s an opportunity to show the skill of the agency.”
Following its launch in January, PAS 2020 has been promoted at a number of roadshows but Westgate thinks more needs to be done to get the industry behind the initiative. “Suppliers, agencies, clients and the media must work together to raise awareness of PAS 2020,” she says. “It’s not just about stealing a march on your competitors [who do not adopt PAS 2020]. You might get some short-term gain but we need to look at the longer term so that the print side of the industry is as environmentally friendly as digital.”
But while PAS 2020 is still under debate by brands and their agencies, some suggest that DM is now most effective – and green – through the medium of digital.
However, research from Pitney Bowes suggests things may not be so clear cut. In a recent survey, 60% of respondents said that offline marketing – in the form of addressed mail or direct response advertising – was most likely to get them to visit the website of a company they have not bought from before with the intention of buying a product or service, compared to just 24% who cited online media.
Dr Robert Pocock, chief executive of MEL Research – which has been commissioned by the DMA and Royal Mail to produce an independent measure of performance against the Defra target – says: “While marketers are extending the channels of the marketing mix and developing ecommunication vehicles, direct mail will remain an important part of the future mix, particularly in reaching needy consumer segments for whom ecomms is not appropriate.
“To embrace this channel in such a way that can meet the sustainability standards of PAS 2020, it will be important to continue increasing the recovery and recycling of used direct mail.” At a time when so many questions are being asked of the DM industry, PAS 2020 could prove to be the answer that helps secure its future.
What is PAS 2020?
PAS 2020 is the first environmental standard to be produced specifically for the direct marketing industry. Launched in January by the Direct Marketing Association – in partnership with Royal Mail, Acxiom, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Telephone Preference Service – it provides the industry with a standard against which the environmental performance of a DM campaign can be independently certified.
PAS 2020, which was developed by the British Standards Institution, comprises a series of environmental objectives, performance levels and indicators that set out how to create an environmentally responsible DM campaign. It covers direct mail, door-to-door unaddressed mail, email marketing, field marketing, inserts in publications, mobile marketing and telemarketing and is applicable to everyone from client companies and advertising agencies to printers and mailing houses.
To achieve PAS 2020 certification, organisations must modify their current practices and procedures in line with the provisions of the standard, which includes designing DM material that can be recycled, making effective use of inks and finishes and using mailing houses that manage their environmental impacts. When certification is granted, the organisation is entitled to use the PAS 2020 logo on all its marketing and communications material.
PAS 2020 – how to be friendly to the environment and your customers
We’re helping marketers go green with free workshops explaining how PAS 2020 will work in practice and setting out how organisations can obtain certification. It means customers should easily understand the environmental credentials of your business’s products and services and see that you’re committed to being greener.
The broad themes revolve around:
a) targeting, by cutting down on waste by adopting the very best data techniques
b) sustainability, by using resources and materials to improve the environmental performance of the mailing
c) recycling, by reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill by designing the item so it can be easily recycled.
Using the most frequently asked questions from our website, we’ve compiled top tips towards achieving an environmentally friendly mailing:
- Ensure all items are fully and accurately addressed and postcoded
- Keep and maintain an internal suppression file to ensure that customers and prospects who opt out of your mailings are properly logged
- Customer and prospect data must be checked against one or more commercially available deceased and gone away suppression files, including business gone away suppression files
- All paper products must contain recycled fibre from recovered waste paper and/or virgin fibre
- All paper elements of the mailing, including window and padded envelopes, must be recyclable
- Do not use brown paper or brown paper envelopes (including manilla)
- Do not use plastic envelopes (including polywrap)
- Do not use laminate finishes
- The item must have less than 90% ink coverage
- All items must display a statement and/or logo (such as Recycle Now) on the outside of the mailing to encourage recycling.
Angus Morrison, MMC director, Royal Mail