Close-Up: Live Issue - Is the DM industry 'green' enough?

Are DM agencies doing enough to fight off criticism over their 'green' stance?

For agencies and clients, green is definitely the new black. But while most of the industry has found a seat on the "green friendly" bandwagon, the direct marketing industry is facing renewed criticism over environmental pollution.

With The Environment Council condemning the DM industry for failing to do enough to reduce the amount of waste it produces (currently stands at nearly 1.25 million tonnes per year) and two of the most prolific mailers in the UK -Capitol One and Lloyds TSB - continuing to send out more than 154 million mailers per year between them, is the industry really doing enough to stave off this criticism?

Robert Keitch, the director of media and channel development at the Direct Marketing Association, maintains the industry's slow up-take of environmental awareness is down to confusion. He insists the DMA is doing its bit to rectify this with its free publication Green Matters, which informs agencies about how to improve production methods and encourage recycling.

He points to its agreement with the Government to increase the percentage of recyclable mailings to 55 per cent by 2009, as well as its partnership with the BSI to create the first environmental standard to reduce the environmental impact the DM industry has, as evidence of its commitment.

The Advertising Association is also joining the battle. Recently, it hosted a meeting at which ISBA, the IPA, the DMA, the Royal Mail and the Data Publishers Association, among others, all agreed to adopt a set of principles to commit to reducing waste through a positive environmental approach and optimal targeting of direct mail. Peta Buscombe, the chief executive of the AA, asserts: "Our role is to champion what the industry is already doing and find consensus."

But is there anything to champion yet? Despite this dedication to green issues, over the past 13 years, the overall volume of direct mail has increased by 139 per cent. The most recent figures show just 29 per cent of this is recyclable.

Most agree that more needs to be done. As Keitch says: "Industry behaviour is based on economies- of-scale marketing." But that approach is now no longer viable, yet imposing more stringent regulations has been opposed.

Even Peter Robinson, the director of the green charity Waste Watch, is wary. He argues: "Green taxes should be encouraging good environmental behaviour without hampering economic activity."

And, given that the DM industry contributes £43.7 billion to the UK economy, people are right to question such drastic methods.

As Buscombe explains: "It is important that we're not making demands that would make it hard for the DM industry to thrive."

Instead, as Stuart Archibald, the managing partner at Archibald Ingall Stretton, argues, the industry should be using digital channels and more sophisticated targeting methods. But improved targeting isn't the sole solution.

There is still the problem that a majority of direct mail ends up in a landfill, decomposing and producing methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times worse than carbon. To combat this, agencies should be using environmentally sound production methods, and ensuring all mail carries a recycling message. But as Keitch warns: "This challenge is as big as the Industrial Revolution, but we've probably only got half the time to meet it."

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GREEN CHARITY DIRECTOR - Peter Robinson, director, Waste Watch

"Current self-regulation is not strong enough. Many DM agencies fail with basic housekeeping, such as removing address details from returned mail, or updating their mailing lists regularly. This adds to the negative perceptions of the industry, and has a negative environmental impact. The DM industry should consider introducing opt-in schemes. This would deal with the image problem DM has, as well as offer economic and environmental benefits.

"DM has a legitimate role to play in communicating with the public, and I don't favour an outright ban. But if self-regulation fails to deliver a dramatic reduction in junk mail, the case for taxing junk mail would be very strong."

FOUNDING PARTNER - Stuart Archibald, managing partner, Archibald Ingall Stretton; trustee, Climate Group

"The more responsible advertisers and agencies are looking to improve their targeting, which leads to less waste. Gone are the days of the 'blanket-mailing-the-fuck-out-of-them' attitude.

"And with the shift towards digital mailing, we're seeing a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between digital and direct, and when to use mail and when to use e-mail.

"However, I don't think the industry does enough to promote better targeting or warn the culprits who have particularly bad targeting methods; they are the ones who need to be challenged."

INDUSTRY BODY CHIEF - Peta Buscombe, chief executive, Advertising Association

"Too often, when people talk about direct mail, they just think of the problems of junk mail, but, in fact, there's also lot of positives to talk about.

"The industry is doing a lot, but perhaps it needs to do more to promote what it's doing. When we met recently we all appreciated that different parts of the industry are doing good things - the Royal Mail, the directories business and the DMA.

"But we can't have a one-dimensional approach. There is a need for us to be responsible and recognise there are real issues for the environment. But there are also issues surrounding what's good for the consumer and what's good for the business itself."

DM INDUSTRY INSIDER - Robert Keitch, director of media and channel development, Direct Marketing Association

"The short answer is no, it's not doing enough. A longer answer is that the reason for this is there's confusion and a lack of consensus about environmental issues.

"We are going to have to change our behaviour to the target of 55 per cent recyclable material by 2009. Every piece of DM material should have a prominent message reminding consumers that they need to recycle after use.

"It's also incumbent on every agency to make sure it is using environmentally friendly production techniques, such as vegetable dye-based ink, and recycled paper. The industry needs to think of waste as the enemy and not just a consequence."


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