Is It Really Possible To Green Direct Mail?

The Green Marketing Coalition has new guidelines that, well, don\'t do much.

That’s the topic of the New York Times article this morning titled, “Direct Mail Tries to Go Green. No, Really.” The initiative, while admirable in its effort, is a bit dubious to say the least. It is headed up by the Green Marketing Coalition and they have introduced a few ways to help lighten the carbon footprint of those who insist upon using direct mail for marketing purposes.

Don’t get me wrong, I too agree that direct mail is an effective way to reach potential customers, and I encourage my clients to use it in select circumstances. But, like others quoted in the Times article, I’m a bit skeptical of the effectiveness of the Green Marketing Coalition’s efforts. You can download a copy of their “Recommended Guidelines” at their site and see what I mean. Among the recommendations they list:

    Purchase recycled paper.
    Choose vendors and partners with internal environmental initiatives.
    Use UV printing presses and comply with hazardous waste disposal standards.
    Improve “list hygiene.”
    Proof and edit using PDF files rather than hard copies.
    Use chlorine-free, recycled paper. (this seems like a redundant point)
    Benefit from tax savings by going green.

These recommendations are good ones, but to me they seem a little obvious. Shouldn’t direct marketers be doing this already? And the last “guideline,” “Companies can benefit from the tax savings associated with going green,” seems like where their real efforts lie.

According to Spyro Kourtis, president of the Hacker Group as quoted in the Times article,

“This industry just didn’t have any real green standards.”

Well, at least they’re doing something. But we’re not living and working in a vacuum here. The guidelines were developed with the help of the above-mentioned Hacker Group, which is a direct marketing firm. One has to wonder why direct email or other types of electronic marketing aren’t on their guidelines. Obviously they’re protecting their own interests, but if this were truly a broad-based initiative to really green direct marketing and do more than just greenwash and reap some tax breaks, their guidelines could easily go beyond printed junk mail.

I have to agree with the conclusion of the Times article:

“So far, the coalition’s guidelines are long on earnestness and short on truly new ideas.”

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Jack In The Box Stoops To A New Low

This whole gas price thing has gotten a little out of hand. Its one thing when the automobile companies are giving away free gas with the purchase of a car, but this latest marketing ploy by Jack In The Box is a real head-scratcher.

According to an article in MediaPost’s “Marketing Daily,” Jack In The Box is offering two free tacos this Thursday, June 26, to anyone who brings in a gas receipt.

Now, a few things come to mind when I see this, not the least of which is, “When the hell did Jack In The Box start selling tacos?” But the other thing I have to wonder is, “What is Jack In The Box getting out of such an offer? Sure, there is the short-term benefit of gaining additional customers on one particular day of the summer, but the real issue I have with this kind of offer is that it does nothing to try to curb our appetite for fossil fuels at a time when its plainly obvious that we need to be cutting back. Jack In The Box might argue that those customers are going to buy gas anyway, so why not take advantage of their pain at the pump and sell a few more burgers, or tacos, or whatever the hell it is they sell. (Corn in its many abominable forms?) Their marketing message is as clear as can be:

“Its getting more expensive to fill your gas tank. So Jack In The Box is giving you a little help with filling your stomach.”

Its obvious that the tacos are a loss leader—a way to get you in the door by offering something at or way below cost so that you will buy more stuff while you’re there (do you really think those two measly tacos are going to fill your stomach?)—so why not put that loss leader to good use and encourage your customers to do something to conserve gas, like, “We’ll give you two free tacos if you ride your bike through the drive-through”?

So instead of hanging on to that gas receipt so you can go idle at the Jack In The Box drive-through window, wasting even more gas, how ’bout we all band together and simply boycott Jack In The Box for the day? Or better yet, boycott driving.

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Zaproot Uncovers More Greenwashers

If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s greenwashing. It’s bad enough that the average consumer doesn’t know much about the impact of legitimate green products, and many people are skeptical of green marketing. So when businesses outright lie about the “greenness” of their product, it really burns my bum. The folks at Zaproot this week highlight a couple of over-the-top greenwashing campaigns from two top energy companies. One of them makes me wonder, if “clean coal” doesn’t get a toe-hold, perhaps “sexy coal” can stick. C’mon guys, do you think we’re really all that dumb? These guys really are full of s**t.

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What is GM's Environmental Goal?

chevy-ad.jpg

That’s the question that comes to my mind when I look at Chevrolet’s latest advertising campaign. One look at the above Web ad and you’ve got to wonder what their focus is. When you click on the ad and get to their site (but not from here ’cause they’re not paying me) you see they’ve listed every popular fuel saving and energy concept known to the auto world. On their site they detail all of these, but I have to wonder if they’re really putting their all into it or simply greenwashing us. There’s no doubt they’re having an impact with their advertising, but to what extent?

The first thing that comes to my attention is that there are relatively few cars in their fleet that get over 30 mpg. According to their Web site, there are exactly three (out of 16). They are the Malibu Hybrid (not even released yet), the Cobalt and the Aveo, and they get 32, 33 and 34 mpg respectively. One would expect the hybrid to get the highest, but it doesn’t. How do they expect to compete with the top selling Prius when they can’t even get close on mileage? Oh yeah, they don’t. After a little digging, it’s clear to see that they are more interested in using hybrid technology to improve the performance of and sell more SUVs than they are in increasing mileage. Their first “full-size hybrid SUV” ad page carefully makes no claims to “fuel efficiency;” rather, it’s all about delivering power, capability and performance.

And then there’s the E85 ethanol “FlexFuel” vehicles they’ve been hyping for a while now. These things are a boondoggle every step of the way. First of all, the likelihood of finding a station near you that sells E85 is very slim (the nearest one to Jackson is in Idaho Falls—80+ miles away), and second, they have employed this technology in only their largest vehicles—two of seven FlexFuel vehicles use “only” a V6 engine, while the rest use their largest V8s. Add to that the thorny issue that ethanol has become and the practicality of these vehicles becomes questionable. Some reports indicate that it takes more energy to produce ethanol from grain than the combustion of ethanol produces. And we’re now dedicating an increasing amount of agricultural land to growing corn for fuel rather than growing crops for us to eat. Something about that just doesn’t make sense.

But regardless of where the science on efficiency of energy production through biofuels lands, what’s even more concerning is when you begin to understand just why GM has put so much effort into this FlexFuel program. It turns out that they get major tax breaks for simply producing vehicles that can run on alternative energy, regardless of whether you ever run E85 in them. And their tax breaks are based on the amount of fuel you might use, not what you actually use. So they get the biggest tax break for simply making their largest FlexFuel vehicles able to run on ethanol (an actual cost to GM of about $50 per vehicle). But not only does it not matter for their tax breaks if you never put E85 into the tank, by running regular gasoline in them it actually increases the amount of gasoline consumed and greenhouse gases produced. You don’t have to check the stock portfolios of the automotive industry execs to understand which side their bread’s buttered on.

I’d like to give GM the benefit of the doubt on their energy efficiency standpoint because it appears they’re at least making an effort to change the status quo, but so far all I see is an effort to take advantage of and manipulate the system in their favor. And as long as we consumers buy into their greenwashing, we’re not giving them any reason to change their tune.
Next post on this subject we’ll take a look at another of their so-called Fuel Solutions.