Think green when you communicate

To stay in business, every organization needs to communicate with employees and customers regularly.  These communications take the form of newsletters, booklets, catalogs, direct mailings and various forms of advertising.

Many of these communications improve the work environment for an employee or convey important information to a customer.

Still, it doesn't hurt to go over your company communications with a "green" pencil to see if you can correct some wasteful practices.  Thinking green when you begin the next communication project can help prevent even more waste.

Getting directly to the point

Direct marketing, when it works correctly, can actually save resources by matching up buyers and sellers efficiently.  At its worse, the industry is responsible for tons of junk mail consumers toss out unopened every day.

If your company uses direct marketing to talk to its existing customers or to attract new ones, you can do a lot to minimize paper waste, target mailings and reduce your undeliverable packages.

Use some of the services provided by the Direct Marketing Association.  The DMA's Mail Preference Service can provide direct marketers with names of people who want to be taken off lists.

Its "Pander" file, when run against the lists you buy for your mailings, will eliminate names of people who are likely not to pay bills.  The DMA also has a "Nixie" file that helps eliminate bad, undeliverable addresses -- a problem the National Change of Address Data Bank can also help with.

Look for ways to make content and targeting of your direct-mail package more effective so you don't have to send as large a mailing.   Also try to find ways you can reduce the amount of paper you mail by cutting down on your renewal or billing series.

Many direct marketers send out catalogs eight or 10 times a year.  Some, however, are testing the idea of asking customers how many catalogs they prefer to get.  They mail out order forms instead, explaining why the customer isn't receiving a catalog and telling how to get one if it's wanted.

Making telephone calls certainly reduces waste.   You'll have the added advantage of knowing whether or not the prospective customer actually got your message.

Try to trim the size of your catalog or direct-mail package.  The U.S. Postal Service charges extra for handling oversized packages.   You may also be able to cut down on the weight of your packages and save even more on postage.

Try using paper that hasn't been chlorine-bleached, and eliminate plastic "polywrap" whenever possible.

Consider switching to soy- or water-based inks.   These inks still use pigments from petrochemicals to ensure consistency of color from batch to batch, but they produce fewer and less toxic fumes than other inks.   They also last longer, have better gloss and clean up more easily.

They aren't the right choice for every application yet.  So if you must use a regular ink, at least try to avoid extremely bright yellows and reds and metallics -- all which take their brassy colors from heavy metals in the pigments.

Internally Speaking

The written word will be an integral part of how we communicate at work for a long time, so always look for the most efficient way of using it.  Distributing information through a system of bulletin boards is a time-honored communication method, and it produces less waste than sending memos to all employees.

Companies are also investing in video-conferencing facilities and video/slide programs transmitted through phone lines or computer networks and personalized at remote locations.  Because the communication path is a sound wave, there's no paper trail.

High-tech/high-price solutions aren't the only ones that reduce waste.  Brainstorm with co-workers and ask employees for their opinions.   The best solution may be simpler than you think.  PSI Energy's Corporate Communications department was looking for ways to improve communication with supervisory staff taxed for time but interested in some professional development.

The staff tested a "news show" on audio cassette, featuring topics supervisors said they were interested in knowing more about.   Focus groups that previewed the show liked getting information without getting more paper, but they suggested pushing source reduction one step further and eliminating the cassette.

The result was a voice-mail feature line called "Sound Bites" that debuted in March 1993.  Callers have several options to choose from and a fifth feedback option so there's no need for any exchange of paper.   Features are kept brief and updated every few weeks. 

For more information, write Susan Lawson, PSI Energy, 1000 E. Main St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or call her at 317-838-1481.  You can call Sound Bites yourself at 317-838-6000

It's a gift

Corporate gifts speak straight to your company's environmental ethic.  Look for ones that communicate what you really want people to remember about your organization.

The proliferation of promotional buttons, plaques and paperweights affect our waste stream throughout their life cycles.

Consider instead certificates redeemable for trees at a local nursery.  The tree helps the environment while perpetually reminding the recipient of your organization.

Another idea is to award Indiana State Park passes.   Every time recipients enjoy Indiana's environment, they'll remember your environmental commitment.  For more information, contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 402 W. Washington St., Room 255B, Indianapolis 46221, 1-317-232-4124 or toll-free 1-800-622-4931.

SOURCE:  Keeping Your Company Green, by Stefan Bechtel, Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA, 1990